Thursday, September 6, 2007

Dana Carpenter: Use your noodle: Go low-carb

Wow! I was really happy to see this column by HoldTheToast Press' Dana Carpenter. It talks about a low-carb pasta alternative that I'm going to try for sure! Click here for the link to the original column.

"Pasta and I parted ways a long time ago. The traditional white-flour pasta is nearly devoid of vitamins and minerals, low in protein and way too carb-heavy for me. Whole-wheat pasta is modestly better, with a little more fiber and a few more nutrients, but it’s still awfully rough on my blood sugar. The low-carb soy “pastas” that showed up a few years back are expensive and nasty.

But there is one truly low-carb pasta that has won a regular place on my table. It’s a Japanese noodle called shirataki. Made of fiber from the konjac plant (also called glucomannan and often erroneously referred to as “yams”), these noodles can be found in the refrigerator case at Asian markets and some health-food stores. They can also be ordered online.

There are two types of shirataki: the traditional variety, made of only konjac fiber, and tofu shirataki, which combines konjac with tofu. Both varieties are very low in carbs and calories. Better yet, the soluble konjac fiber appears to have health benefits, lowering cholesterol and dampening blood-sugar swings. Capsules of konjac fiber have long been sold as a diet aid.

A few things to know about shirataki:

Both traditional and tofu shirataki come in liquid-filled pouches. The liquid smells fishy, but don’t be put off by this. Dump your shirataki into a strainer and rinse well. Now soak for a few minutes, either in water or — my preference — in broth. I have not detected any fish flavor in my finished shirataki dishes.

Shirataki noodles are long. Really long. Snip them a few times with your kitchen shears to make them more manageable.

As an imported specialty product, shirataki is not cheap. I’ve been paying $1.50 for an 8-ounce pouch. That’s a lot more expensive than generic elbow noodles. Shirataki will not work as cheap “filler” food. Instead, they’re a nutritionally superior option. Unopened and refrigerated, shirataki will keep up to a year, so if you find a good buy, stock up.

Both varieties of shirataki are very bland on their own. They need a flavorful sauce or soup to make them really tasty.

Traditional shirataki have 2 grams of carbohydrate per serving, and both of those grams are fiber — no usable carbs — and 0 calories. I call them “nothing noodles.” Skinny like spaghetti (but a lot longer), traditional shirataki are otherwise different from Italian pasta. They’re clear, with a gelatinous texture. They are excellent in Asian dishes, such as a ramen-style soup, sesame noodles or a cold-noodle salad. However, they don’t go well with Italian tomato sauce or Alfredo sauce.

Tofu shirataki have a big 20 calories and 3 grams of carb per serving, with 2 grams of fiber, for a usable carb count of 1. They have a look and texture much more similar to the pasta we all know and love. Tofu shirataki come both long-skinny and in a wider “fettuccine” version. I find the fettuccine width more versatile, but I have both in my fridge. I’ve tried tofu shirataki with cheese sauce, Alfredo sauce, tomato-based spaghetti sauce and as a bed of noodles with other dishes. I think I’ll try tuna casserole next. They’d be good in chicken noodle soup, too.

Here’s my favorite shirataki dish.

Blue Cheese-Walnut-Pesto Chicken with Noodles

16 ounces fettuccine-style tofu shirataki

1/2 cup chicken broth

1 tablespoon butter, divided

1/4 cup chopped walnuts

8 ounces boneless, skinless chicken thighs

1/4 cup diced onion

1 clove garlic, crushed

1/4 cup half-and-half

2 tablespoons pesto sauce

51/2 ounces crumbled blue cheese

Open shirataki, put into a strainer, and rinse. Put in a small saucepan and stir in the chicken broth. Let this sit while you prepare the rest of the dish.

Melt 1 teaspoon butter in a small skillet over medium-low heat, and stir the walnuts into it until they smell toasty. Remove from heat and set aside.

Cut chicken into 1/2-inch chunks, dice onions and crush garlic. Melt the rest of the butter in a big, heavy skillet over medium heat, and start the chicken and onions sauteing in it.

Put the saucepan of shirataki over medium-low heat, to warm.

When all the pink is gone from the chicken and the onion is translucent, stir in the garlic, half-and-half and pesto. Now add all but a couple of tablespoons of the blue cheese. Stir until the cheese is melted and the sauce is thick.

Using a tongs or slotted spoon, lift the noodles out of their broth and pile on three plates or in two bowls. Divide the chicken mixture and sauce between them. Top each with a third of the reserved blue cheese and walnuts, and serve.

Reach Dana Carpender online at
www.holdthetoast.com."

Looks like I'm going shopping! :)

10 comments:

Big Daddy D said...

I'm not a big fan of Shirataki noodles. They tend to be rubbery. No matter how long I boil them, I can't get them to soften up. Perhaps this is why they're not recommended for use with tomato or alfredo sauces.

.................Nancy said...

I've been trying to find them in Moncton! Let me know if you find them!

Brian Cormier said...

Hi Nancy! I'm glad to see a fellow low-carber from Moncton is on here! Woohoo! Have you checked the Corn Crib on Mountain Road or the specialty Asian grocery store across from the parking lot of the Acadian Lines parking lot?

Brian Cormier said...

In Canada, you can order them online here: http://www.thelowcarbgrocery.com/catalog/index.php?cPath=132_137&page=1&sort=2d

Brian Cormier said...

Nancy: I dropped by the Asian specialty store tonight after work and they have TONS of them there in the refrigerator. $2.99 per package. The store takes Interac with a $0.20 surcharge. I bought three packs. I'll be back if I like them - and I've been reading up on them and there's no reason why I shouldn't! Woohoo! The name on the package is "Konnyaku" - which is the same thing as shirataki. The ones available have no tofu added, so they're lower in carbs. The entire package (280g) has 9.8g of net carbs. So wow... I'll be SO happy if I like them! It will add some variety to my meals.

Brian Cormier said...

The name of the Asian grocery store is "Oriental Lotus Supermarket" located at 36 Bonaccord Street, Moncton.

Brian Cormier said...

Jimmy Moore's take on these noodles can be found here: http://livinlavidalocarb.blogspot.com/2006/03/shirataki-noodles-low-carb-blessing-or.html

I'm sure you've already done this, Big Daddy D, but maybe you should do some research online on the best ways to cook them? I saw something about stir frying them first. Overcooking does tend to make them rubbery.

Joe Pineland said...

There is a great forum at miraclenoodle.com/phbb2 with recipes and suggestions on how to make them. They should NOT be cooked, they are meant to be instant, just rinsed and dried on a paper towel and immediately put in your sauce. I get mine at miraclenoodle.com .

.................Nancy said...

PS - Did you like them??

Brian Cormier said...

Hi Nancy... Yes I liked them. I deleted your other comment by mistake. Sorry... but to answer your comment, the Asian grocery store in Moncton doesn't sell them as "shiratake" noodles but as "konnyaku" noodles. Exactly the same thing.