Saturday, August 20, 2011

#LetsLunch: cold entrees edition (August)

The first time I had mulnaengmyun was the first day I arrived in Korea the summer of 2007. One of my housemates took me out to lunch and to beat the heat, she suggested we get a cold lunch.

When I came back to the States, I was obsessed with finding a way to make the cold, chewy noodle soup on my own. During my internship the next summer, I finally took the plunge and purchased a naengmyun kit from the local Korean market.

I got it home, only to realize I couldn't read the instructions on the packet of "soup" base. Did I just freeze it? Did it need to be mixed with water like condensed soup?

Luckily, a fellow intern was also Korean and so I brought the packet in and asked if he could read it. He couldn't -- but called his dad and read the packet to him, so his father could translate for me. Patrick and I still laugh about the ridiculousness of that day, and last summer, we reunited in L.A. for a journalism convention and went out for mul naengmyun.

These days, I make my own broth for Korean mul naengmyun (which translates roughly to water noodles, there's also bibim naengmyun which is noodles with cold toppings mixed in), though if you ever do buy the store-bough packages, all you have to do is chill the broth packet (some people like it semi-frozen) and serve.

Naengmyun continues to be one of my favorite summer meals. When I'm feeling ambitious, I'll occasionally pack it for lunch. The great thing about naengmyun is that it cools you from the inside out, so it's perfect for a lazy week night dinner when you don't feel like heating up your house.

I consider there to be four main components of great mul naengmyun: the broth, the noodles, the toppings and the seasoning.

The broth is easy enough. Some recipes just call for simmering a brisket in water, then cooling. I like to boil mushroom pieces (usually stems from shitaki mushrooms or leftover baby portobellos) with dashi (which, I think can best be described as Korean beef boullion) and a few dried anchovies (kelp also make a decent substitute here). I make my broth extra strong then dillute by pouring over ice. But if you make your broth on a day when it's not so hot in the kitchen, make it to regular strength and cool.

If you have some leftover kimchi liquid, that makes a good addition too (though it's not 100% neccessary).

The noodles should be chewy and chilly. If you're using noodles from the fridge packs (that you purchase in the store), they only need to be cooked for about 60 seconds. If you're using dried noodles, usually more like 90 seconds. Do *not* over cook your noodles!!

My trick is to just boil a tea kettle, then pour the hot water over the noodles in a bowl, and check after 90 seconds, before rinsing. To stop the hot water cooking the noodles, you have to rinse the noodles under cold water (watch Maangchi's naengmyun video to get an idea of how aggressively you need to rinse!)

The toppings should be made while the broth and noodles are cooking (or ahead of time). My favorite toppings are cucumber, pickled daikon, pear (traditional is Korean or Asian pear, but I usually end up using regular Anju) and beef or pork. Some people also like to include a hardboiled egg.

I use a vegetable peeler to make thin ribbons of daikon, then quick pickle in 3:1 sugar to salt (adding a dash or two of garlic salt gives a nice flavor too!) Cut the cucumbers into matchsticks, and slice the beef or pork thinly. It's best if you have leftover bulgogi or a steak, because then the meat is already cold. But, if you're bbqing it fresh, just toss it on a plate in the freezer when you're done.

The seasoning is really the easiest part, but for each bowl you should have sesame oil (just a little -- I sometimes will drizzle a spoonful over the noodles to keep them from sticking), rice vinegar, Chinese mustard and a big dollop of gochuchang (Korean chile paste -- you can substitute sriracha rooster sauce if you don't have/can't find).

Fill each bowl with noodles, pour cold broth and a few ice cubes over, top with cucumbers, daikon and meat. Season with vinegar, mustard and gochuchang until sour and spicy enough for your liking!

RECIPE: Mul Naeng Myun (Korean ice water noodles)
NOTE: I usually substitute with a regular pear, but if you can get Asian pears cheaply, go for the real deal! And the meat can really be anything you have on hand -- double points if it's seasoned or marinate like Korean bulgogi.

