Gluten-free noodles essential in this Korean dish

The Whole Dish podcast: Classic Korean noodles can be adapted to any taste

Carbs, carbs … I confessed to my almost constant craving for them in this blog’s previous post. And I’m not talking about just any carbs. Noodles, specifically, never wear out their welcome.

While plain, old wheat constitutes my go-to noodle, rice, soba, mung bean and other gluten-free alternatives are better than going without noodles. Recently, I came across a noodle that’s no mere gluten-free substitute but rather the essential ingredient in a beloved Korean dish.

Sweet-potato starch is the chief ingredient in “dangmyeon,” a brownish, translucent noodle that I selected on the Asian foods aisle of Fred Meyer when I couldn’t find soba. Although both are brown, the similarity stops there. Chewy, nutty Japanese soba is made primarily of buckwheat flour. Sweet-potato noodles, on the other hand, are slippery and slightly gelatinous, a textural delight in many Asian countries and a treat on my palate.

Preparing dangmyeon with my favorite scallion sauce, some sautéed oyster mushrooms and ribbons of egg crepe, I was so impressed that I decided to keep them in my regular noodle rotation. But they were nowhere to be found at my usual store, Food 4 Less in Medford.

I have to imagine that the growing demand for all things gluten-free would recommend sweet-potato starch to many customers, so I mentioned dangmyeon to one of the store’s managers. It’s not such a stretch, given that Food 4 Less already carries the Korean fermented pepper paste gochujang. 

I still haven’t seen dangmyeon in stock, but I know where to find them should I grow weary of waiting. When I get my hands on them again, I’ll make a point to prepare japchae, among Korea’s most iconic dishes. I recall it from a my childhood frequenting a popular Asian restaurant in Coos Bay, where noodle lover that I am, I was deterred by so many onions and bell peppers on the plate.    

This version from the Chicago Tribune also calls for onions and bell peppers but easily could be adapted to personal preference, even made vegetarian with tofu. The strips of omelet really make the dish. If, like me, you prefer lots of noodles, double the amount called for here.

Tribune News Service photo

Japchae

Marinade:

5 ounces tender beef (rib-eye, flank, or tenderloin), cut into 2-inch strips

3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1/4 teaspoon (or to taste) ground black pepper, plus more as needed

Noodles:

5 ounces dangmyeon (Korean sweet potato starch noodles)

1 tablespoon sesame seeds (toasted)

1/2 tablespoon sugar

2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce

2 tablespoons sesame oil

4 ounces spinach

3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided, plus more if needed

2 eggs, beaten

1 small yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced (julienne)

1 medium carrot, peeled and sliced into thin strips (julienne)

1 red bell pepper, cored and sliced into thin strips (julienne)

Kosher or sea salt, to taste

Ground black pepper, to taste

5 fresh shiitake mushrooms, stemmed, caps cut into 1/4-inch strips, stems discarded

2 scallions, trimmed and cut on a bias

Combine the beef with the marinade ingredients in a small bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate, refrigerated, for 15 minutes. Remove beef, reserving marinade and holding in separate containers.

Add the noodles to a large bowl of warm water and allow to soften, for 15 to 20 minutes. Strain noodles, rinse with cold water and drain well. Toss noodles with the sesame seeds, sugar, soy sauce and sesame oil; set aside.

In a large pot of salted boiling water, blanch the spinach until wilted, for about 45 seconds; remove and shock in an ice bath. When cool, squeeze water from spinach and set aside.

Place a large, nonstick pan over high heat. When hot, add 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil. Add the beaten eggs; swirl to cover bottom of pan. Cook until underside is set, for about 1 minute. Flip over; cook until set through, for about 1 minute. Remove from pan; when cool, cut into julienne strips and set aside.

In a large saute pan or wok, add remaining 2 tablespoons vegetable oil. Stir-fry the onions, carrots and bell pepper until tender-crisp, for about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper; remove and set aside.

Add marinated beef and the shiitake mushrooms to pan; stir-fry until cooked through, for 1 to 2 minutes. Remove and reserve.

Add additional oil if needed, then add seasoned noodles. If more moisture is desired, add reserved beef marinade. Stir-fry until hot, for 1 to 2 minutes. Add all reserved ingredients; stir-fry until hot throughout, for 1 to 2 minutes. Taste for salt and pepper and adjust as needed. Garnish with the scallions; serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings.                  

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