08 April 2014

Shirataki noodles, or, why I'm glad I'm not on a diet

I am admittedly slow to the party in the shirataki noodle revolution, but once my dumpy little ag town finally started carrying them, try I did.  They have been heralded as the saving grace of low-carb, low-cal diets everywhere, which is a bit of a red flag. They are not inedible, but there are some things you should know.

They are indeed zero fat, zero calories, as the package boasts. They are also zero anything else that you need in the way of nutrients, like fiber, calcium, protein, or any host of other essentials present in various forms of pasta deemed evil by dieters.  I mean, that's OK, but you'd better make sure you top them with some mad healthy vegetables (not a pile of cheese, as suggested by Hungry Girl) to make up for it.  And it's weird, wight?  How can you chew something that puts nothing in your body?

They might make you feel funny.  Because they're not actually made of nothing, your body may or may not like what you're digesting.  The combination of chick pea flour (not a traditional ingredient, but in the brand I tried) and Japanese yam flour left me feeling strangely full yet dissatisfied, and there was some moderate grumbling down below for about an hour after my dining experience.  I'm not talking about my stomach grumbling, folks.  Think lower.

They taste like absolutely nothing, but they smell like fish.  I mean, they really smell like fish.  When I opened the package, my cats went crazy.  I rinsed them very thoroughly according to package directions, and then they smelled slightly less fishy.  I used the microwave method listed on the package because I am lazy, so I nuked them for 2 minutes, and they were less slimy but still fishy.  They won't add any fish flavor to your dish, but you will smell it in every bite, making Italian-inspired recipes seem a little gross, I would think.  And speaking of slimy...

Phillip is ready to be served his shirataki noodles now please.

They are as wet and slippery as they look.  And so chewy. Holy cow they are chewy. It takes a lot of work to grind these babies up with your teeth!  Many of them just slipped down my throat in long pieces before I could catch them, because I had already thoroughly macerated the rest of what was in my mouth and had barely managed to dent the noodles.  There should be a choking hazard listed on the package.

Right.  So, they are slick, chewy, calorie- and nutrient-negative, and they smell a little bit like fish.  This is just my opinion, of course, but these seemed like such obvious truths as I was eating them that I couldn't believe I'd never heard this information out there in cyber space before.  I mean, they're OK, but there are some limiting factors here, and I think the best pairing with shirataki noodles is therefore a very healthy dose of vegetables (and maybe some lean protein, if you feel like it) and something that won't be ruined by fishy smell, like Asian food.  Here's what I came up with, which was pleasant enough, but I think next time I'll use rice noodles instead.

Quick Kimchi Stirfry with Noodles

Serves 3-4

8 oz. broad rice noodles
1 scant tablespoon peanut oil
1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 small yellow (or red or orange) bell pepper, thinly sliced
½ head napa cabbage, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon freshly squeeze lime juice
1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger or lemongrass
½ teaspoon sugar
Dash soy sauce, to taste
2 tablespoons kimchi, more or less to taste (prepared is fine, or you can make your own with this delish recipe)
Crushed peanuts for garnish

Prepare noodles according to package directions.

Over medium-high heat, warm the oil in a large frying pan.  When it shimmers, add the onion, stirring constantly until it softens, about 5 minutes.  Add the bell pepper and ginger or lemongrass, and continue to cook, stirring constantly until pepper is crisp-tender.  Add the cabbage, lime juice, and sugar and continue to stir until cabbage wilts.  Season with a little soy sauce; the flavor should be fresh and light.  Stir in the kimchi and heat through.  Toss with the noodles in the pan and serve with crushed peanuts on top.