Saturday, April 9, 2011

My Low-Carb Alternative to Pasta & Rice

If you're cutting back on carbs and are interested in trying a nutritious--and delicious--low carb alternative to rice, spaghetti, noodles or pasta, I recommend spaghetti squash. Rich in beta carotene and high in fiber, its unique ability to separate into thin, spaghetti-like strands when cooked makes it ideal in Asian and Italian dishes, and as a healthy low carb side dish. Spaghetti squash has a very mild squash flavor that won't interfere with the other flavors in your sauces or recipes. The texture is different from that of rice or pasta, however, with more of a crunch, so don't expect it to be identical in mouthfeel to spaghetti or rice. But it tastes quite yummy with your favorite hearty pasta sauce, light marinara, zesty stir-fry sauce or exotic curry. You can also serve it seasoned simply with some extra-virgin olive oil, sauteed garlic, salt & pepper to taste, and maybe some Parmesan, feta or mozzarella cheese.

Here are some tips for making (and making the most of) spaghetti squash as part of a low-carb diet or other healthy meal:

*Before using spaghetti squash in place of rice or spaghetti, you need to cook it and scoop out the seeds with a large spoon. Instead of boiling the squash in a big pot of water like many older recipes suggest, you can preserve more nutrients by cutting the squash in half lengthwise and cooking it in your oven or microwave.

*To cut the spaghetti squash without having it shift under your knife, place a damp kitchen towel under your cutting board to prevent it from sliding on your counter. This little trick works anytime you want to keep the cutting board from slipping while you cut a hard-skinned vegetable such as pumpkin and other winter squash.

*To bake the cut spaghetti squash, preheat your oven to 375F degrees. Place the de-seeded squash halves, cut side down, in a 9"x13" casserole dish with half a cup of water. Bake at 375 F until the squash is just tender, about half an hour or so.

*Microwaving is faster than baking. To cook the spaghetti squash in your microwave, place the de-seeded halves, cut side down, in a microwave-safe casserole dish, add 1/4 cup water, cover the dish loosely (I use plastic wrap with one corner pulled up as a vent) and microwave until just tender, about 10 to 15 minutes.

*To prevent the squash from becoming water-logged, make sure you don't overcook it: Check it towards the end of the cooking period, and remove from oven or microwave until it's just tender and the strands can be separated with a fork.

*When the spaghetti squash is tender, carefully remove from the casserole dish and let it cool off until you can handle it safely. Then use a fork to remove and separate the spaghetti-like strands: Rake the fork gently across the cooked squash and place the strands in a colander with small holes or a bowl until ready to use in your recipe. I use a colander in the sink to allow any extra moisture to drip off the squash strands.

Zestfully yours,

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