No carb noodles? Yes, please!

You have probably heard about the “miracle noodles” which have zero (or close to it) carbohydrates and take a negligible bite out of your daily calorie count, with only 20 – 40 cal per serving.   As you can imagine,  I was intrigued.  The two major varieties, konnyaku and shiritaki, are generally easy to find from an Asian grocery store where they are often packed in water and ready to be eaten.  However, with their recent notoriety as pasta for the carb-fearing dieters contingent, you can also find them at many health food stores under the Hungry Girl or  Miracle Noodle brands.  Depending on which brand you choose, the noodles may be made with a type of yam, vegetable starch or tofu.  What they all have in common, however, is that they’re fairly high in soluble fibre with low calories and a distinctive slippery, gelatinous texture.  That may not sound appetizing, and if you’re expecting to make a Mediterranean pasta dinner with them then you WILL be disappointed, but if you can wrap your head around the texture then they can be quite delicious.

Several months ago, I purchased a few packages for the first time and decided to make a lightened up pasta dinner with a fresh tomato basil sauce on my bound-to-be-delicious low calorie noodles.  The sauce slid off and pooled in the bottom of the bowl, and the texture of the tofu shiritaki was so unlike any form of pasta that a loving God would allow, I was somewhat distraught. I sat, sulked, and Googled my options.  There was a “delicious” recipe for diet Fettucine Alfredo made with warm shiritaki noodles and 2 triangles of lowfat Laughing Cow cheese (which is a guilty addiction of mine. Don’t judge, they’re better than Cheez Whiz).  However, this cow was not laughing.  It was far and above the most wretched thing that I had put in my mouth all week (and a lot of wretched things go into my mouth, I’m sorry to say), with the waterlogged slippery noodles sliding around through chunks of processed white dairy food, like they had agreed on a mutual truce for the time being but neither one of them was yet willing to shake hands.

Even so, I was determined to make these work.  After all, twenty calories for a bowl of noodles is something worth exploring.  The mouth-feel of the shiritaki noodles was soft and slimy, but not entirely unlike other Asian noodles that I have heartily enjoyed in the past. For example,  (overcooked) rice stick vermicelli or  cellophane noodles are a pretty close facsimile.  When I decided to forgo Mediterranean and traditional pasta ideals in favor of some Asian flair, the results were much improved.  Konnyaku is delicious as a base for jap chae, and shiritaki make a wonderful cold noodle salad.

After a little bit of guess-and-test, I now cannot get enough of these ‘healthy’ noodles, and I tend to prepare them at least once every two weeks.  However, I would be remiss not to give you one more fair warning.  The konnyaku noodles that I buy sometimes have a little subscript warning, saying “rinse in cold water several times to eliminate authentic odor”.  Um….authentic odor?  That doesn’t sound too appealing to me.  I have been lucky enough to never notice any ‘authentic odor’ in my noodles (perhaps I’m missing the noodle-stink gene in the same way that I can’t smell asparagus pee?), but a close friend of mine was not so lucky. After I sold her on the joys of shiritaki noodles, she happily carted a few packages home with which to make dinner that week. When she went to rinse the noodles, the scent was so overwhelmingly gaggable that she could barely stand to be in the same room.  Even after much rinsing, the memory of that smell was so obscene that she couldn’t bring herself to eat the noodles when all was said and done.  Perhaps the noodles, which need to be refrigerated if they are water packed, had gone bad or were old?  I’m not sure, but she was fairly put off. I, on the other hand, had nothing but delightful experiences with konnyaku and shiritaki as soon as I starting treating them with Asian flavors, and they meet with my (possibly sensory deprived) hearty approval.

For this summer salad, the ingredient list may look long, but it is really just some noodles, shrimp, a bit of produce and fresh herbs with your pantry staples.  I have red onion, cucumber, lime  and jalapeno in my fridge at the best of times, so all that was left was the purchase of a few grapefruit and harvesting some fresh herbs from the garden.  In twenty minutes, a refreshing low calorie noodle salad was on the table.  The best part was that in this extreme summer heat, when the thought of turning on your oven has you shutting off your brain, this dish needs no more than two minutes of heat to cook the shrimp. Or, if you prefer, you can use precooked shrimp tossed in sesame oil and stay as cool as a peeled and sliced cucumber until your dinner is done.

