Friday, May 28, 2010

inspired by a noodle

A little while ago, I was determined to make a Korean noodle dish called japchae.

It is apparently a Korean festival dish, so I carefully gathered all the vegetables and beef I needed. In fact, I gathered everything but the special dangmyeon noodles at my local grocery store. Dangmyeon noodles are made from sweet potato starch and they sounded exotic and delicious. But I wasn’t worried about finding them – there is a Korean grocery store downtown.

On the appointed japchae day – a Thursday – I went to work with japchae dreams, discussed it with my coworkers, happily trundled off to the Korean grocery store . . . to find it dark. A sign in the window said this particular Korean grocery store is closed Sundays and Thursdays. Thursdays?

I went to another Asian grocery store. I called other Asian grocery stores. But no one carried the dangmyeon noodles my japchae recipe called for. Stores kept referring me to the Korean grocery downtown, the one that’s closed on Thursdays. Defeated, I made a Chinese beef stir-fry with corn noodles. It was good, but it was no japchae.

But those dangmyeon noodles haunted me. I went to a restaurant for lunch and swore my rice noodle salad was actually made with dangmyeon sweet potato starch noodles. The idea of them – clear and stretchy and sweet potato-y – was irresistible.

And then it happened. I remembered to get the dangmyeon noodles on a day that was not a Thursday (or Sunday). I went into the Korean grocery store I had been dreaming about, spent a mere two dollars, and walked out with my precious dangmyeon noodles. They were grey, which surprised me. I’d always assumed they’d be orange.

There was only one problem. It was too soon to have another noodle dish tossed with beef and veggies, even if it was a different nationality.

I kept thinking about the noodles and how they should be paired with orange, since that’s the colour I’d had in my head. It just so happened I had oranges at home and – voila! – a recipe was born. This is a fresh and delicate citrus noodle dish for spring, full of crunchy vegetables and chewy dangmyeon noodles.

This is not japchae at all. The only thing this recipe has in common is the delectable dangmyeon noodle. I do look forward to making japchae one day – obviously, not on a Thursday.

Yes, these noodles were worth all the trouble.

A note: I used tofu, but I would also recommend shrimp, beef, pork or chicken. Instead of baking them, fry them in their marinade until just cooked.

Another note: Sure, this recipe looks like it has a lot of ingredients. But really, it’s not too hard – most of the ingredients are just slopped into the marinade. And if you don’t have a couple ingredients, experiment with others.

orange dangmyeon noodle toss

makes 4 to 5 bowls

12 oz. (340 g.) dangmyeon noodles
2 tbsp. honey
2 tbsp. lime juice, plus wedges of lime for serving
3 tbsp. + 3 tbsp. orange juice (squeezed from a real orange, if you can)
1 tbsp. mirin
1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp. + 1 tbsp. rice vinegar
2 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 tsp. salt
freshly ground pepper
1 tbsp. cornstarch
1 tsp. + 1 tsp. sesame oil
6 oz. (175 g.) firm tofu (or meat – see note above), cut in small strips
3 c. broccoli, cut into small florets
1/2 c. onion, thinly sliced
2 c. red, orange or yellow peppers, thinly sliced
2 carrots, shaved
2 tsp. canola or vegetable oil
2 tsp. cashew butter (yes, you could probably use peanut in a pinch)
cilantro, roughly chopped
chives, chopped
toasted sesame seeds

Once everything starts cooking, things move quickly! Make sure your vegetables are cut up ahead of time.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking pan with a silpat or parchment paper.

Prepare the marinade in a medium bowl. Stir the honey, lime juice, 3 tbsp. orange juice, mirin, apple cider vinegar, rice vinegar, garlic, salt, pepper and cornstarch together.

Pour one third of the marinade into another bowl. Add 1 tsp. sesame oil to this and mix well. Toss with your chopped tofu. Put the tossed tofu on the prepared pan, and bake for 16 to 19 minutes. Use a flipper to turn it once or twice. You want the tofu to be slightly crispy.

Heat a heavy-bottomed pan over medium-low heat. Add the oil, and throw in the broccoli and onion. Add two tablespoons of water. Put the lid on and cook for 3 minutes. (This steams the broccoli.)

While you’re cooking the vegetables, get the dangmyeon noodles started. Cook them as the package says: boil in lots of salted water for 4 to 6 minutes. (Do not overcook! This dish is all about noodle texture.) Once they are cooked, strain and rinse with cold water to stop any more cooking.

Now, back to the vegetables. After you have cooked the broccoli and onion for 3 minutes, take the lid off and throw in the peppers and carrots. Cook for 2 minutes.

While they are cooking, go back to your reserved marinade. Whisk in the cashew butter.  Toss this mixture into the vegetables. Throw in the cooked tofu or meat. Cook for 2 more minutes, until it’s slightly thickened and the vegetables are perfectly tender-crisp. Taste to see if they’re salty enough. Take the pan off the heat to stop the cooking, but put the lid on to keep it warm.

Move the dangmyeon noodles from the strainer back into their pot. Over very low heat, toss them with 1 tsp. sesame oil, 3 tbsp. orange juice and 1 tbsp. rice vinegar. Once they have warmed up, turn off the heat.

Fill bowls with noodles and vegetables in sauce. Top with generous dollops of cilantro, chives and toasted sesame seeds. Serve with lime wedges to squeeze over top.

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