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Shirataki Noodles

Ever wondered how Japanese women stay slim and fit? Well, there are lots of advantages to the Japanese diet (not the political body), and there are many foods in it that are said to help reduce weight. However, the one that interests us here is the shirataki noodle.

Shirataki noodles have been a part of the Japanese diet for a long time, and are a fascinating new option for men and women looking to lose weight. It’s steadily getting exposure outside of Japan and is set to turn the weight loss world on its head.

In fact, it has already appeared in several TV news shows and in magazines too. As for social proof, well there is no better reference than its popularity among the Japanese who are among the healthiest eaters in the world.

Shira… What? Shirataki Noodles?

For those hearing or reading about shirataki noodles for the first time, the most common reaction is one of confusion.

The arrangement of phonemes used in the name “shirataki” does not normally appear in the English language, so some confusion over the name is expected. Once you get a good grip on the name though, you are better able to understand what shirataki noodles are exactly.

The name “shirataki” comes from the Japanese words for “white” and “waterfall”. Thus, the noodles are referred to as “white waterfall”, which stems from the appearance of these noodles.

Shirataki noodles are thin, translucent noodles with a texture unlike other noodles. Wheat noodles are vastly different in terms of appearance alone, not to mention texture – so comparing shirataki to pasta or Chinese egg noodles does not work.

Potato starch noodles are chewy but not as firm. Rice noodles are soft compared to shirataki, while mung bean noodles don’t have the same bite to them. In other words, shirataki noodles are unique among noodles.

This uniqueness in appearance and texture is a result of the ingredient used to make shirataki noodles. To make these unusual strands, the konjac yam (konnyaku in Japanese), also called devil’s tongue or elephant yam, is used. Konnyaku is also eaten in other forms in Japanese cuisine.

To make shirataki noodles, the yam is grated and mixed with water. This frees up the starch molecules. Next, this solution is slowly extruded through a plate with small holes into a container of hot water mixed with a high concentration of lime.

The fiber molecules chain up while the lime in the solution “sets” the shape of the noodles, so they don’t fuse back together into a messy lump. The result is what looks like noodles made from a very firm jelly.

At the chemical level, these noodles are made of little more than water, glucomannan, and the lime absorbed from the production process. Glucomannan is a water-soluble dietary fiber, meaning it is a type of dietary fiber that dissolves easily in water.

This has some industrial uses such as for thickening various foodstuffs, but in the human body it is neutral in effect. The human body cannot process dietary fiber for energy – in other words, glucomannan contributes very little energy, while providing the cleansing effect of dietary fiber, and taking up space to give you the sense of fullness.

Shirataki noodles are eaten in a variety of ways in Japan. One of the most popular uses is to add it to hotpots with soups and various ingredients, where it sucks up the juices and becomes an integral part of the dish. Another is to eat it simply with a bowl of dipping sauce (mentsuyu), as with soba.

Then again, it can also be used as a substitute for other types of noodles in flavorful stir-fries, steaming bowls of ramen soup, and more. It can even be added to simple refreshing desserts! Of course, for more adventurous cooks and eaters, the shirataki noodle can be used in a wide variety of non-Japanese dishes too.

What are they like?

It would be incorrect to compare shirataki to pasta or egg noodles, or any other types of noodles – that would be like comparing coffee and tea. The best way to find out exactly what shirataki noodles are like is to buy a pack of konjac jelly cups and eat them. These jelly cups are found in Asian groceries.

On a side note, some Western territories have banned the use of konjac for jelly, because it is firmer than what the tongue or esophagus can squash and break apart. This presents a choking hazard, especially for young children and seniors, thus the ban. However, it is still possible to purchase imported goods made from konjac jelly.

The texture of konjac jelly is very firm and chewy, unlike most jellies in the West which are soft in comparison. Of course, shirataki noodles aren’t flavored with sweet juices like the jelly cups.

In fact, shirataki noodles have almost no flavor of their own. The lime and trace elements absorbed during production may impart a slight bitterness, but this is tolerable and at times is not noticeable. What’s great about these flavorless jelly noodles is that they can absorb flavors very well!

If you cook these in a stir-fry, then they will take on the flavor of the spices you used. Adding them to soups means that they will quickly be infused with a brothy flavor. Ladle sauce on top, and it will assimilate the flavor of the sauce.