Shiritaki Noodle Salad with Shrimp, Grapefruit and Mint

Serves 4

  • 1 lb (454 g) jumbo shrimp, size 21/30
  • 3 packages konnyaku or shiritaki noodles (~8 oz each) *
  • 2 ruby red grapefruit
  • 1 lime (1 tsp zest, juice of whole)
  • 3 tbsp grapeseed oil **
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • 2 jalapeno peppers
  • 1 large field cucumber
  • 1/2 large red onion
  • handful fresh mint (1/3 cup chopped)
  • small handful basil (2 tbsp chopped)
  • small handful cilantro (2 tbsp chopped)
  • salt, to taste

* If you cannot find water packed yam based konnyaku or tofu shiritaki noodles, feel free to substitute rice noodles as the texture will be similar.  Prepare according to package directions.

** Any mild oil will do, such as grapeseed, safflower, or another vegetable oil.  Olive oil will be too strong in flavor.

Start with cutting the grapefruit into a supreme.  Basically, you cut the pith and peel away from the fruit and then use a sharp paring knife to cut down right beside the membrane of each slice and pop out just the fruit. If you would like a better visual explanation, here is a great one from Chef In You.  Do this over a fairly large mixing bowl to catch all the juices.  When both grapefruit are segmented, squeeze the leftover membrane above the bowl to extract any juice that may be left.

Pour off all but 3 tbsp of the grapefruit juice (I suggest drinking it, but that’s just me. And there may be vodka in it before it hits my lips, but such is life).

Grate in the lime zest and squeeze the juice of the fruit.  Pour in the rice vinegar and fish sauce.  Whisking constantly, drizzle in the grapeseed (or other mild oil) until the dressing is combined.

Seed and de-vein the jalapeno peppers to mitigate some of the heat.  Finely mince the jalapeno and stir it into the dressing.  Season the dressing with salt to taste, remembering that there is going to be an awful lot of bland noodle in there. In other words, don’t be too shy with the salt.

If your shrimp are raw but have the peel on, which is how I usually buy them, peel the shrimp.  I like to leave the tails on for presentation, but sans la queue is more palatable for some people. Season the shrimp with salt and pepper.

Heat the sesame oil up in a large skillet set over medium high heat.  Saute the shrimp for about 1 minute per side until they are pink and just cooked through.  Shrimp cooks up in a heartbeat, so keep a close eye on the little sea-bugs and take them off the heat as soon as they are curled and mostly opaque.

Add the cooked shrimp to the dressing and stir to combine so that the shellfish can absorb some of that delicious citrusy flavor.  You can let the dressing soak into the shrimp for at least half an hour, assuming that the shrimp are not overcooked.  If they are a bit on the chewy side, well, work quickly from this point on.

Peel a few strips off the cucumber and halve it.  Use a sharp spoon to scoop out the seeds.  Slice the cuke into thin half moons, each no more than 1/8″ thick.

Peel the red onion and slice very, very thinly into half moons about 1/16″ thick, or as thin as you can manage.

On to the noodles!  Water packed konnyaku or shiritaki are so blessed easy to prepare, because they are fundamentally ready to go.  Put the noodles in a colander and rinse them several times with cold water. If there was a slight scent when you emptied the package, rinse the noodles until it is undetectable.  Set them aside to drain.  Oh, if you bought the twee little konnyaku that come tied in small bundles, gently stick your thumb inside each bundle and wiggle it around. It will unwind easily into short strands.

Add the drained noodles to the shrimp and dressing, along with the onion and cucumber slices.  Toss well to combine and incorporate the other ingredients into the noodles. Give the dish a taste and season with a bit more fish sauce or salt as you see fit.

Coarsely chop the basil, cilantro and mint.  Add these to the salad along with the grapefruit supremes.  Gently toss the salad together until the herbs are incorporated, being careful not to break up those beautiful supremes that you worked so hard to cut.  Make sure that the dressing is incorporated well before you serve the salad because the noodles will not absorb much, if any, of the liquid.

This delicious light salad comes together quickly, considering that the most time consuming prep work that you’ll have to do is preparing the grapefruit.

Perfect for a light, low calorie and summer fresh lunch or dinner, the Thai flavors in this summer noodle salad are gorgeous.

When I think of “spa food”, this is the kind of dish that comes to mind.  Healthy, bursting with flavor, and relatively low fat, at about 300 calories per heaping bowl (according to the calculator from Spark People), this is one noodle dish that you can’t possibly feel guilty about….and it is infinitely tastier than shiritaki with Laughing Cow cheese. Trust me on that one.

  • Hellcat13

    I’ve tried shiritaki noodles and found them so smelly I too couldn’t actually eat them in the end. I got a terribly fishy smell from them. Granted, I have a seafood issue and I’m *really* sensitive to the smell/taste, so maybe people who like seafood don’t have a problem with them. You make me want to give them another try, though. I like the idea of 20-calories servings of noodles enough to give it a try.

  • Susan

    This sounds incredible and has just been added to my list of things to do today. Unfortunately, grapefruits are enemies of mine. Would you suggest substituting with oranges?

