Monday, July 22, 2013

UnRecipe: New Carb City

Getting old(er) sucks. Getting a new scale REALLY sucks. I can deal with the gray hairs (only my hairdresser will ever know!) and given the lack of tropical weather in the Northwest, I can hide under enough scarves and clothing to never show more than a few inches of rapidly crepe-ifying skin at a time. What I can't fight is the rapid decline of metabolism, which has zero effect on my desire to eat copious amounts of food. Pesky Human Body! So I'm always trying to think of food swaps or modifications that let me enjoy what I'm craving and leave out any extra stuff that will just add bulk, especially since we got the new digital scale, which has made things abundantly clear that numbers don't lie, so put that chocolate bar down!

Swapping rice with cabbage for mapo tofu - so-so results - Photo by Wasabi Prime

 I am by no means a health nut. I'm a strong advocate for Unleashing the Kraken at happy hour, you're damn right I want fries with that, and I'm the first to admit, "just looking" at the dessert menu is code for, "Don't bring two spoons, we ain't sharing our desserts."  We should enjoy our meals whole-heartedly, but not with reckless abandon. Like our battles, we should choose our meals carefully. A few years ago I started cutting back on things like bread, rice and pasta, the usual suspects that are given the blanket term of Evil Carbs. Which is of course a sorority girl catchphrase/misnomer, as carbohydrates are everywhere. They're in fruits and vegetables, and we shouldn't be excluding those from our diet. And I'm not on the No Gluten Bandwagon, I love a good gluten-y pastry now and then as a treat, so I don't vilify pasta and bread by any means. I've just found that I've gotten more optimal energy levels by cutting back on processed carbohydrates and sticking with more vegetables and high protein. But time marches on, and when I do indulge in a plate of pasta now and then, my metabolism cries foul and the skinny jeans just make me look like a sausage on legs, something I like to avoid as much as possible.

The pasta and bread were eased out of our kitchen staples for the most part, but the hardest thing to kick is the rice. Damn my Asian roots! I've switched to brown rice, which I'll cut with quinoa, but it can still leave you with a bit of a bulky-belly feeling afterwards. It's really hard not to have rice when you're making a lot of Asian style dishes with tasty sauces and deliciousness that will just languish in a bowl, wasted, if not soaked up by some base ingredient. One of the hardest dishes to go rice-less is mapo tofu. I've made it a million times, over-posted about it just as many times, because it's one of my favorite basic salty-spicy dishes that's easy to make at a moment's notice. I saw people on low-carb/borderline Paleo diets using a lot of shredded cabbage as rice or noodle substitutes. I thought that was a brilliant idea, so I tried that with mapo tofu.

Swapping rice or noodles with cabbage - not perfect, but the scale is happier for it - Photos by Wasabi Prime
I made the mapo tofu as I always do, in typical UnRecipe fashion, with whatever vegetables I had, plus tofu. I cooked the cabbage first in the wok -- I wanted it wilted and a little caramelized, just to develop its flavor a little more. It's amazing how much it shrinks down in the cooking process, but I would recommend doing the cookdown to tenderize and caramelize it as much as possible, especially for the thicker chunks, plus you want to get rid of as much water as possible, or it's all cabbage soup. It won't really soak up the sauce or gravy of a dish, just get coated, so consider thickening whatever sauce you're making with a little extra cornstarch slurry. As for the final product of mapo tofu over cabbage? It was good; by cooking the cabbage and developing a little caramelization, it counteracts its bitter flavor and won't affect the flavor of what you're eating it with. But you lose that porridge-like mouthfeel of having the dish with rice -- cabbage is still cabbage. I'm thinking I will keep mapo tofu with rice, the way the Asian Gods and Tiger Moms intended, but use cooked down cabbage for when I want Pad Thai, as it does have a little of the mouthfeel of a chewy noodle.

Bi bim bap - no rice? No problem - Photo by Wasabi Prime
One dish that I was glad to see lost no enjoyment without rice was bi bim bap. You won't have as many leftovers -- the rice is truly a meal extender, to water down the meat and vegetables -- but for a satisfying meal that doesn't leave you with that bulky belly feeling afterwards, this is it. They key to making the dish so good is a variety of vegetables. You can even skip the meat, just make sure you have a lot of different ingredients like carrots, spinach/Swiss chard, pickled vegetables and mushrooms. Texture is key, it's like a magic trick to fool the mouth that there's no rice in the dish.

Meat and eggs - can't beat a protein combo - Photos by Wasabi Prime
This was more like No Carb City, with the exception of the vegetables -- I marinated a pound of thinly sliced pork in soy sauce, rice wine vinegar and some sugar overnight before letting it sear in a hot wok. The pork was removed and the vegetables were added, en masse. I had a countertop full of different veggies that were thrown into the wok. It seemed excessive, adding an entire bunch of kale, several carrots, onions, mushrooms and bok choi, but they cook down so much, and they become like the rice, little vehicles to carry the sauce, flavoring and a runny egg yolk, once everything gets tossed together in the serving dish.

Veggie-heavy dish, never a bad way to go - Photos by Wasabi Prime
The cabbage definitely felt like a swap in the mapo tofu, but I was glad to not feel anything was missing while enjoying a rice-free bi bim bap, as it was just as delicious as always. It's definitely worth the extra time chopping vegetables to make up for the missing starch. Your skinny jeans will thank you for it.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you! (tried to post longer comment earlier, but not sure if it's going through.)


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