That means that one should be a little more careful when handling or storing these noodles. Keep them away from items with strong smells, such as spices. Laundry and bath products are even worse – keep them separate, or risk your next noodle meal smelling of detergent.

Admittedly, the texture can be strange and unusual for those not used to eating konjac jelly, but it can quickly become a regular feature in your diet, due to the flexibility it provides and the awesome advantages it has over other foods.

Recently, entrepreneurs have begun experimenting with konjac jelly and have produced “shirataki noodles” that aren’t noodles per se, but rather different shapes. In the tradition of Italian pasta shapes, some of these products are called by the names of the Italian pastas they resemble, like fettucine, orzo, macaroni, and so on.

How to Buy Shirataki Noodles One reason why you may not have heard of shirataki noodles before is their relative scarcity in supermarkets, groceries, and even specialist stores. It is not even very common in Asian supermarkets and groceries, unlike other exotic products from the Far East.

However, shirataki noodles are slowly but steadily making their way into markets outside of Japan. Some companies outside of Japan have also begun manufacturing this product. With increased customer demand, these noodles may become easier to find and buy.

For now though, you can find these in some Asian supermarkets or in your local health food store, if you are lucky. You can also order them online and not necessarily from Japanese websites.

For example, there’s this one website / company called “Miracle Noodle” (http://www.miraclenoodle.com/index.html) that produces not just long strands but a variety of other shapes as well. Definitely worth checking out if you love your pasta and rice, but want to cut back on the carbs and calories.

Shirataki noodles can be purchased in two forms. One is the “dry” form, while “wet” takes up the role of counterpoint. The dry form is not actually dried out like egg noodles or instant ramen noodles, so you avoid additional calories from the drying method (frying in oil). The dry form is actually just the shirataki noodles, well-drained of excess liquid.

The wet form however is more common. This is basically a way of packaging shirataki noodles which are suspended in water. The water keeps the noodles from losing moisture and suffering loss of texture quality. This water is not mean to be consumed, and should be discarded.

In fact, some manufacturers recommend giving the noodles a wash after draining and before using them, as the packaging water may have an undesirable smell. This liquid can also somewhat mitigate the absorption of external odors, though with proper handling this should not be a problem.

These packages have a shelf life of about one year, so check the expiration date. Look for bags that are clean and leak-free – pretty obvious, but always worth noting. Check out the color and translucency of the noodles. Look for any debris in the package that shouldn’t be there.

One thing about ordering online though: not all manufacturers produce the same quality of noodles. Unlike shopping for shirataki noodles in meatspace, where you can see the actual noodles in all their glory, shopping for them in cyberspace can be tricky.

The image is not always the best way to judge things. In the end, what we can recommend is to order a small amount from a manufacturer. After trying it out, you can order large shipments (if you are satisfied) or try a different manufacturer.

Losing Weight with Noodles And Winning The Weight War

If anyone ever said to you that you could lose weight by eating noodles, you would probably have looked at them with raised eyebrows. Noodles? Weight loss? If there’s one thing that is too easy to overeat, it’s noodles like pasta and so on. Well, if you didn’t know about shirataki noodles, this would be an expected response.

However, now that you do know about these seemingly miraculous noodles, you might be asking how exactly they can help you lose weight. This is the good part right here, and the selling point of shirataki noodles.

As mentioned previously, shirataki noodles are composed of mainly water and glucomannan. To refresh your memory, glucomannan is a type of dietary fiber that dissolves readily in water.

Dietary fiber is basically a group of compounds which from chains and strings, which cannot be broken down by the digestive processes in humans, and thus cannot generate energy for us. Other animals like cows and goats may be able to digest and gain energy from such compounds, but we humans don’t.

Thus, a large part of shirataki noodles’ weight reduction capabilities stems from its status as a major source of dietary fiber. Dietary fiber has mass, and so counts as bulk in our stomachs and intestines, but it does not produce energy.

Moreover, the body expends energy trying to digest these mechanically (meaning squeezing and churning) and also in moving them along – so you end up with a net loss of energy for dietary fiber.

