Shirataki noodles are used in sukiyaki and oden. CLICK FOR LARGE
Shirataki stirs craving in West
KNOWN as "white waterfall" in Japanese, the slippery, shimmering, clear shirataki noodle has long added textural interest to sukiyaki and oden, a winter stew. But after centuries of obscurity as an ethnic culinary oddity, shirataki has suddenly gained a crazed following in the West.
Made from a rubbery substance derived from the root of the devil's tongue plant, shirataki -- the noodle form of konnyaku, a gelatin -- contains no usable carbohydrates or calories, only a soluble fiber called glucomannan. As such, it is said to help control cholesterol and blood sugar by slowing digestion and improving absorption. In Japan, konnyaku jelly is sold sweetened as a digestive aid.
Enter the low-carb diet craze of the new millennium, and East has met West in an appalling clash of food cultures. California tofu manufacturer House Foods developed a shirataki with tofu that advertised its low carb count on Western-style packaging, and volume-hungry Americans went nuts.
"They will seriously change your life," gushed Lisa Lillien on her Web site, Hungry-girl.com, a compendium of low-calorie ways to pig out. She promoted House Tofu Shirataki noodles on the "Extra" TV show in January 2006, saying, "You can eat 20 times the amount of pasta for the same amount of calories!"
Comments on blogs such as "Livin' La Vida Low-Carb" find Americans now gobbling up shirataki by the caseload in recipes loaded with fat-free cheese, fat-free sour cream, Boca Burgers, Egg Beaters and Splenda.
While eating a beastly volume of factory foods hardly seems like a way to develop the temperate eating habits that keep people in Asia thin, shirataki can be a dieter's friend. Like cellophane noodles, they absorb sauce flavors and require only a brief boiling to remove the "fishy" smell.
Best of all, shirataki noodles are easy to find in Hawaii. Most supermarkets carry them packaged in water, like tofu, in the same refrigerated case. They can often take the place of cellophane noodles in recipes, though they are considerably more rubbery than chewy.
Just remember what they are made of -- pure fiber -- and take it easy on the volume.
MAKE IT YOURSELF
When purchasing cellophane noodles, beware of the cheapest imports from mainland China, which often substitute tapioca; Taiwanese brands are better. Soak noodles until soft and pliable, and boil briefly to plump up, if desired. The following recipes invite substitution: Use the vegetables you prefer, cut alike in size and shape, and adjust chili and sugar to suit your taste for spicy and sweet.
Spicy Pork with Cellophane Noodle
Adapted from Gourmet magazine
3/4 pound ground pork
2 tablespoons oil
1/2 cup green onions, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon peeled, minced ginger
2 teaspoons chili paste or 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 cups sliced vegetables: carrots, celery, cabbage, shiitake or other mushrooms (optional)
6 ounces cellophane noodles, soaked until soft
1-1/2 cups chicken broth
3 tablespoons shao hsing or Scotch
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoons sesame oil
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro (optional)
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
Combine marinade ingredients. Mix 1/2 the mixture with pork and marinate 20 minutes.
In a wok, heat the oil until it just begins to smoke. Stir-fry half of the green onion, plus the garlic and ginger, 30 seconds. Add pork and chili paste and stir-fry, breaking up, until meat is no longer pink.
Add vegetables, if using, and cook a few minutes until they soften.
Add noodles, broth, shao hsing, sugar and remaining marinade. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until liquid is absorbed.
Serve sprinkled with sesame oil, cilantro and remaining green onion. Serves 3.
Approximate nutritional analysis, per serving: 670 calories, 31 g fat, 8 g saturated fat, 75 mg cholesterol, greater than 1,250 mg sodium, 60 g carbohydrate, 2 g fiber, 5 g sugar, 28 g protein.
Sweet Potato Noodle Stir-Fry
Adapted from Bon Appétit magazine
6 ounces (about 8) fresh shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
1 pound choy sum or baby bok choy, cut crosswise into 2-inch-wide strips
1/4 pound snow peas, halved lengthwise
1 cup matchstick strips of carrots
8 ounces dang myun or other thick cellophane noodle
3 tablespoons oil
3 large shallots, sliced
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1/4 cup sesame oil
1/4 cup mirin
3 tablespoons EACH soy sauce and brown sugar
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
10 green onions, chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
To make sauce: Toast sesame seeds over medium-low heat about 4 minutes. Combine with remaining ingredients in small bowl. Transfer half the sauce to a bowl, mix in mushrooms and marinate 15 minutes.
Blanch vegetables 1 minute; rinse and drain. Return water to boil; add noodles and stir until just tender but still chewy, about 4 minutes. Drain, rinse, drain again. Cut noodles in several pieces.
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add half the shallots, stir 30 seconds. Add mushroom mixture and stir-fry until tender, about 4 minutes. Transfer into large serving bowl.
Heat remaining oil in same skillet over medium heat. Add remaining shallots and stir 30 seconds. Add remaining sauce and noodles. Simmer, stirring, until noodles absorb almost all sauce, about 5 minutes.
Toss with mushrooms and rest of vegetables. Serves 4.
Approximate nutritional analysis, per serving (not including salt to taste): 600 calories, 27 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 920 mg sodium, 83 g carbohydrate, 5 g fiber, 21 g sugar, 7 g protein.
Spicy Cellophane Noodle Salad with Smoked Fish
Adapted from Norwegian Seafood Export Council
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1 rib celery, thinly sliced on diagonal
4 ounces smoked fish (see note)
3 ounces cellophane noodles, soaked to soften and cut in manageable lengths
3 leaves napa cabbage (Chinese cabbage), sliced thinly crosswise
3 dried cloud's ear or black fungus mushrooms, soaked to reconstitute, stemmed and sliced into strips
1/2 cup fried won ton strips
1/4 cup cilantro, coarsely chopped
Large clove garlic, minced
2 red chili peppers, minced
2 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 teaspoon Sri Racha or other chili sauce
Combine dressing ingredients; set aside.
Rinse onion and celery and towel dry. Break up or slice fish.
In a serving dish, layer noodles, vegetables and fish.
Pour dressing over, toss briefly and top with fried won ton just before serving. Serves 4.
Note: Costco carries refrigerated smoked trout, or use canned kippered herring found in supermarkets, near canned tuna.
Approximate nutritional analysis, per serving: 210 calories, 5 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 25 mg cholesterol, 1,000 mg sodium, 33 g carbohydrate, 4 g fiber, 5 g sugar, 10 g protein
Nutritional analyses by Joannie Dobbs, Ph.D., C.N.S.