grapes and noodles = kids ::::
The grape will always remind me of my baby.
She clutched the grape in her fat fist for four hours, briefly releasing it while napping, then quickly recovering her grip once awake.
This is Sky-Girl. She clasps numerous things in a hand as we walk or as she snuggles against me, a security of sorts. I find forgotten items in random places. In my bed: a teaspoon, a soup spoon, a small blue rubber ball, a shell bead, various colored straws, a calculator, hair elastics, one Wheat Thin cracker, and plastic cups. In the car: a soup ladle, a lone unused garden glove, clean socks, dirty socks, Elmo and Big Bird figurines, various rattles, a frisbee, and a ruler.
That grip loosens as she grows and explores more independently, an emblem to growing up and losing our children’s gaze. It hasn’t happened yet, not entirely with our young children, but it’s creeping in slowly, an insidious melting away. It’s expected but it doesn’t make it any easier. Where do I go when this role has changed? When my hand is empty? My heart still full?
So we create those everlasting traditions that families do, events that link us through the ages. We will remember Daddy reading bedtime books every night. Or maybe you will recall weekend movie privileges. When we visited the cousins in Maine and found half-prickled, sun bleached sea urchins at the gray, rocky beach. And I’ll remember our indisputable love for noodles, especially Taiwanese recipes, slurped up with no shame. Homemade Japanese ramen never went wrong. And Korean sweet potato noodles were a hit.
Here is where we land today, on that mountain of noodles, specifically the Korean ones. Japchae, or sweet potato noodles with meat and vegetables, is our star of this post. It’s flexible (change up your vegetables and leave out the meat, if desired), voluminous (freeze the leftovers), and sure fill up you and your kids. They may just bring a few of those sticky noodles to school, little stowaways on a shirt collar. And you may find them, stuck to pajamas or those errant toys. In that fat, baby fist, in memories.
One year ago: tsebhi sega
- 500 grams (just over 1 pound) dried sweet potato noodles (Korean 'glass' noodles 'dang-myeon' or 당면)
- 1 medium onion
- 1 large carrot (typically julienned but if Peach helps me cook, we have diced carrots, as per the photo. Additionally, using pre-cooked carrot is fine.)
- 2 to 6 ounces dried Shiitake mushroom, rehydrated for at least an hour. The dried Shiitake can be quite strong for some people, so adjust the amount on what you like. Or use fresh, or woodear is nice here.
- 7 ounces spinach, blanched (if using frozen, thaw and no need to blanch. Remove stems if still present.)
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- vegetable oil, for stir frying
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 2 to 3 green onions, chopped into small ringlets
- About 8 ounces beef, julienned (optional) -- I skip the meat and never miss it.
- SEASONING SAUCE: ⅓ cup soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 4 tablespoons sesame oil
- A few sprinkles of white sesame seeds
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- Fill a large pot with water and heat to boil noodles.
- Meanwhile, make seasoning sauce: mix soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, sesame seeds, and black pepper in a bowl. Mix well and set aside.
- Julienne meat (if using). Squeeze soaking water from shiitake mushrooms (save it for soup!), and julienne caps, removing and discarding tough stems. In a bowl, mix meat and mushrooms with a couple of tablespoons of the seasoning sauce. Allow to sit for 15 minutes.
- If using raw spinach, remove roots, wash thoroughly and blanch for 1 minute in a small pot if boiling water (not the noodle pot). Rinse in cold water and squeeze all the water out with your hands. If using frozen spinach, thaw completely and squeeze out some juice (a little is okay). Season with a bit of salt and set aside.
- Julienne carrot and onion (or dice if your 7-year-old is doing the chopping).
- By this time, your water to boil the noodles should be boiling. Cook about 5 minutes, or until almost done and not mushy. Rinse and drain noodles in cold water. They will look grey in color. That's okay. To keep the noodles from clumping while you work on other steps, rinse with water occasionally and separate with your fingers.
- Heat large pot (I love my cast iron) and add a thin layer of vegetable oil. Sauté carrot and onion with a pinch of salt and a pinch of black pepper on high heat for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the carrots are fully cooked. Throw in the garlic and cook about 1 minute.
- Add and sauté the marinated meat, if using, and shiitake mushrooms until the meat is fully cooked. Add the spinach also and cook to tender.
- Using kitchen scissors, cut the glass noodles a few times so that noodles are easier to serve.
- The fun part: Add the glass noodles into the sautéed ingredients and pour the rest of seasoning sauce into the vegetables/noodles and mix well. Make sure to coat the noodles well with the sauce so that they soak up flavor and become a lovely brown color. Throw in the green onions.
- Keep sautéing this mixture for about 5 minutes to warm the noodles. Stir frequently to prevent sticking, adding a bit more oil if needed. Taste it. Need more salt? Dribble a small amount of soy sauce over the mixture and mix well.
- Sprinkle with sesame seeds and a small drizzle of sesame oil and serve hot.
- This makes enough to feed a crowd. No worries if you have lots of leftovers: they reheat well. You can also freeze the jap chae well-wrapped. When reheating in either scenario, pour in a bit of water to keep the noodles from sticking together and drying out.