Dietary fiber also absorbs water easily, increasing its bulk and weight even further with no additional calories, making you feel fuller for longer while consuming fewer calories. On that note, water makes up a major fraction of shirataki noodles’ mass and bulk, so they compound the effect.

In addition to that, dietary fiber produces a mild level of friction in the gastrointestinal tract, scrubbing the intestinal walls and cleaning out your system. A diet with high amounts of dietary fiber enables us to pass feces easily and quickly.

While other foods rich in dietary fiber contain carbohydrates and proteins that can be converted into calories, shirataki noodles (on their own) have almost no calories. Yup, that’s right – shirataki noodles are low-calorie, or have so little caloric value that they might as well be marked zero-calorie.

One advantage that may not be immediately apparent is a product of the texture of shirataki noodles. Their resiliency means that it is difficult to swallow them in large pieces, so you will spend more time chewing your food.

This can also reduce overall consumption of food by causing you to spend more time with the same amount of food. Our bodies use the length of time we eat as one factor in deciding whether we are full, so if we take longer to eat, then we can feel full with less.

To sum things up, shirataki noodles can help you lose weight because:

• They contribute almost no calories. • They consume energy just to move through the body. • They are bulky. • They need more chewing, so you eat more slowly. • Plus, the dietary fiber is good for cleansing and improving bowel movements.

Nutritional Information

Because of some variations in production – whether to ease the process or get an edge over competition – there are also variations in the nutritional factors of shirataki. However, here are some of the most salient points, with ranges that you can expect. For this, we consider a serving size of 4 ounces, or around 112 grams.

Calories: 0 - 20 Calories from fat: 0 – 5 Total fats: 0 – 0.5 grams

Saturated fats: 0
Trans fats: 0

Sodium: 0 – 15 milligrams Carbohydrates: less than 1 gram – 3 grams

Dietary Fiber: less than 1 gram – 2 grams

Protein: 0 – 1 gram Vit A: 0% DV Vit C: 0 – 2% DV Calcium: 5 – 10% DV Iron: 0 – 2% DV

As you can see, there are statistically significant variations for these nutritional factors across different brands of shirataki noodles, but all things considered they are still quite low and well suited for low-carbohydrate diets.

Since the carbohydrates are mostly dietary fibers, these noodles have a glycemic index of zero or near zero, making them a good choice for diabetics. For those not familiar with the concept, glycemic index is a measure of how quickly food is converted into basic sugars like glucose, which then directly affect the amount of sugar in the blood. Diabetics cannot handle sudden influxes of blood sugar, so foods with low glycemic indices are recommended for them.

Some manufacturers add small amounts of fats and proteins to improve texture, whether by changing the chain structures or helping the noodles retain moisture better. Either way, shirataki noodles are not a significant source of protein, despite being chewy like many protein-rich foods.

The sodium comes from the salts used to create the solution for making these noodles, as does the calcium. As a general rule, manufacturers do not add salt for flavoring the noodles. As for other elements and micronutrients, the amounts contributed by shirataki noodles are miniscule, so make sure to eat other foods too, or at least take vitamin and mineral supplements.

Shirataki noodles contain no gluten and most contain no soy either (check the ingredients to be sure). This means that those with gluten allergies or soy allergies can fully enjoy shirataki noodles in the many ways they can be prepared.

Preparation and Cooking

Now that you are more or less convinced as to why you should eat shirataki noodles, you might be wondering how exactly one goes about preparing it. Do you just open the package and stick a fork in, or does it need some more intricate prepping and cooking?

Actually, yes, you can open up the package and eat it straight up, but there’s one hitch. The water used to package the noodles is not appetizing, with a slightly fishy or alkaline smell. Some people can stand it, but most people will wash their noodles before eating – anywhere between a quick rinse to a few minutes under a running tap.

From there on out, the world is your cookbook. Shirataki noodles are very versatile and can be cooked in several ways, or even uncooked as the case may be. One super quick and easy way to eat shirataki noodles is to just pour a bit of soy sauce on it (not too much) then stir it up and dig in.

A more formal variation would be to arrange the noodles on a plate and have a small dipping bowl with mentsuyu or your sauce of choice on the side.

