Korean cooking expert Maangchi has brought Korean cuisine to the masses through her YouTube channel and cookbooks. In an interview with Heeseung Kim for Chowhound, she shares her favorite dishes for Korean New Year, and a recipe for japchae.
Growing up Korean-American meant constantly switching between what could feel like two different lives. English at school, (broken) Korean at home. PB&J sandwiches for lunch, and rice, banchan, and stews for dinner. My parents tried to instill in me an understanding of Korean values and traditions, to varying levels of success. One of those traditions was around Seollal, Korean New Year. On Seollal, which is on the first day of the Korean lunar calendar, my brother and I would line up in front of my parents and bow deeply to them, as we blurted out in one long stream, “Saehae bok mani badeuseyo,” wishing them luck in the coming year. And then, we would celebrate with an elaborate meal that my mother had prepared.
After I left home, I found myself craving my mom’s cooking. The only problem? I didn’t know how to cook. And asking my mom led to instructions like “Picture that white bowl we have at home. Add enough gochugaru to just cover the bottom…”
Luckily, Maangchi, less commonly known as Emily Kim, was there for me, with flavors that reminded me of my mom’s and actual measurements in her recipes. After moving to the U.S. in the 1990s, Maangchi became an expert at recreating the flavors she grew up with, and since beginning her YouTube channel in 2007, her openhearted passion has won her a fan base of 4 million strong. This success has translated offline, too, with two cookbooks; the latest, “Maangchi’s Big Book of Korean Cooking: From Everyday Meals to Celebration Cuisine,” came out last October.
Maangchi's Big Book of Korean Cooking, $18.59 on Amazon
Ahead of Seollal (on Jan. 25th this year), I got in touch with Maangchi to talk about how she celebrates the holiday. Maangchi, who insists there are no bad Seollal foods, shares her traditions and the one dish that must appear on every Seollal menu.
What were your favorite Seollal foods growing up?
What are your Seollal traditions with your family in America?
Maangchi: I still eat tteokguk [Ed. note: rice cake soup, also sometimes spelled dduk guk] every Seollal, and on Jan. 1st too! My children usually come to my house a few days before Seollal, and I’ll make a lot of Korean dishes like galbijjim (braised beef short ribs) and japchae (starch noodles with vegetables, mushrooms, and meat). On New Year’s Day, they bow to me in the traditional way, and I wish them a happy and healthy new year and give them some fresh crisp bills, just like we did in Korea. I like to take part in American traditions, too, but when it comes to Korean traditions, I like to continue them in the old ways if I can. I haven’t found any reason to change them so far.
If you could have only one Seollal dish ever again in your life, what would you pick?
Maangchi: Tteokguk! It’s a must. We Koreans consider our age to go up 1 year when we eat a bowl of tteokguk on Seollal.
What dishes would you recommend for a Seollal menu?
Maangchi: Tteokguk, of course. Look for fresh rice cakes in the Korean grocery store, usually sold right before Seollal, but if they don’t sell them fresh, then frozen rice cakes sold in a package are still good. I would also recommend making galbijjim, especially if you’ve never made it before, because it’s so delicious and everyone loves it. Also japchae and a variety of vegetable side dishes such as fernbrake, radish, spinach, soybean sprouts, and potato stems dishes. For dessert, I recommend sujeonggwa (persimmon punch).
Do you have any New Year’s resolutions?
Maangchi: I’m trying to drink more water this year, I’ve learned it’s such a simple way to improve your health!
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Try Maangchi’s Japchae Recipe
Excerpted from Maangchi’s Big Book of Korean Cooking: From Everyday Meals to Celebration Cuisine © 2019 by Maangchi. Photography © 2019 by Maangchi. Reproduced by permission of Rux Martin Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.
Sweet Potato Starch Noodles with Vegetables and Meat
Japchae | 잡채
Japchae is a beautiful dish of translucent sweet potato noodles, lots of colorful vegetables, mushrooms, and meat. Along with kimchi and bulgogi, it’s one of the most popular and best known Korean dishes. My readers tell me it’s always a hit when they bring it to a party. In the past, I cooked each ingredient separately and then combined them, which is traditional, but in this recipe, I simplified the process without losing any flavor or changing the appearance of the dish. I coat all the vegetables except for the spinach with a thin layer of oil and cook them all together. The photo on page 324 shows how to arrange the ingredients in the pot. If you are vegetarian or vegan, you can modify the recipe—simply skip the meat and the egg yolk garnish.
