Adventures in International Markets: Korean for dinner

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This post is part of a series that will be running for the month of March here at The Coupon Project. I am delighted to have guest writer Anna Krey running this series for me! Please visit our Adventures in International Markets page for past posts you may have missed. With that? Here’s Anna:

Welcome back! On Monday I introduced some of the benefits of shopping at international markets and shared some general thoughts on what you can expect. Today I’d like to share the first of three posts that are focused on shopping for and cooking with Asian ingredients.

The week before I started working on this series I ate a fantastic noodle dish at the home of a Korean friend. When she swore up and down it wasn’t hard to prepare I knew I had to hit the Asian market and learn how to make some japchae for you. While I was at it I scouted out another easy and delicious dish, seasoned fried chicken (yangnyeom tongdak) from the fantastic Korean recipe blog Maangchi, so that you can have yourself a full-on Korean dinner.

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Photo credits: Alex McKean

If you’ve never ventured into an Asian market and are feeling uncertain about what to look for once you’re there, either (or both) of these dishes would be a great starting point. Each dish requires only one specialty ingredient from the Asian market, plus a couple other ingredients that you can buy there if you feel like it. Japchae is a traditional Korean noodle dish made from dried sweet potato noodles, or, in Korean, dangmyeon. I paid $3.19 for 24 ounces of sweet potato noodles, enough to make this dish three times.

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Tip: It helps to have a couple ways to describe the item that you are looking for. Try asking for Korean sweet potato noodles, glass noodles, vermicelli, or dangmyeon. Whatever you call it, unless you are in an exclusively Korean market be sure to note that you are looking for a Korean product.

For the fried chicken you’ll need gochujang, a Korean hot pepper paste that comes in a variety of heat levels. I wasn’t sure what the scale was so I opted for mild and it was plenty of heat for me. I paid $7.29 for a tub of gochujang that’s enough to make this dish about ten times.

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For comparison’s sake, the same product is priced at $13.49 on Amazon. I’ve found that when it comes to international foods, the prices on Amazon and other online marketplaces are hit or miss. I always try a local market first.

Maangchi’s recipe for seasoned fried chicken also calls for a breading of potato starch and rice flour, mixed with all-purpose flour. I had potato starch on hand so I went ahead and laid out $1.99 for a box of rice flour. However, I didn’t have the rice syrup called for in the sauce so I subbed honey. This recipe is pretty flexible so feel free to substitute what you have on hand rather than shell out for a new ingredient the first time you try it.

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Once you have your sweet potato noodles, gochujang, and breading ingredients you’ll need sesame oil, soy sauce, and sesame seeds (optional). If you don’t already have these items on hand you can find them at the Asian market. The rest of the ingredients are simply vegetable and protein add-ins that can be purchased anywhere and, in fact, customized to your tastes.

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My friend Heesoon stressed that japchae is a flexible dish, endlessly adaptable to your tastes and dietary preferences. Here is a basic recipe:

Japchae (Korean stir-fried sweet potato noodles)

Servings: 6 side dish servings
Possible variations: Add thinly sliced beef; vary the veggies
Special diets: Use tamari instead of soy sauce for GF
Special ingredients: Korean sweet potato noodles
Cost breakdown: About $0.75 per serving, not counting pantry staples (oil, brown sugar)

8 ounces of dried sweet potato noodles
Sesame oil
Nonstick cooking spray
3 eggs, beaten
Vegetable oil
1 carrot, peeled and cut into matchsticks
½ yellow onion, thinly sliced
4-6 ounces mushrooms, sliced
3-4 big handfuls baby spinach
3 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup soy sauce
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 green onion, thinly sliced (optional)
1 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds (optional)
Salt and pepper, to taste

  1. Cook the sweet potato noodles in a pot of boiling, salted water according to package directions. (I found that following the directions on my package resulted in noodles that were slightly too crunchy for my liking. Take a moment to taste the noodles before draining them.)
  2. Drain noodles and immediately cool them down by running cold water over them. Once cool, cut into manageable lengths with a pair of kitchen shears, drizzle with sesame oil so they won’t stick together, and set aside in the colander.
  3. In this next step, you are essentially making a very flat omelet. Spray a nonstick skillet with cooking spray and heat to medium heat. Pour in the beaten eggs. Don’t touch the eggs at all for 30-60 seconds. When the bottom has begun to set, run a spatula underneath the edge and gently shake the pan to ensure that your eggs aren’t sticking. Cover pan so that the top will set. When cooked through, slide the “omelet” out onto a plate or cutting board and let cool. Once cool, roll up and slice thinly.
  4. Heat a swirl of vegetable oil in a large frying pan or nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add carrots, onions, and salt and pepper to taste. (You’ll be adding soy sauce later, so go easy on the salt at this point.) Cook, stirring occasionally, until the carrot and onions have softened, 5-8 minutes. Add garlic and mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms have softened, 3-5 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, dissolve the brown sugar into the soy sauce in a small bowl.
  6. Turn the heat up to medium-high and add the spinach. Depending on the size of your pan, you may need to add the spinach one or two handfuls at a time. Stir until spinach is wilted. It may help to switch to tongs at this point.
  7. Add the soy sauce and brown sugar mixture, along with the cooled noodles and sliced egg. Toss until heated through, 2-3 minutes.
  8. Off the heat, add another drizzle of sesame oil and toss. Check for seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed. Transfer to your serving dish and garnish with green onions and toasted sesame seeds (optional). This dish can be served warm or at room temperature.