One basic way to prepare shirataki is to dry-roast it. To do this, heat up a non-stick pan, then add the noodles. Stir them around until they make a slight squeaking sound, which means they are done. Doing this will reduce the water content slightly, bringing its consistency closer to pasta. This will also reduce or remove the bitterness that shirataki noodles sometimes have. After doing this, you can do what you want with the noodles.

While we are still thinking of the Far Eastern ways, consider using shirataki noodles as your noodle base for stir-fried noodles. The ingredients and flavorings vary, including spices like garlic, shallots, ginger, hua jiao (Szechuan pepper), and so many more. Soy sauce, kecap manis, citrus juice, coriander, shacha sauce, satay sauce, et cetera – shirataki noodles can be your key to exploring the panoply of Far East flavors.

Soups are a universal food; though styles may vary, it is still identifiable as soup. Shirataki noodles are a great way to “extend” a soup to make it more filling without adding too many calories (in fact it adds almost none). Texturally, it is also a quirky and interesting addition. Try using it in chicken noodle soup, sukiyaki, ramen soup, and any other soup that could use some heartening up.

Firebrand and otherwise passionate Italian chefs might preach the dogma of which type of pasta goes with what sauce, but shirataki noodles have no such restrictions. They’re already out of their original context so why not go all the way, right?

You can use shirataki noodles as substitutes for many kinds of long pasta such as fettucine, angel hair, bucatini, or the ever-popular spaghetti. Some enterprising companies are even making shirataki “pasta” – the same material but in shapes other than the standard long strands.

Though it might be unusual, one can’t really think that shirataki noodles would not match any saucy dish. Try mixing it into tajines and curries or your next casserole. Stews are perfect for this purpose. You can even use it in macaroni and cheese to lessen the carbohydrate guilt. Add the noodles after the meats and vegetables are cooked to avoid overcooking the noodles.

If you’re feeling a little peckish, you can season shirataki noodles for a quick and simple snack. Try adding salt, pepper, a squeeze of lemon and a dash of olive oil. Add some soy sauce and sesame oil for a basic yet sublime taste experience, which you can enhance by sprinkling sesame seeds on top.

If you have some furikake (savory Japanese sprinkles), then that works perfectly well too. A sprinkling of garlic powder and oregano or basil flakes makes a conceptually-poor yet still tasty Italian-inspired snack.

Recipes and Ideas

To round out our presentation on shirataki noodles, we present some ideas and recipes for preparing what could become your next staple. Its lack of basic flavor can be viewed as its strength because it can then serve as an ingredient in a wide variety of dishes from all sorts of cuisines.

Mentsuyu

To begin with, you can eat shirataki noodles simply with just some mentsuyu and garnishes on the side. Mentsuyu can be made in advance, but for maximum flavor it should be used within 3 days of making it. Use chopsticks for a more authentic feel and easier dipping.

2 cups of dashi* 1/3 cup light soy sauce (Japanese, preferably) 1/3 cup mirin

  • The dashi you use can be made from scratch using katsuobushi and konbu, or from a dashi concentrate powder. Needless to say, the scratch version tastes better, but the powder version is much easier.

1. In a saucepan, heat the mirin until it starts to vaporize. This will be lower than the boiling point of water, as alcohol boils off at a lower temperature. 2. Add the soy sauce and dashi. 3. Stir the mixture until mixed and allow to heat up to a slow boil. Do not over-boil this, as the dashi will lose some of its flavor. 4. Remove from the heat and allow it to cool down. 5. Pour into small handy bowls for easy dipping and slurping.

Garnishes

Here are some traditional and not-so-traditional garnishes that you can serve with shirataki noodles. Serve them on the side or mix them right in!

Beni Shoga: A bright red pickled ginger, also used as a garnish in dishes like gyudon and yakisoba.

Nori Strips or Flakes: Nori is a type of dried seaweed.

Sesame Seeds: Black or white sesame seeds may be used.

Katsuobushi: Shavings made from a block of dried katsuo or bonito.

Grated Ginger: Make sure to use young ginger to avoid tough fibers.

Grated Radish (daikon): Adds a complex flavor to each mouthful. Use the long white radishes or daikons, not the small spicy ones.

Furikake: The Japanese use these flavorful savory sprinkles on rice and noodles. Check out your local Asian grocery to see what varieties are available.

