Vegetarian Japchae with Fresh Nettle

vegetarian korean noodles

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At The Practical Herbalist’s Spring quarterly meeting, we tried our hand at a little Korean cooking. Our version of the classic Japchae dish in this recipe is made with fresh vegetables and herbs, most importantly Nettle. We had a terrific time putting it together. Even though it looks like a long, complex recipe, it’s actually pretty easy. Check out the video before you cook to get inspired to make your own Vegetarian Japchae at home.

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  • Approx. 6 oz Yam-powder noodles, dry (sometimes called glass noodles or yam noodles)
  • 1 pound Tofu, pressed, cubed, and marinated in Honey Ginger Salad Dressing
  • 6 oz. nettle leaf, fresh and de-stemmed
  • 1 tsp. sesame oil
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt
  • 1 large carrot (approx. 1-1/2 cup julienned)
  • 1 medium bell pepper, preferably red or yellow (approx. 1/4 cup julienned)
  • 1 medium to large yellow onion (approx. 2 cups julienned)
  • 8 oz. fresh Shitake mushrooms or 1-2 cups dried shitake mushroom
  • 1/2 tsp. plus 1/5 cup soy sauce (Japanese or Korean preferred)
  • Grapeseed or olive oil for frying
  • 2 Tbs. sugar (raw preferred, but use what you have)
  • Black pepper and Sesame seeds, ground, to garnish
  • Gochujang (Korean chili pepper paste), optional


  • Cutting board
  • Knife
  • Colander
  • Gloves or protective wear for handling fresh nettle
  • Several small bowls
  • Wok or heavy-bottomed pot, such as a large Dutch Oven
  • Several Large bowls
  • Spoons and utensils for stirring and frying
  • Grinder or mortar and pestle for grinding black pepper
  • Sesame Grinder (optional)
  • Kettle or small pot for boiling water
  • large pot for boiling noodles
  • Several cups water
  • heat-proof bowl and a plate or lid to cover it


  1. Soak the yam noodles in cold water that covers them.
  2. Drain and fry the marinated tofu in a small amount of grapeseed or olive oil. When it’s firm and well-fried, set it aside in a bowl.
  3. Wash and de-stem the nettle and set them into a heat-proof bowl.
  4. Bring 1 cup water to boiling.
  5. Pour the boiling water into the bowl with the nettle and cover the bowl. This will steam the nettle.
  6. Let the nettle stand for 2 minutes, then drain the liquid and return the nettle to the bowl. (You can drink the liquid, which is delicious, or use it to fertilize your plants.)
  7. Marinate the nettle by adding 1/5 tsp. sesame oil and1/4 tsp. sea salt to it. Mix it well and set it aside.
  8. Cut the shitake mushrooms into 1/8 inch thick slices. (If you’re using dried shitake, rehydrate them for 5 minutes or so in a cup or two of boiling water before you cut them. Be sure to squeeze the excess water from them, too.)
  9. Add the mushrooms to a bowl.
  10. Marinate the mushrooms in 1/2 tsp. sesame oil, 1/5 tsp. soy sauce, and a dash of black pepper, and set them aside.
  11. Julienne the carrots so they look like 1/8 inch thick sticks and chop the bell peppers. Add them to a bowl and set them aside.
  12. Julienne the onion so it looks like 1/8 inch thick sticks. Add it to the bowl and set it aside.
  13. Fill a large pot 2/3 of the way with water and set it on the stove on High to boil.
  14. Drain the yam noodles and cut them into 8-12-inch pieces. (Cut them at the places where they’re still folded from their packaging, then cut again as needed to get approximately 8-12-inch lengths.)
  15. Add the noodles to the pot once the water boils.
  16. Stir the noodles well so they don’t stick to the bottom of the pot. They’ll stick and burn more easily than spaghetti or wheat-based noodles will.
  17. Boil the noodles until they’re al denté, approximately 10-15 minutes.
  18. Drain the noodles then wash them thoroughly in cold water until they’ve cooled completely. (If you use warm or cool water, the noodles may become sticky, so use cold water.)
  19. Squeeze as much excess water as you can from the noodles.
    Cut the noodles into 4-6 inch lengths by the handful. Put them in a bowl and set them aside.
  20. Take a Deep Breath. The preparations are done. Now, it’s time to start cooking. Set a large wok or Dutch oven on the stove on high heat.
  21. Add 2-3 Tbsp. grapeseed or olive oil to the wok and let it heat a moment.
  22. Fry the carrots and bell peppers in the wok with a dash of salt until they’re just beginning to change color. They’ll still be crunchy. Set them aside in a large bowl.
  23. Fry the onion and mushrooms in the wok they’re just beginning to change texture and color. They’ll still be slightly crunchy. Add them to the bowl with the carrots and bell peppers, and set it aside.
  24. Return the vegetables (not the nettle) and noodles to the wok or Dutch Oven and fry them on High heat, stirring well.
  25. Add the noodles, 1/2 cup soy sauce, 2 Tbsp. sugar, and a dash of black pepper to the wok. Continue to fry and stir well.
  26. When the mixture looks done, add the nettle and tofu. Fry long enough to heat the nettle and tofu through, stirring carefully, then remove the wok from the heat.
  27. Serve your japchae warm in large bowls sprinkled with freshly ground sesame seeds and a dash of black pepper. If you like, add a little Gochujang to spice it up.

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