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Veggie spaghetti: Pasta salad has vegetarian twist

By Detroit Free Press

Pasta salads are a summer potluck standard. Have you ever been to a barbecue or other outdoor party where there wasn't a big bowl of pasta salad? Me neither.

With plenty of pasta types on store shelves, you'll need to use your noodle when choosing your noodle.

One product that came out early this year that I've been wanting to try is the hidden veggie spaghetti. There are name brands such as Mueller's as well as store brands for this veggie spaghetti. Most are made with dried sweet corn, carrot and squash along with semolina.

The nutritional claim on the spaghetti box says there is 1 full serving of vegetables per 4 ounces of pasta.

Of course, there are a couple of asterisks after that claim. That 4 ounces, according to the package, actually equals 2 servings of pasta. So you have to eat twice the serving size to get one full serving of vegetables.

And speaking of that box, take note of its size. The packages look very similar to a 16-ounce box of traditional or thin spaghetti. But look closely, the net weight is 12 to 13.25 ounces. And you might have guessed by now these cost more.

At my local grocery store, the 12-ounce box of a store brand of veggie spaghetti is $1.49. A 16-ounce box of a national brand of traditional spaghetti is $1.34 at my local grocery. Nutrition-wise, these have nearly same amount of calories, sodium, carbohydrates and fiber as plain spaghetti. So it's purely a matter of preference in what you use.

Today's recipe makes a terrific potluck salad, but you can serve it as a main dish too. And if you have vegetarian friends to feed, you'll score huge points if you use the tofu. With this recipe, be sure to use the extra-firm tofu so it holds its shape and doesn't fall apart after roasting.

Tofu blocks are sold packaged in water in a variety of textures from soft to firm to light firm and extra firm to silken. Its custard-like texture comes from how it's made: curdling soy milk from ground, cooked soy beans. Tofu is often described as having a smidgen of nutty flavor, but other than that it's bland. The beauty of tofu is that it soaks up the flavors of what it is cooked with. Our recipe uses roasted tofu that has been soaked for a bit in a soy-lime mixture that has a touch of spiciness.

If you don't like the tofu, use cooked and cubed chicken or simply ramp up the vegetables.

Oven-Roasted Tofu with Veggie Pasta

You can substitute cooked and cubed chicken or turkey for the tofu. Serves 6 as a main dish or more as side-dish salad. Prep time: 40 minutes. Total: 40 minutes.

     1/4  cup lime juice

     6     tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce

     2     teaspoons chili garlic paste or to taste, divided

     2     tablespoons canola oil

     1     package extra-firm tofu

     12     ounces veggie thin spaghetti or 12 ounces whole-wheat spaghetti

     1/2  cup creamy peanut butter

     1     tablespoon seasoned rice vinegar

     2     tablespoons water

     1 1/2     teaspoons minced fresh ginger

     6    cups thinly sliced Napa cabbage

     1    bell pepper, washed, thinly sliced

     1    cup trimmed and thinly sliced snow peas

     1/2  cup thinly sliced green onion

     1/2     bunch cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped

POSITION rack in lower third of oven and heat to 400°.

COMBINE in a pie plate the lime juice, soy sauce, 1 teaspoon chili garlic paste and oil. Pat the tofu with paper towel and cut the block of tofu in half horizontally. Place the two halves in the soy sauce mixture, turning to coat. Let sit for 10 minutes.

COAT a raised-edge baking sheet with cooking spray or brush with a bit of canola oil.

TRANSFER the tofu to the baking sheet. Reserve the marinade. Roast the tofu, turning once halfway through, until golden brown on both sides, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven. Cool a few minutes and cut into bite-size cubes.

COOK the pasta according to package directions in a large pot of boiling, salted water. Drain and rinse slightly.

PLACE in a food processor or blender the reserved marinade, peanut butter, rice vinegar, remaining 1 teaspoon chili garlic paste, water and ginger. Blend until smooth and the mixture coats the back of a spoon. If the mixture is too thick, add more water to thin. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.

PLACE in a serving bowl the pasta, cabbage, bell pepper and snow peas. Drizzle in the sauce and toss to coat. Add the tofu cubes and toss again. Garnish with green onion and cilantro leaves just before serving.

Nutrition information: Per serving: 313 calories (48 percent from fat), 18 grams fat (3 grams saturated fat), 29 grams carbohydrates, 14 grams protein, 287 milligrams sodium, 0 milligrams cholesterol, 6 grams fiber.


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