    • Tina

      Hi Susan,
      Oranges or sliced mango would be delicious alternatives that would still taste great with the other flavors in the dish.
      Happy non-cooking!

  • erica

    The Shiritaki brand here in the States is incredibly smelly. To get around that, I drain it in a colander under running water and then toss it into a small pot of boiling water and boil the hell out of it for about five minutes and then drain again. (It’s not like it’s going to get any mushier, you know?) Voila, smell is totally gone.

    We’ve been making the wide noodles (refuse to call them fettuccini) into a Thai noodle soup with a spicy lime/coconut broth. Float some cubes of tofu or some shrimp, a handful of snap peas or tiny broccoli florets and top with chili oil and it’s amazing. Plus, no guilt for eating the entire pot.

    On the other side, I don’t understand the diet theory that making a food-like analogue out of mediocre food-like items is any sort of a good idea. I’ve heard plenty of people tout how “awesome” their faux margaritas are (some evil combination of diet sprite, lime juice from a squeeze bottle, and a few packets of Splenda) and how fantastic it is when you combine sugarfree gelatin with Diet Coke, but I ain’t buying it. That doesn’t satisfy anything except your chemical addiction to artificial sweeteners.

    The only way these noodles are good is when they are covered with or floating in high quality ingredients with a lot of flavor.

  • lo

    Alright. What rock have I been living under? No carb/low carb noodles? Gotta get myself together and start reading blogs again 😉

    Love the look of this dish. Pasta, shrimp, fresh summer cucs? Lovely.

  • Lauren

    First off, no matter how good I’m doing on WW, I’m scared to buy the tofu shirataki noodles. I don’t care that Hungry Girl writes about them ALL THE TIME. Although this recipe looks delicious and not scary!

    Re: Laughing Cow…that is my favourite. I eat it every day!!!

  • Christina

    Could you make the dressing with lemon and lime juice, and possibly a little bit of splenda or stevia to sweeten things up? I don’t think grapefruit juice is something I’m allowed to have. (Very strict low-carb.)

    • Tina

      Christina – definitely! Increase the lime to taste. You could add a tiny bit of Stevia if you really wanted to, but if you don’t have the fruit then you really don’t need to balance the dressing for sweetness. If you make a variation of this dish we’d love to hear about what you did and how you liked it!

  • Tina

    Hellcat13 – Yeeech, I *love* fish and seafood, but if the smell was anything like what my friend described, I wouldn’t be able to give them another go. Kudos to you for even considering it! Maybe a different brand would help?

    Erica – great tip on boiling the noodles! If I get fishy smelling ones at some point, and I am quite certain that I will, I’ll give that a shot for sure. Your Thai coconut soup sounds divine. I know what you mean about diet foods. I remember making air popped popcorn sprayed with butter flavored PAM (shudder), or salted dehydrated cucumbers that were supposed to sub in for potato chips. Those were truly foul. And leathery. And hateful. Anyway, I agree that it is all about high quality ingredients and if you want the real thing, just use moderation. Oh yes, and if I ever figure out how to do that in my OWN life, I’ll let you know 😉

    Lo – totally give them a shot! And yes, to me this tastes like a bowl of sunshine.

    Lauren – Oh dear god, the super packs of low fat Laughing Cow from Costco? I hoard them. At 25ish calories per piece, I feel no guilt for getting my cheese fix. If you want to buy shiritaki or konnyaku, there are a bunch of different varieties at T&T. I really like the water packed konnyaku that are in tiny little tied up bundles (the only way I know they’re the right ones and not rice noodles is by looking at the calorie count on the back, hahaha) but there are plenty to choose from.

  • Stacey

    I love these noodles and use them to make a quick chow main type dish. A frozen mixed asian vegetable pack in the wok, a quick rinse and boil on the noodles and then lightly toss the noodles in the wok with some soy sauce and sesame seeds to dry them out and lightly crisp them up.

    I love your option, really fresh ingredients and light sounding! I would feel comfortable entertaining with that dish.

    Thanks for sharing!

  • erica

    Damn, we left the TV on the Cooking Channel and the stupid Hungry Girl show is on, featuring her bastardized version of fettucini alfredo and I swear she just said that it tastes EXACTLY LIKE real fettucini alfredo.

    I would like to challenge her to go to Rome and taste a bowl of authentic fettucini alfredo and compare it to this crap in a bowl she just microwaved.


  • janet @ the taste space

    I recently discovered kelp noodles which are equally low-carb but much better texture and (lack of) taste. I have a few packs of the shirataki noodles in my pantry and I always planned to put them in a soup because I wasn’t sure how they’d handle a salad. Glad to see you liked yours!

  • Hot cop

    Preach it my sister.

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