For The Love of Chapchae

My pregnant tastebuds have been craving Korean lately. Finding my options for authentic Korean cuisine limited in our city, I've begun to tackle the re-creation of some of my favorites. I have a cookbook, yes, but all those who know me know that I can't cook that way. Instead, I learn by tasting. So, if anyone knows of a sweet elderly Korean woman who'd like to adopt me for dinner, please let me know. I started first with kimchi last week. Many years ago, I spent a weekend visiting my dear friend Tara in Seoul, on my way home from a summer in China. There, we shared a pot of kimchi chigae while rain drizzled continuously outside the little restaurant. No stew has tasted the same since. Unfortunately, excellent kimchi chigae is difficult to duplicate, as the more fermented the cabbage the better the stew. I've already assaulted my refrigerator (and my husband) with the pungent aromas of garlic, ginger, chile, and fish sauce--the bouquet most commonly used to make kimchi. I'm not sure how full fermentation would be received by all those I live with. I made both cucumber and napa cabbage kimchi, since you might as well stink it up all at the same time. From there, I went on to make chapchae, a dish made of clear and chewy, sweet potato vermicelli noodles. Unlike kimchi, chapchae is easily palatable and is usually pleasing to all. It's so simple and delicious--you must try it...and work your way to the edge.

Vegetable Chapchae

1 pkg chapchae noodles (sweet potato starch vermicelli) big pinch of slivers of fresh ginger a couple of scallions, thinly sliced handful of shredded or julienned carrots big handful of spinach leaves 5-6 shitake mushrooms, thinly sliced a drizzle of cooking oil soy sauce to taste a bit of sugar a drip of sesame oil salt and pepper, a shake here and there

Boil the noodles for several minutes, or until chewy; drain, and set aside. In large wok or nonstick pan, heat a drizzle of cooking oil over med-high heat. Add pinch of ginger and scallions; saute a minute. Add carrots, mushrooms, and gently toss while cooking until carrots are soft. Add spinach, and when wilted, add noodles. Combine gently, and season with soy sauce, sugar, salt and pepper, and finally sesame oil. Taste as you go, and adjust as needed. Serve warm or cold.