- 8 ounces pork belly, beef tenderloin, or boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 2 ½ inch-long strips
- 3 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
- 7 or 8 dried wood ear mushrooms, soaked in cold water for at least 30 minutes (optional)
- 8 ounces sweet potato starch noodles (dangmyeon), soaked in cold water for 40 minutes
- ¼ cup plus 2 teaspoons soy sauce
- 5 garlic cloves, minced
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 8 ounces mushrooms (oyster, king oyster, portobello, shiitake, and/ or white button), sliced
- 1 large onion, sliced
- 1 large carrot, peeled and cut into 1- to 2-inch matchsticks
- 4 to 6 scallions, cut into 2 ½ inch pieces
- ¼ cup vegetable oil
- 8 ounces bunch spinach, roots cut away and leaves cut into 4-inch pieces
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
- Yellow Egg Paper Strips (recipe below)
- Combine your choice of meat, 2 teaspoons of the soy sauce, 2 teaspoons of the brown sugar, and 1 teaspoon of the sesame oil in a bowl and mix well with a spoon or by hand. Cover and refrigerate.
- If using the dried wood ear mushrooms, drain and transfer to the cutting board. Cut off the tough stems and discard. Cut the caps into bite-size pieces.
- Drain the noodles and, using scissors, cut into 5- to 6-inch lengths.
- Combine the remaining ¼ cup soy sauce, garlic, remaining 3 tablespoons brown sugar, and black pepper in a bowl and mix well until the sugar has dissolved.
- Heat a skillet over high heat and add the marinated meat. Stir with a wooden spoon until the meat is thoroughly cooked and glazed and all the liquid has evaporated, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat.
- In a large, heavy pot, combine the wood ear mushrooms (if using), fresh mushrooms, onion, carrot, scallions, vegetable oil, and ¼ cup water. Mix well with both hands so that all the vegetables and mushrooms are nicely coated with oil. (This will not only prevent the ingredients from turning brown from the seasoning sauce, but will also keep them from burning.)
- Add the spinach and spread in an even layer. Place the noodles on top. Drizzle the seasoning sauce on top of the noodles. Cover and cook for 10 minutes over medium-high heat. Stir and toss all the ingredients with a wooden spoon and tongs for 1 to 2 minutes, until all the liquid has evaporated and the noodles are nicely cooked and shiny.
- Remove the pot from the heat and add the meat, the remaining 1 tablespoon sesame oil, and the sesame seeds. Toss the mixture so that all the ingredients are evenly distributed. Transfer to a large platter. Garnish with the egg paper strips (if using) and serve. The dish can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. To reheat, stir-fry in a skillet with a few tablespoons water or vegetable oil.
Yellow Egg Paper Strips
Gyeran-Noreunja-Jidanchae | 계란노른자지단채
These bright yellow strips of cooked egg yolk make a simple garnish that we use in many dishes, such as Rice Cake Soup and Sweet Potato Starch Noodles with Vegetables and Meat. You can also make white egg paper strips using the whites, but the yellow egg paper strips are easier, and so beautiful!
Egg Paper Strips
- 2 large egg yolks
- Pinch of kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
- Beat the egg yolks with a pinch of salt. Strain into another small bowl and discard any stringy bits remaining in the strainer.
- Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the vegetable oil and swirl to coat. Wipe off the excess oil with a paper towel so only a thin layer remains in the skillet.
- Reduce the heat to low and pour the egg mixture into the skillet. Spread it to about a 4-inch diameter. Turn off the heat and cook in the hot skillet until set. Turn the egg paper over and allow it to set for another minute.
- Transfer to a cutting board, slice the egg paper into thin strips, and serve. Store in an airtight container or zipper-lock plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Related Video: Learn How to Make Dduk Guk, Korean Rice Cake Soup
Header image courtesy of Maangchi