Sesame Oil: For a luxuriant and fragrant experience, add a dash of sesame oil on top of your noodles.

Chili-garlic Sauce: Some kinds are pasty, others are oily, but they are all great for spicing up shirataki noodles.

Sriracha Sauce: A tangy chili pepper sauce with Thai origins.

Shacha or Sate sauce: Not to be confused with satay. Slightly uncommon. Look for this in Taiwanese or South Chinese sections of your local Asian grocery (or ask for help).

Chicken Shirataki Noodle Soup

For many of us, chicken noodle soup is a perfect way to get some nourishment when you are sick. For others, it is simply the flavor of home. This version is easy to make and has fewer calories, but does not skimp on flavor.

Note: This recipe is for two servings.

1 teaspoon butter 2 tablespoons chopped onion 2 tablespoons chopped celery 1/2 cup shirataki noodles, washed and drained 1/3 cup sliced carrots 1 can (14.5 ounce) chicken broth* 1/2 can (14.5 ounce) vegetable broth 2-1/2 ounces chopped cooked chicken breast 1/8 teaspoon dried basil 1/8 teaspoon dried oregano salt and pepper to taste

  • You can also use a bouillon cube or granules.

1. Heat a pot over medium heat and melt butter. 2. Add the onion and celery and allow to cook for 5 minutes. 3. Pour in the broths. 4. Add the rest of the ingredients. 5. Bring to a boil. 6. Turn down the heat and allow to simmer for 15 to 10 minutes before serving.

Shirataki Noodles With Sesame Dressing

This dish is all about the simple yet exotic flavor of sesame. It is even easier to make if you can buy sesame paste. This is a dish that can be served cold or hot, so it’s great for both sit-down dinners and takeaway lunches!

Note: This recipe is for two servings.

2 cups shirataki noodles, washed and drained 4 tablespoons sesame seeds (black or white or a combination)* 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce 1-1/2 tablespoons sugar ½ tablespoon sesame oil (optional)

  • Can be replaced by half the amount of sesame paste. Also, if you do use sesame paste, skip steps 1 to 3.

1. Toast sesame seeds in a pan over a low flame. 2. Once seeds begin releasing a strong aroma, remove from flam and transfer to a grinding bowl or mortar. 3. Grind until fine. 4. Transfer to a large bowl and add soy sauce and sugar, then mix well. 5. Add the noodles and toss to spread the dressing evenly. 6. Transfer to individual serving bowls. If using sesame oil, drizzle evenly on the plated servings. Shirataki with Bacon And Tomato Sauce

Shirataki noodles are a natural fit as substitutes in pasta dishes. The sauce presented here was originally meant for spaghetti and other long pastas, but is equally good served on shirataki noodles. And of course, there’s the popular saying – Bacon makes everything better!

  • Note: This recipe serves 4.

2 tablespoons olive oil 1 large onion, peeled and thinly sliced 2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed 6 slices of bacon, diced (if using thick rashers, reduce the number of slices)* 4 tablespoons white wine 1 pound (450 grams) canned peeled tomatoes, drained ½ teaspoon dried oregano ½ teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon pepper 1 pound (450 grams) shirataki noodles *Pancetta may also be used. This amount may be reduced, depending on how salty the bacon is, as well as how well you salty you prefer your food.

1. Heat oil in a saucepan over moderate heat. 2. Add onion and garlic. Fry while stirring occasionally, for 5-7 minutes, or when the onion turns translucent but not brown. 3. Add bacon and cook for 4 minutes, stirring continuously. 4. Add wine and bring to a boil for 2 minutes. 5. Add tomatoes, and oregano, salt. 6. Set heat to low and allow to cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. 7. To heat shirataki noodles, bring a pot of water to boil, then add the noodles. Allow the noodles to heat up for 3-5 minutes, then remove from the heat and drain. 8. In a large bowl, mix together the sauce and noodles. 9. Serve immediately.

Stir-Fried Shirataki Noodles

This is totally different from the greasy MSG-laden stir-fried noodles you may have had at cheap Chinese restaurants. This version is less oily, and certainly less calorific because of the substitution of shirataki noodles. This recipe is also basic, and you can add your desired ingredients like shredded chicken or cooked shrimp, as well as vegetables like carrots, cabbage, and snow peas.

