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Cookbook review: The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook

If you aren't blessed with an Asian grandmother, this cookbook will guide you through the steps to make an authentic Asian dish without having to travel across the globe. 

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I gratefully received her many homemade traditional dishes that are difficult to find in the United States. That's why I was delighted to see so many unique recipes in "The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook." As you might guess, I was most excited about the recipe for japchae. 

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Josephine is the Christian Science Monitor Weekly intern. Online, she contributes to the Books, Culture, and Business sections. 

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Because japchae is a side dish, I chose to make Thai basil pork as a main course. There is a Korean mart called Lotte Market on my way home from work and I went there to pick up the necessary ingredients. I told the storekeepers what I was making, and they helped me navigate the dozens of sauces, noodles, and vegetables to find the right ones. 

Once home, I immediately placed the dried mushrooms in a bowl of water to soak. I should have begun chopping all the rest of the ingredients, but instead followed the directions and soaked the noodles and spinach. This was a mistake. Although it might seem obvious to chop everything ahead of time so that it's ready to go in, I didn't do this step until after everything else was ready to go, which made the whole process take much longer.

Ideally, after taking care of the mushrooms, chop as much as the ingredients as possible. Towards the end of chopping, soak the noodles, and at the very end, soak the spinach. After that, follow the directions provided and you should be golden! 

After the many hours spent preparing the japchae, I was happy to find that it tasted just like japchae should: noodle-y with a sweet flavoring soaked in. The noodles were a bit larger than normal japchae noodles tend to be, the carrots were chunks rather than thin julienne slices, and I would have liked more onion and spinach interspersed throughout, but apart from these details, which can be easily fixed, the dish was a success.

Japchae

Serves 6-8

1 pound dried Korean sweet potato noodles
Hot water
8 ounces spinach, trimmed (4 to 5 cups)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus more as needed
6 medium dried black mushrooms, rehydrated and cut into thin slices (3/4 cup)
           To rehydrate: soak in water for 30 minutes or several hours if you start ahead of time
1 small yellow onion, halved and cut into thin crescents
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into thin crescents
3 green onions, white and green parts, cut into 1-inch lengths
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup soy sauce
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds

Place the noodles in a heatproof bow and soak in hot water for 15 minutes. With kitchen shears, cut into 3- to 4-inch pieces. You just want the noodles to be manageable so don’t worry about getting exact lengths. Drain and set aside.

Place the spinach in a heatproof bowl and soak in very hot water for 1 to 2 minutes until wilted but not fully cooked. Rinse under cold running water and drain. Gently squeeze the water from the spinach and cut into 3 sections.

Preheat a large wok or skillet over medium-high heat for 1 minute swirl in the oil and heat until it becomes runny and starts to shimmer. Add the mushrooms, onions, carrots, green onions, and garlic and stir and cook until the carrots are crisp tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium and toss in the noodles. Add the soy sauce, brown sugar, and sesame oil. Stir everything swiftly around the wok for 3 to 4 minutes, coating the noodles evenly with the seasonings. Add more oil if the noodles stick to the bottom of the wok. Taste and adjust seasonings if desired. Mix in the spinach and sesame seeds at the very end and toss with a couple more flourishes. Serve hot or let cool to room temperature. 

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