4-6 oz dried naengmyun noodles (often labeled "buckwheat" or "arrowroot" noodles in the store)
1/4 cup mushroom pieces and stems, shitaki or portobello work well.
2 TBS dashi powder
4-8 dried anchovies (can also substitute a similar amount of dried kelp)
2 quarts water

1 4-inch piece of daikon radish (more if you plan on having more than a single serving)
1 tsp salt, 3 tsp sugar
1 small pickling cucumber
1 Asian pear
1/3 cup thinly sliced beef or pork
optional: 1 hard-boiled egg, thinly sliced scallions, toasted sesame seeds
ice cubes
Rice vinegar, spicy mustard and gochuchang for seasoning.

* In a medium saucepan, combine mushroom pieces, dashi powder, anchovies and water and bring to a boil. Then reduce to a simmer and cover 15-25 minutes.
* While the broth is cooking, use a vegetable peeler make thin ribbons of the daikon. Mix with the salt and sugar mix in a bowl and set aside.
* Slice the cucumber into matchstick style pieces. You can also quick pickle these, or leave them raw.
* Thinly slice the pear. If it's going to be a while before you eat the soup, mix with a tsp of sugar and cover.
* Boil enough water to cover the noodles generously. Break the noodles in half and add to the water for 90 seconds. Test the noodles for doneness by pulling on them. They should snap but have not easily.
* Rinse the noodles in cold water vigorously to stop the cooking. Drizzle with sesame oil to avoid sticky noodles and set aside.
* Fill stainless steel bowl (it needs to be pretty big) with 4-6 ice cubes and ladle in 2 cups of the concentrated broth. Stir to cool the broth completely, then add your noodles.
* Rinse the daikon pieces well and squeeze to remove excess water.
* Top the noodles with equal amounts of meat, daikon pickles, cucumber and pear pieces. Start with about 1 TBS of gochuchang.
* Drizzle mustard and rice vinegar on to taste. I like mine very spicy and very sour.


LetsLunch is a monthly meeting for food bloggers and I was invited by fellow AAJA-er, Cheryl Tan. Our group chooses a date and a theme, then we all post our recipes on the same day.

See what everyone else made this month:

Cathy‘s Jasmine Tea-Poached Shrimp Summer Rolls at Showfood Chef

Charles‘s Cold Olive Oil-Poached Chicken, Potato & Watercress Salad with Buttermilk at The Taste of Oregon

Cheryl's Spicy Sichuan Sesame Noodles at A Tiger In the Kitchen

Danielle‘s Cous Cous with Cilantro Pesto & Halloumi at Beyond The Plate
Eleanor‘s Cold Noodles with Stir-Fried Vegetables, Hoisin Pork & Spicy Shrimp at Be A Wok Star

Linda‘s Gazpacho Rolls Gone Wrong at Free Range Cookies

Lisa‘s Byron Sprout Salad with Chargrilled Chicken at Monday Morning Cooking Club

Mai‘s Strawberry Soup at Cooking in The Fruit Bowl

Maria‘s Croque Monsieur with Bechamel at Maria’s Good Things

Rashda‘s Indian-Style Gazpacho at Hot Curries & Cold Beer

Rebecca‘s Cold Roasted Lamb with Mustard & Rosemary at Grongar Blog

Victor‘s Seafood Napoleon at The Taste of Oregon

Our group is always growing! If you'd like to join us, we'd love to have you! send a Tweet to us using #letslunch (I'm @emmacarew).


  1. There is so much about this I love: the mushroom with dashi base, the pear (sounds great!), and the noodles sound so fun. Thanks for this post :D

  2. Emma, this looks so delicious! I love the step by step pictures...I'm pretty sure my mother-in-law doesn't know how to make this so I'm glad you're showing me how. Thanks and can't wait to try it...