Trying to reproduce a beloved relative's signature dish is often futile, especially when recipes are unrecorded and our dear ones are no longer with us. In this case, I was inspired by my father-in-law's kalguksu, or Korean "knife noodles," despite the fact that I sadly never got to meet him nor taste the noodles that my partner remembers so fondly. While my version could never match the original, I think I can safely say these noodles are a fabulous comfort food.
My partner Gregory's father passed away before we met, but I know I would have adored him. Some of my favorite stories involve his love of food, and for over a decade Gregory has reminisced about his dad's handmade noodles. Kalguksu literally means "knife noodles" in Korean, and these knife-cut wheat noodles are typically served in a broth, although there are dozens and dozens of variations with different meat, seafood, and vegetables.
I'm not sure what took us so long, but recently we decided it was time to try and recreate this famed dish. Between Gregory's fuzzy memory of the particulars of the broth and my vegetarianism, what we ended up with was not exactly like his dad's. But the soft, chewy noodles and the garlicky-gingery flavors in the broth met with Gregory's approval. As for me, I gained a new go-to comfort food.
Despite being handmade, the noodles are really quite easy to make. No pulling is necessary; you just roll up the dough and cut it with a knife. Use a generous amount of flour to ensure they don't stick. Some people blanch the noodles separate from the broth, and you can do that if you prefer a more clear soup. However, Gregory remembered his father's version being more thick, so I simply cooked the floury noodles in the same pot. The garnishes – green onions, ground sesame seeds, Korean red pepper flakes – are essential, and if you like, you can spice it up even more with a swirl of yangnyeomjang, or korean seasoning sauce.
Yachae Kalguksu (Korean Knife Noodles with Vegetables)
For the noodles:
1 1/2 cups flour, plus more for dusting
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1/2 cup cold water
For the soup:
2 quarts vegetable stock (can substitute chicken stock)
1/2 onion, sliced
6 cloves garlic, peeled
2-inch knob of ginger, peeled and thickly sliced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 medium potato, peeled and cut into half-circles
1 medium Korean zucchini (hobak) or 1 regular zucchini, cut into half-circles
Combine the flour and salt in a large bowl. Add the oil and work it in with your fingers. Make a well in the center, add the water, and stir to form a soft dough.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes until smooth and firm. Cover the ball of dough with the bowl or plastic wrap and let it rest for at least 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring the vegetable stock to a boil. Add the onion, scallions, garlic, ginger, salt, and potato. Reduce heat to a simmer and cover the pot.
On a well-floured surface, roll the dough to about 2mm thick. Rub both sides with flour and fold it 4-5 times to make it easier to cut. Using a knife, cut it into strips about 1/4 inch wide. Gently toss the noodles with flour to separate the strands and prevent them from sticking together.
Taste the soup and season with additional salt, if necessary. Add the zucchini to the pot and simmer until tender. Then add the noodles and simmer a couple minutes until tender.
Serve garnished with scallions, sesame seeds, and gochugaru. If serving with yangnyeomjang, place it on the side so diners can add to taste.
(Images: Emily Ho)