Pantry raid: Chana Masala

Lately, I've found myself cooking a lot of dishes with nothing more than pantry staples - mostly because I just can't be bothered going to the shops. I figured that I'm unlikely to be the only one in this situation, so I thought I'd share those recipes here.

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Miracle noodes: the search for low cal and low cost

I briefly mentioned in my last post that I've stocked up on some miracle noodles.

In case you've never heard of them, they're made from konjac, a low-cal root vegetable, and appear to have first been eaten in Japan. They're available from most supermarkets under flashy health food brands (Slendier is the main one I've seen around) and tend to cost around $4 for a 2-serving pack (that's from Woolworths in Australia - no idea what overseas prices might be, sorry!).

That's not too bad, but when you compare that to the cost of standard pasta (around $2.50 for 5 serves) or rice vermicelli noodles (around $0.70 for a single serve), it's pretty pricey, especially if you're eating it a few times a week.

But guess what I found when I was wandering around my local asian grocery store recently... packs of konjac noodles for just $1.50 each! They're still only a 2-serve package, but at $1.50 each, we're suddenly looking at a reasonable comparison.

Another low-cal, low-cost noodle alternative I love is zucchini noodles. I started out using a julienne slicer to make them, but it was taking too long, so I asked my mother-in-law for a vegetable spiraliser for my birthday last year and I love it! I've only really used it for zucchinis and carrots, but honestly, that's more than enough. Carrots are super cheap here (around $3/kilo) and zucchinis are also quite affordable (about $5/kilo, or $0.75 each) so when you consider that a single large zucchini makes about enough noodles for one meal, it's about the same price as using conventional pasta.

Now that we've established that the price is about the same, how do they all compare for taste and texture?

Zucchini noodles will always be my favourite. I love the taste of zucchini anyway, and it goes really well with a home-made Bolognese or rich red sauce. It also works well with a chicken stir-fry or, if you're going for a vegetarian option, a lentil/quinoa/tomato sauce. They're a little softer in texture than normal pasta, and of course taste like zucchini. Luckily it's a relatively subtle taste, so it goes nicely with most dishes. The only downside is that you need to be careful not to over-cook them or they go quite soggy and limp. I enjoy raw zucchini, so am perfectly happy serving them raw and allowing the heat of the sauce to cook them slightly, but you might prefer to cook them first.

I find that carrot noodles have their place, but I have trouble eating an entire bowl of them - the flavour is just too strong. They do go well mixed with zucchini noodles, or as a supplement to traditional pasta or asian noodles. Carrots definitely need cooking first, otherwise your jaw gets sore from all the chewing. Once cooked though, the texture holds up quite well and is fairly comparable to normal pasta. Carrot noodles should be served with a strong-flavoured sauce, or they'll overpower your meal. 

Konjac noodles are completely different. They're quite rubbery and slightly slimey in texture. If you've ever had japchae, a Korean dish made from sweet potato noodles, they're kind of like that. They're not supposed to have any flavour, but I find they taste ever so slightly fishy on their own. That said, if you heat them through whatever you're serving them with, they're not too bad - just make sure you have enough sauce to go around.  I've seen varieties that are shaped like pasta, but have never tried them, only the stir-fry noodle varieties. Personally, the texture is just too weird to have with western dishes, so I'm hesitant to try.

Now that I've compared the texture of konjac noodles to japchae, I've realised that I've never tried to make konjac japchae. I think I'm going to have to give it a go!

What are your favourite low-cal alternatives? I'd love to hear about them in the comments below :)

EDIT: I made the japchae with the konjac noodles, loosely following this recipe from Crazy Korean Cooking, and it was delicious! I ate it all before I could take photos, for which I'm very sorry, but my tummy has no regrets. Nom nom nom!