Sometimes you can have your cake and eat it too. In this case, we’re talking pasta. Well, perhaps not real pasta made from wheat, but an acceptable substitute—at least during the weight-loss phases of Atkins. This substitute, called shirataki noodles, hail from Japan, but once the Atkins crowd discovered them about five years, they turned up on every low-carb website. After all, anything that can make it easier to do Atkins is welcome news. Still, many people either find their taste (or more properly, their odor) or texture unappealing and/or don’t know what to do with them. Fortunately, once you’ve solved these two problems, they can be prepared in dozens of interesting ways. But first the basics:
What Are They?
Made from a yam called glucomman, these noodles are used in traditional Japanese cooking. They’re more gelatinous than conventional pasta, although products that also contain some tofu, known as tofu shirataki, look more like conventional pasta. (The all-yam noodles are more translucent and rubbery.) They come packed in liquid in vacuum-sealed plastic bags. High in fiber, which makes them filling, a 4-ounce serving contains 0–1 gram of Net Carbs, making them suitable for Phase 1, Induction.
Where to Buy Them
Find them in the refrigerated case in the produce department of well-stocked supermarkets. They’re often placed near tofu and other vegetarian or Asian foods. Shirataki noodles may also turn up in the dairy or deli section. Asian markets also stock them. If all else fails, you can order the noodles online.
A Matter of Taste . . .
Let’s deal with the fishy odor first. Discard the liquid in the package, cut the noodles into shorter lengths (to make them easier to eat) and then rinse in a colander under cold running water for a minute or two. Cooking will remove any residual odor. Drain the noodles again.
. . . And Texture
Ignore the package directions. Instead, once you’ve rinsed and drained the noodles, bring salted water to a boil in a large skillet or nonstick wok. Drop in noodles and cook for 2–3 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water again. With the heat on medium, return the noodles to the wok or skillet and move them around to partially dry them out. This gives them a consistency closer to real pasta—but al dente they will never be. Set aside until you’re ready to use in a recipe. Admittedly, this is a bit of work, but the effort is worth it when you compare the taste and texture straight from the bag and after the treatment described above.
Now, the fun part.
Shirataki noodles have practically no flavor themselves but they absorb flavors well from other ingredients. This means you’ll want to use them with strong seasonings such as garlic, ginger, scallions, sesame oil and soy sauce. Not surprisingly, these ingredients are all associated with Asian dishes, and shirataki noodles are ideal for stir-fries with chicken, pork or another protein source. Add some veggies, particularly those with an assertive taste like spinach, chard, broccoli and mustard greens, and you’ll have a great one-dish low-carb meal. Or make a version of the standby every Chinese restaurant offers: sesame (or peanut butter) noodles—be sure let them sit in the fridge for a few hours to intensify the flavor. Shirataki noodles also take well to curried dishes—consider using coconut milk for creaminess and to add an additional flavor that works beautifully with curry powder. But don’t feel restricted to Asian-inspired dishes.
When prepared as above, these low-carb noodles can be used to create a passable version of Italian foods such as pasta with Alfredo sauce, Bolognese sauce or even basil pesto. Or simply serve as a side dish with well seasoned and sauced dishes such as Chicken with Lemon and Capers, Italian Sausage and Peppers or Pork Tenderloin with Tomatoes and Green Olives. Savory ingredients like bell and hot peppers, tomatoes, garlic, onions and herbs such as basil, parsley, mint and cilantro will enliven noodle dishes. So do veggies with some crunch—like parboiled peapods or green beans in a “pasta" salad. Finally, skillet-cooking the noodles makes them more receptive to cheese. Try melting grated Parmesan or another strong-flavored cheese over them in the microwave or (briefly) under the broiler.
Enjoy your low-carb stand-in for pasta, while you slim down and firm up. Once you’ve reached your goal weight and are maintaining it, you can graduate to Atkins Cuisine Penne Pasta.