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Maangchi’s seasoned fried chicken (Yangnyeom tongdak)

Servings: 4 main dish servings
Possible variations: Make the sauce only and serve it on rice, tofu, veggies, other meat, etc.
Special diets: For GF, use gluten-free flours for the breading, but also check the ingredients in your gochujang as some are GF and some aren’t.
Special ingredients: Korean hot pepper paste, potato starch, rice flour
Cost breakdown: About $2.86 per serving made with organic chicken and not counting pantry staples (flour, baking soda, honey, vinegar). To decrease cost per serving you could use cheaper chicken, sub the potato starch and/or rice flour for something you already have, or reuse your frying oil. 

You can find Maangchi’s detailed recipe for seasoned fried chicken here. My personal notes are as follow:

  • Maangchi calls for 3 lb of “chicken chunks”. I used organic drumsticks from Costco. (Side note: Is the organic chicken at Costco a new thing? I hadn’t noticed it before, but I don’t buy a lot of meat. It was only $1.79/lb!)
  • As mentioned above, I subbed honey for rice syrup. I’m not sure what the difference would be with rice syrup, but I can tell you—made with honey, this sauce is incredible. In fact, I made it again two nights later and slathered it on tofu and rice.
  • The only part of the recipe that gave me a little trouble was breading the chicken. It might work okay as written if you have a really big bowl, but if not I recommend putting the beaten egg (you might even need two eggs) in one shallow dish and the flour mixture in another. Coat each piece of chicken in the egg followed by the flour mixture. When I used the one-bowl method I couldn’t coat each piece evenly and I ended up with some bald spots on my chicken.
  • To achieve an extra crunchy coating you fry each piece twice. Maangchi recommends 10 minutes each time, but I only fried them about 6 minutes the second time so that the chicken wouldn’t dry out. Whatever you do, check for doneness by opening up a slit in one of your biggest pieces and making sure the juices run clear.
  • Since the chicken has two relatively long frying times, you could probably make these dishes simultaneously. However, since the noodle dish is fine held at room temperature for a while, I prepared it first so I could fully concentrate on the fried chicken.

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Next up: We’ve got the flu at my house. 🙁 Can I find some healing food at an Asian market?

6 thoughts on “Adventures in International Markets: Korean for dinner”

  1. I love that chicken recipe, I don’t use egg though, I just dredge the chicken in corn starch, I’ll have to try the egg sometime.

    Chicken soup is the universal cure all it seems – try only chicken, garlic(LOTS of garlic), and I like to add the coarse red pepper flakes(not the kind you put on pizza, the ground pepper flakes that don’t have seeds), or since you have a big tub of Gochujang a spoonful of that will work too. Hope you feel better soon!

    • I love the idea of gochujang in soup. That sounds fantastic and could be adjusted up or down depending on individual spice preferences. Thanks for the tip!

  2. I’m so glad you used one of Maangchi’s recipes!! Her recipes are spot on and usually very simple. Many of her recipes have videos that go along with them, which can be a big bonus.

    Will you be hitting any Middle Eastern, Indian or Ethiopian stores in this series? I sure hope so. One thing I’ve noticed on several of the couponing or money saving sites is the quest to get spices. The above mentioned stores are a goldmine for them. I have a shelf in my pantry dedicated strictly to my spices, 80% of which were purchased at ethnic markets.

    Can’t wait to read the next post…

    • I adore Maangchi’s videos. Thanks for mentioning that. Since you brought it up, I would like to compile a list of websites (like Maangchi) that can be a resource for people who shop at international markets. Do you have any others that you recommend?

      And YES, I will be hitting up all of those. I have a couple POUNDS of spices sitting on my kitchen table that couldn’t have been more than $15 total, mostly from a Middle Eastern store. An ounce of cardamom alone was around $10 when I checked at Smith’s (Kroger affiliate). It’s nuts!

      • Saffron is another spice that you will save huge if you purchase at either an East Indian or Middle Eastern store.

        Another site I love for recipes is https://norecipes.com/. I came upon it while searching for the perfect Japanese curry rice. He has a great mix of just about any type of food you could want. Plus, his pictures are such a delight to go through, just what you need to get inspired to whip up something amazing!

        • Good call on the saffron. And thanks for the link! This sites looks great and I’ll add it to my list.

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