Jap chae (Korean sweet potato noodles) with bulgogi

Jap chae noodlesJap chae is one of those dishes for which I like to keep the ingredients in the pantry/fridge/freezer at all times. Then, on those days when I’m lacking a plan but need something quick and tasty, I can just whip it up. The only problem is, I always underestimate how much everybody will gobble up. What looks like a generous amount of noodles in the wok always gets eaten up and I don’t end up with leftovers (I love leftovers). Oh well – I can’t complain too much about my kids eating healthy food without the usual whining.

Jap chae is made with Korean sweet potato noodles, which look like thick, brownish glass noodles. (This is the brand I used.) They have a slightly sticky, chewy consistency that I really like – though this is decidedly not a dish for which you want a gluey sauce. They’re naturally gluten-free. I can’t scientifically say whether they’re low-FODMAP but I can say I’ve never had a problem with them. Although sweet potatoes are moderate in FODMAPs I would suspect making them into starch, then noodles, would probably eliminate most of the FODMAPs. Again, this is speculation.

Jap chae in wokThe dish is one of those lovely ones where you can pretty much throw in any meat or vegetable you’ve got in the fridge. You don’t really have to measure quantities, even for the sauce. However, for the purposes of this recipe I’ve stuck with a relatively traditional version including bulgogi (Korean marinated beef strips). Just for you, dear readers, I even measured what I put in my marinade and sauce.

The following recipe makes enough jap chae for two to three adults, but the quantities I give for bulgogi will result in enough bulgogi to make jap chae twice. Believe me, this is a wonderful thing. Just freeze what you don’t use and pull it out when you need more jap chae or use it in another dish.

Bulgogi (low-FODMAP, gluten-free version)

  • 2 grilling steaks
  • 1-2 tablespoons minced ginger
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2-4 tablespoons soy sauce*
  • 1 tablespoon sake (optional, but a little alcohol helps tenderize the meat)
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon garlic-infused olive oil
  1. Slice your meat as thinly as possible. To make this easier, put it in the freezer for 30 minutes to an hour before slicing. Alternatively, if you’re starting with frozen meat, defrost in the fridge for several hours, not overnight. It should still be a little icy but easy to slice.
  2. Mix together all other ingredients and pour the marinade into a strong freezer bag (you could use a bowl but a freezer bag is more efficient). Add the meat and mix well. Because the meat is so thinly sliced, you don’t need to marinate for a long time – 15 minutes or so is enough to flavour the meat. On the other hand, you can’t really over-marinate. You’ll just end up with more strongly flavoured meat.
  3. Use half for the jap chae recipe below. Freeze or refrigerate the other half for use later.

Sliced zucchini, carrots, chives, beefJap chae (gluten-free, probably low-FODMAP)

  • Sesame oil
  • 1 carrot, julienned
  • 1 zucchini/courgette, julienned
  • 1 small bunch chives, cut into pieces about 1 inch long
  • A few generous handfuls baby spinach or 1 bunch regular spinach, coarsely chopped
  • Approx. 200 grams sweet potato noodles (AKA starch noodles, AKA jap chae noodles, AKA dangmyeon)
  • Half the marinated raw bulgogi (see above), including half the marinade
  • 2-4 tablespoons gluten-free soy sauce/tamari*
  • Approx. 1/4 cup beef or chicken broth (preferably homemade; watch for garlic and onion if you’re low-FODMAP and using a store-bought broth)
  • Shichimi** to serve, optional
  1. Soak noodles in freshly boiled water while you prepare your other ingredients.
  2. In wok on high heat, sauté carrot and zucchini briefly until slightly softened and browned.
  3. Turn down heat to medium-high. Add beef and marinade and stir-fry until just browned.
  4. Add spinach, then drain noodles and add to wok. Add beef/chicken broth and soy sauce. If mixture seems dry, add a little more broth. You want a little liquid in the wok because your noodles haven’t quite cooked enough just from the soaking, but not so much that you’ll end up with overcooked noodles. Sweet potato noodles aren’t as easy to overcook as, say, rice vermicelli, but it’s not impossible.
  5. Stir-fry, mixing meat and vegetables well into noodles. Turn off heat when most of the liquid has been absorbed and noodles are tender but still chewy. Stir in chives. Optionally, sprinkle with shichimi to add a bit of a spicy finish.

* There can be a big difference in strength between soy sauces, so the quantity you ultimately use will depend on how concentrated yours is. As a rough guide to gluten-free soy sauces, I find Kikkoman (widely available) to be quite weak. Sanchi (available in the UK) and San-J (North America) are in the middle. Clearspring (UK) is very strong. It’s not necessarily a good or bad thing to have weak or strong soy sauce – some dishes are better off with a weaker soy sauce, others with a stronger one. You just have to be aware of what you have and you may have to adjust quantities accordingly. All the above-mentioned brands taste good. However, if I had to choose just one bottle I’d go for a stronger one. You can easily thin a soy sauce but it’s harder to concentrate it. Although Clearspring is pretty expensive to begin with it lasts a lot longer so it’s not bad value. This time, however, I had Kikkoman in the house, so I used quantities in the higher range of the amounts I’ve given. If you’re using Clearspring, you might want to start with even less than the low end and add according to taste.

** Not traditionally Korean, but I love shichimi, a Japanese condiment that mixes hot chilli powder with ground citrus peel, sesame seeds, and other spices. S&B is the most common Japanese brand. It’s great on jap chae as well as a huge range of other dishes. And it’s low-FODMAP.

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