You know how when you’re single on Valentine’s Day, you hate the whole world? Maybe you joke about dressing in black and sending yourself a bunch of dead roses, or maybe you actually do…but either way, commiserating with your fellow single friends is the only thing that pulls you through. Wouldn’t it be great if there were an anti-Valentine’s Day for everyone who has no patience with all that sappy romantic nonsense? A day where you could get together with your like-minded friends and complain about all the flowers and chocolate you didn’t receive? Rejoice! It turns out Koreans have invented exactly that: Black Day, celebrated on April 14th. Korean singles may have felt the need for such a day especially keenly: not only must they suffer through Valentine’s Day, but it’s followed a month later by White Day on March 14th, when women present gifts to their romantic interests. After two months of celebrating couples, it makes perfect sense that singles need a day to represent.
Although black isn’t a color usually associated with deliciousness, at least in Western food (burned toast springs to mind), there are some excellent and usually umame-filled black foods, from Marmite to squid ink to the fermented black beans used in many Asian cuisines. The latter form the flavor profile of Jajangmyeon, the noodle dish you will find Korean singles slurping up on Black Day, or on pretty much any day they can get it.
Ours is a somewhat untraditional preparation of what resembles a quick ragù, but we think it’s delicious and it also makes a tasty, simple weekday dinner. Not to mention that for a newfangled holiday, some flexibility seems acceptable. We use the more readily available black bean sauce in place of black bean paste, which is only available in Asian markets or online. If you have the paste, feel free to use it: just cut the quantity in half, as it’s more concentrated, and add some water to achieve the desired consistency. We opted for ground pork instead of cubed pork shoulder, initially to simplify the recipe, and in the end we preferred the ground pork preparation. Fresh udon noodles, with their slippery texture and thicker strands, work best, but this sauce would also be delicious with rice noodles for a gluten free option, or even ramen. Fresh noodles are essential, though.
Jajangmyeon (Korean Noodles with Black Bean Sauce)
1 lb ground pork
1 tbsp fresh ginger, minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium sized onion, diced
1 zucchini, diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 medium sized potato, peeled and diced
1 cup black bean sauce
2 tbsp mirin
1 tbsp brown sugar
Salt to taste
Vegetable or canola oil
1 lb fresh udon noodles
Optional garnish: julienned cucumber & scallions
Heat 2 tbsp oil in a wok or large skillet. Add ground pork and a pinch of salt and cook for approximately 10 minutes, stirring often. When pork is lightly browned, remove from pan and set aside, leaving some of the oil in the pan.
Add the onion, ginger and garlic to the pan and cook over medium heat for a few minutes until softened. Add zucchini, carrot and potato and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Return the cooked pork to the pan with the vegetable mixture.
Add the black bean sauce, mirin and brown sugar to the pork and vegetables, along with about ½ cup of water. Stir together and let simmer until sauce thickens, about 15 minutes.
While sauce is cooking, boil the noodles in a large pot of water. Cook until soft, usually between 3-5 minutes. Drain noodles and place in a large bowl. Pour sauce over the noodles and garnish with julienned cucumber and scallion. Serve immediately.
Makes 4 servings