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Korean Cool

August 24, 1995|LINDA BURUM

For Koreans who adore noodles and eat them in vast quantities, temperature is as important as flavor. In the hot days of summer, people cool off with huge bowls of wispy buckwheat noodles served in an icy broth and topped with cold sliced beef, boiled egg and crisp Asian pear. Naeng myun , as the dish is known, means cold noodle.

Another cold noodle dish, bibim naeng myun, is chewy potato starch noodles mixed with a bright red chile sauce and garnished with skate wing.

Most of the time, these dishes are eaten in noodle specialty restaurants because they take a long time to make: The cook has to concoct the broth, the garnish, sometimes even the noodles.

One noodle dish that just about every Korean cook can make by rote is chap chae . The Korean equivalent of chop suey, chap chae loosely means "tossed mixture" and is a sort of free-form noodle dish.

People love it hot or cold. It has no strict list of ingredients, although it usually contains lots of vegetables, including a leafy green that can be cabbage, spinach or bok choy. The meat, if any, is usually beef, but there's no reason chicken can't stand in. Chap chae can be made in advance, so it's a favorite pot-luck dish that someone's auntie or grandmother fixes in huge quantities and brings to buffets and picnics.

Chap chae's essential ingredient is tang myun (spelled dang myun on some packages), ultra-long noodles made from potato and sweet potato starches. You can't miss tang myun on the shelves of Korean markets. The noodles come in huge packages usually about two feet tall and nine or 10 inches across (don't confuse them with naeng myun , the very long buckwheat-based noodles).

Tang myun , like its near-relative mung bean noodles (sometimes called bean threads or glass noodles), belongs to the category of vegetable starch noodles. When properly prepared, the noodles are fairly chewy, nothing like the wheat noodles used for chao mian .

Tang myun is used in soups and in many other ways. It need not be cooked, only rehydrated. Because the noodles are fairly thick, rehydration requires exposure to boiling water.

You can rehydrate by washing the noodles, then pouring boiling water over them in a bowl. Let them soak for about 15 to 20 minutes (brands differ). Don't let them sit too long, or they'll get soggy. Alternatively, you can boil the noodles for about 35 to 40 seconds, then rinse them in cold water right away. This must be done carefully as the noodles quickly get mushy if they are boiled even a few seconds too long.


Tree ears are a mushroom-like fungus and are available in most Asian markets.


1/3 cup tree ears

8 Chinese dry black mushrooms or medium shiitake

1/2 pound Korean vermicelli (tang myun) or coarse bean threads

1 tablespoon roasted sesame seeds

2 1/4 teaspoons sugar

6 tablespoons soy sauce

5 green onions, 3 minced and 2 sliced thin

2 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon Asian-style sesame oil

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 pound beef top round or sirloin, cut into strips 1/8-inch wide by 2-inches long


1 large carrot cut into matchstick-sized strips

1 cup slivered onion

1 medium zucchini, cut into matchstick-sized strips

1/2 pound napa cabbage, cut crosswise into thin strips

Additional soy sauce

Kimchi, optional

Cover tree ears and mushrooms with warm water and soak until soft, about 20 minutes. Drain and remove tough stems.

Rinse noodles thoroughly, drain and let stand 30 minutes to soften. Grind sesame seeds in mortar or place in plastic bag and crush with rolling pin.

Combine crushed seeds with 1 1/4 teaspoons sugar, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 3 minced green onions, garlic, pepper and 1 teaspoon sesame oil. Place beef in medium bowl and cover with marinade, blending into meat. Marinate for 20 minutes to 2 hours.

Combine remaining 1 teaspoon sugar, 4 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 teaspoons sesame oil and 1/4 teaspoon salt in bowl. Mix well and set aside.

Blanch noodles in simmering water for 35 seconds. Do not overcook. Pour immediately into colander and rinse with very cold water. Add 1 teaspoon oil and mix to coat each noodle. Dish may be prepared up to this point several hours before serving time.

Heat about 2 tablespoons oil in wok or large skillet. Add carrot strips and stir-fry about 25 seconds until they begin to soften. Add onion and stir fry until it begins to soften. Add zucchini and cabbage and stir-fry until they wilt. Transfer vegetables to plate.

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