I’m in love with the zucchini in noodle form.
Although its heavy-handed supermarket packaging upsets the environmentalist in me, I’ve learned to peel back the plastic and see it for the astonishingly versatile vegetable that it is.
Having come across pictures of enviable zucchini noodles, I just had to get my hands on a julienne slicer and try it for myself. After a good long look in my local Trust-Mart last week, I settled for a clunky 8.9 RMB double-ended vegetable peeler/grater that, while decent with the zucchini, birthed bruises on my finger with its half-brained non-ergonomic design.
The great thing about the zucchini is that it’s firmer than a cucumber but not hard like a carrot, making it a delight to handle on the chopping board. Once I got the hang of it, my zucchini-noodling quickly got up to speed. I left the zucchini strands to “sweat” for 15 minutes — not sure if this step is necessary, but I’d rather wait than risk having the stuff go watery on me. Plus, this gave me time to cook the rest of the ingredients.
As zucchini water drip-dropped away, I cooked up some button mushrooms, doufu gan (dried tofu) strips, and the chopped zucchini, and made a simple white sauce. Once this was done, I cooked the zucchini noodles with some green pepper strips, threw everything else back in the pan along with some herbs, and got them nice and cozy with one another.
WOW. I’d thought my ribboned zucchini was good, but this was mind-blowing. These zucchini noodles had the look and feel of spaghetti: firm but yielding with just enough bite, substantial (not watery or mushy) and perfectly al dente. Tastewise, the mild-flavoured zucchini “held” my rather thin cream sauce very well in each forkful, making for delightful slurping.
The other ingredients, especially the mushrooms, were excellent accompaniments, which was a relief considering I hadn’t followed a recipe. The tofu, which is mildly flavoured with five-spice, had been a last-minute throw in, but rather than clash with the western flavours, it gave the dish a welcome meatiness (kinda like chicken strips).
The most divine aspect of this meal was that I was getting the pasta satisfaction from a vegetable, and felt completely guiltless about it. Who knew that simply cutting a vegetable differently could transform its identity, and even allow it to unabashedly take the place of something so comforting as pasta?
Next time, though, I’ll try to make it an even lighter, greener spaghetti by getting the zucchini from the wet market, where it is sold wrapped only in its own skin.
Zucchini spaghetti with mushrooms in cream sauce
I’m sure these zucchini noodles would also be at home in a tomato-based sauce, though I like the idea of a creamy sauce because the noodles are already low in calories — if I’m doing all this work to make my own noodles, might as well indulge a little bit :-) Feel free to play around with the toppings, but don’t let their volume overwhelm the noodles.
4 medium-sized zucchini, peeled
1 tsp salt
1 pack (12-16) button mushrooms, thoroughly washed and sliced
2 pieces dried tofu (the less flavoured the better), thinly sliced
1 green pepper, julienned
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 cup milk (I used whole milk)
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
Salt to taste
Italian herb mix (basil, oregano, rosemary, etc.)
Red pepper flakes (optional)
1. “Noodle” the zucchini by running a julienne slicer/large-holed grater along the length of the vegetable. With each zucchini, stop when you reach the seeded core. Chop up the cores into small bits and set aside. Place zucchini noodles in a colander and toss with salt. Set a dish underneath the colander to hold drained liquid.
2. Heat 2 tsp oil on a pan and add mushrooms. Sautee 2-3 min until soft, then season with black pepper. Remove from pan.
3. Add tofu slices and chopped zucchini (I added half and saved half for the next meal, but feel free to add all) to pan and cook for 2-3 min in leftover mushroom liquid. Remove from pan.
4. Prepare a basic cream sauce by melting butter on low heat, stirring in flour until smooth (about 3 minutes), and adding milk and cooking on medium-heat heat for another 3 minutes, stirring the whole time. Add salt and pepper. Transfer to a bowl.
5. Heat 2 tsp oil in pan, add garlic, green pepper, and zucchini strands. Cook, tossing, for 3 minutes, then mix in the rest of the ingredients. Add herbs, red pepper flakes, and salt to taste. Allow sauce to be thoroughly reheated, then serve with freshly ground black pepper.
Serves 2 as a meal (4 medium-platefuls).