Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Japchae - delicious Korean noodles and a great Fast Diet meal!

For a couple of my fast days recently, I've been making Japchae. If you've never heard of this, it's a popular Korean noodle dish made with beef and veggies, soaked in a sauce made from soy sauce, sugar, and sesame oil. You may think, WHOA, beef and noodles and sugar and oil? I can't have that on a fast day! And you've got a good point. I'm going to tell you how to get around that so you can enjoy a big delicious plate of Japchae for a fast day dinner!

A while back I heard about some crazy Japanese 'miracle' noodles, which are made from a type of yam and a lot of water, and thus are ridiculously low in calorie and yet still fill you up. There are two kinds, Shirataki and Ito konnyaku, which, now that I've tried both, seem basically the same to me. I think it's a regional difference, or a difference in the way they were produced in the past, or something like that. 

Obviously, with being very very low in calories, these noodles are ideal for Fast Diet meals! They come packed in a bag like this, with noodles floating in a lot of liquid. I bought my ito konnyaku at a local Japanese store, for about 50,000 dong ($2.50). It was enough basically for a full-sized plate of noodles and veggies. This bag actually said on the nutritional info on the back, ZERO for everything! Even zero calories! Now, this seems impossible to me, because they're made of SOMETHING, so obviously they can't be absolutely zero calorie. I have read that they're 97% water though, so if you eat 100g, you're only eating 3g of actual substance, which isn't going to give you many calories at all!

On the second occasion I went to a different store and found these Shirataki noodles for about 38,000 dong, for the same size bag. These ones said 6 calories per 100g on the back, which I guess is a bit more realistic. Either way, does it really matter?

These are a bit gelatinous and slightly like glass noodles, so they work quite well for Japchae.

To prepare the noodles, I drained off the weird-smelling liquid (a bit fishy, really) and rinsed them in a strainer until they didn't smell anymore. I read afterward that you should boil them for just a few minutes, or else they'll still smell a bit, but mine didn't. Maybe it was all the sauce I put on them!

For my Japchae I found a recipe on the amazing Korean food blog, Beyond Kimchee. Holly started this blog as a keepsake for her children to inherit, so that they would be able to cook good Korean food when she's no longer around. If you love Korean food and you haven't seen this, check it out!

Each element has its own special sauce that you stir up and add the main ingredients to, which each either have been blanched or get cooked later. Then it's all mixed together at the end. I'll warn you; this makes quite a bit of work, but I promise it's worth it. I only used about half the sauce ingredients in Holly's recipe, as I was only making it for one person.

Beautiful, delicious shiitake mushrooms.

The first time I made Japchae I used a little bit of lean beef, and marinated it just as Holly describes, along with some shiitake mushrooms, blanched and seasoned in their own sauce, spinach (Vietnamese water spinach, otherwise known as rau muống) blanched then soaked in another sauce, and some onions, carrots, and red peppers tossed about in a fry pan. I used a bit of the excess sauce that the noodles were soaking in to avoid using any more oil. 

Rau muống, Vietnamese water spinach, blanched and soaking in its sauce.

Onions, carrots, red pepper, and bean sprouts, pan fried just until tender-crisp.

Now, as a fast day recipe this was pushing it a bit, as it ended up being pretty much my full 500 calories all in one go. However, I had quite a bit of extra sauce floating on my plate when I was done, so I'm thinking I didn't quite consume all of it. Most (er...just about all...) of the calories are in the sauce because of the sugar and sesame oil, so reducing the amount of that would help a lot in reducing the calorie count!

My first Japchae, sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds.

The second time I made it, I left out the beef, because obviously this is where quite a few calories come in. And how do you count calories in beef anyway? I bought mine at the market outside my house. It looked like a nice lean piece of meat, but I have no idea what cut it actually was or how many calories would be in it. 
I also had no spinach handy this time, so along with the beef I was able to leave out two of the sauces. I added zucchini and snow peas to the veggie mix, for more variety and vitamins and because I had them in my fridge. The only other change I made was in the sauce for the mushrooms, where I added the tiny bit of rice wine and salt that would normally have gone in the beef and the spinach.

It came out just as tasty as the first time, and at about 400 calories. I think next time I'll try reducing the amount of sesame oil and sugar a bit more. I think I could make it a little less sweet, and as much as I love the sesame flavour, that's where the majority of the calories get added. I also still had a fair bit of sauce left on my plate, so maybe I need to just make less!

This makes a pretty good fast day meal, as both times I ended up with a very full plate of food, which is a hard thing to do when you're only allowed 500 calories in a day! It's delicious, and the noodles do fill you up, at least as much as normal noodles would.

I'll be experimenting more with these noodles in the future, so stay tuned to see what I come up with!

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