Quick Japchae

Korean cuisine can be difficult for vegetarians. With slabs of meat being grilled up on practically every corner, a vegetarian can feel a little left out. But there is a whole lot more to Korean food than barbecue. There are some fantastic vegetarian rice and noodle dishes, and here’s an example I recommend you try as soon as possible!

Japchae is one of my favorite Korean dishes, but the first version I made was extremely time consuming. I wanted to try making something similar, but that didn’t take two hours and require millions of pots and pans. I’m pretty happy with what I came up with.

Korean red pepper paste might be available in your local Asian grocery store, but if it isn’t, you can use a few dashes of Siracha. The flavor won’t be the same, but it will still add a nice kick.

Sweet potato vermicelli comes in a package that looks like this:
This package was 300 g and I used half of it. If you can’t find these, any noodles would be nice with the vegetables and sauce.

I’ve been using a lot of tofu lately, because I can get very cheap freshly made tofu at my local grocery store. If you’d prefer meat, you can easily just dice up a little beef or chicken and use it instead. Just cook it with the garlic first, and once it’s fully cooked, continue with the recipe as written.

The great thing about this dish is the flexibility when it comes to the vegetables you include. Spinach, napa cabbage, bean sprouts, carrots, and bell peppers all work well. The shiitake mushrooms add a really nice earthy flavor, but you could use regular mushrooms instead.


3 tbsp soy sauce
3 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp Korean red pepper paste
2 tbsp sesame oil, divided
150 grams sweet potato vermicelli
1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
about 1/2 pound Protein of your choice (chicken/tofu/beef), diced
1 carrot, julienned
about 10 shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 large carrot, julienned
1 large sweet onion, cut into thin wedges
1 medium bunch spinach, leaves only (about 10 ounces)
3 tbsp toasted sesame seeds

Whisk together soy sauce, sugar, Korean red pepper paste, and 1 tbsp sesame oil, and set aside.
Cook the noodles in a pot of boiling water for 6 minutes or until soft, then drain and rinse with cold water.
Heat the vegetable oil and remaining sesame oil over medium heat and add the garlic. Cook for a minute or two, then add your protein. Cook until tofu is browned on all sides or chicken or beef is cooked through.
Add the carrot, onion, and mushrooms and cook until soft.
Add the soy sauce mixture and spinach, and stir until spinach is wilted.
Add the noodles and toss well, and once the noodles are heated through, transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

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11 comments to Quick Japchae

  • What a gorgeous picture! This looks really yummy – do you think I could use tatsoi instead of spinach?

  • This looks so pretty and sounds delicious. I’m not all that familiar with Korean food, so it’s nice to see these posts. :)

  • A new Korean postdoc just joined our lab and the first thing I asked her was if she could teach me how to make her favorite dishes! This looks so good and I love the gorgeous picture and how you simplified the recipe!

  • Hi Cate! I have not been exposed to Corean food very much, although the unauthentic dishes I have had ( I don’t remember the names) have been delicious. This dish looks sooooo good! Beautiful photo, too.

  • That looks absolutely delicious. But one question… how is it pronounced?

  • pdxdoc

    Just had the Japchae and the spicy sweet potatoes tonight with your recipes and very very good! We cut back on the spices in the japchae and still had a bit of a bite.
    Looking forward to trying more of your recipes! Keep ‘em coming!

  • BluePencil

    As the Minnesotans say, Oh, for yum! Even cutting the Sriracha in half, though, kept it burning. Not sure how I’ll handle The Real Thing in September.

  • I always order japchae at sushi restaurants, because 1) it’s delicious, 2) the chefs are almost always Korean, so they take better care of you when they see you demonstrate superior taste :)

  • This is going to the LAN party this weekend along with the Jijimi. I know there will be vegetarians there.

  • Caroline

    Cate, I recently discovered your site and like it a lot! I am a Korean-American in San Francisco, and your Korean recipes are easy to make and delicious! I’m off to the store to get fixins for Japchae. Thanks!

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