Note: This recipe serves 4.

1 pound (450 grams) shirataki noodles 3 tablespoons cooking oil 2 cloves garlic, minced 1 medium onion, finely chopped 2 Chinese sausages (la chang or lapcheong), diced or sliced into thin diagonal sections 2 tablespoons dark soy sauce 2 tablespoons rice wine Salt to taste

1. In a non-stick pan or skillet, dry roast the shirataki noodles until they become “squeaky”. Transfer the noodles into a bowl and cover to keep warm. 2. In a wok, heat up the oil. Add the garlic and onions and cook for about 5-7 minutes. 3. Add the sausage and cook for an additional 4 minutes. 4. Add the noodles and mix for about 1 minute. 5. Add the soy sauce and rice wine. Spread as evenly as you can to make mixing easier. Mix the noodles well to spread the flavoring ingredients evenly. Cook for 4 minutes. 6. Serve.

Saucy Beef And Broccoli On Shirataki

A delicious entrée inspired by a Chinese dish, this is a filling and flavorful choice for a main course. The use of oyster sauce gives it a deep umami-rich taste that will keep you coming back for more.

Note: This recipe serves 2-4.

1 pound shirataki noodles, washed and drained 2 tablespoons cooking oil ¼ cup water 1 tablespoon cornstarch 1 inch ginger, sliced 1 medium onion, cut into wedges 1 clove garlic, finely sliced 2 tablespoons oyster sauce 1 pound boneless beef sirloin steak, sliced thinly 1-1/2 cup broccoli florets, blanched 1 cup beef stock or consommé (or an equivalent amount of dissolved bouillon cubes)

1. Dry roast the shirataki noodles in a non-stick skillet until they are squeaky when moved around with a spatula. Transfer to a bowl or onto individual serving bowls or plates. 2. Mix the water and cornstarch together until completely dissolved. This mixture will be used to thicken the sauce. 3. Heat half of the oil in a pan until it starts vaporizing. Add the ginger and fry for 1 minute. 4. Add the beef slices and fry until browned. You may remove the ginger pieces if you wish. Transfer to a bowl or plate to avoid overcooking. 6. Heat the rest of the oil and fry the garlic and onion for 3-5 minutes. 7. Add the oyster sauce and broccoli and stir-fry for 3-5 minutes. 8. Add the stock or consommé (or bouillon). 9. Slowly add the cornstarch mixture, while constantly stirring. 10. Return the beef and mix well. 11. Stir-fry for 1 minute to reheat the beef, then transfer onto the noodles. 12. Serve immediately.

Chilled Fruit And Shirataki

Noodles may not exactly come to mind when talking about desserts, but shirataki noodles can work in sweets! They are neutral in flavor, so they can be used in both savor and sweet dishes. This is a simple and easy recipe for a refreshing and texturally-interesting treat. For a better presentation, you can make fruit balls instead of cubes. For an even cooler dessert, add some shaved ice on top and flavored syrup.

Note: This recipe serves 2-4 people.

1 cup water 1 cup sugar ½ pound (225 grams) shirataki noodles, washed, drained, and chilled Meat from 1 large coconut, stringed* ½ medium-sized melon, cubed ½ pound (225 grams) watermelon, cubed 2 large bananas, sliced

  • Coconut meat can be stringed using a special tool. It is a small hand-held tool that has small metal loops on one end. If you can’t find this, you can just scrape the meat out and slice it into thin strips.

1. In a small pot or saucepan, boil the water and add the sugar. 2. When the sugar is completely dissolved, lower the heat and allow to simmer for 3 minutes to thicken the syrup slightly. Allow syrup to cool. 3. In individual serving bowls, place a serving of shirataki noodles at the bottom. 4. Add and arrange the pieces of fruit as desired. 5. Spoon the syrup over the fruit and noodles. Serve.

Though noodles are not normally ingredients that one would associate with desserts, the gelatinous look and feel of shirataki makes it compatible with the sweeter culinary arts. Adding it to parfaits and shaved ices is a sure way to make these desserts and sweet snacks more filling without pushing the calorie count up.

You see, shirataki noodles can be prepared pretty much in any way you wish, if you are willing to explore and experiment!

References


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