When I cook from old recipes, I often change them for one of two reasons: 1) to make the food more amenable to 21st century palates, 2) to make it healthier. In this case, I took a classic Szechuan dish – a noodle dish called “Ants Climbing a Tree” – and went with the latter approach. I’ve been making this dish for a while, but this post from The Kitchn prompted me to share: my version of Ants Climbing a Tree is a great, spicy, flavorful way to get into vegan-friendly, gluten-free shirataki noodles.
Last year, in the course of efforts to lose weight, I came across shirataki noodles in a number of Hungry Girl recipes. I really respect what she offers in terms of calorie reduction, but my personal preference is for eating fewer processed food. So, I took some of the more earthy low-calorie ingredients she suggested and started experimenting with them. Shirataki, in particular, have been quite a challenge: they have a unique texture and give off a lot of moisture in cooking. I kept substituting them for wheat pasta with mixed results. Then one day, I had a stunning thought: why not substitute them for other noodles which present similar cooking issues?
My mom studies Chinese art history, and has spent a good deal of time over there. She incorporated a number of Chinese dishes into her dinner repertoire, so I grew up eating Ants Climbing a Tree all the time. For the same reason, I also wound up being mocked during 1st grade snacktime for bringing dried seaweed snack packs. But I digress…
Traditionally, Ants Climbing a Tree are made with bean thread noodles (which are gluten-free like shirataki, but a bit higher-calorie) and ground pork. This version (from a Tasty Kitchen contributor) pretty much captures it. Bean threads are kind of gummy in the same way shirataki are, so I tried substituting…and it worked wonderfully! I also usually substitute various proteins for pork, and add vegetables to make a one-dish meal. The version below is vegan and has soy crumbles and zucchini. I also often do tofu and ground turkey, and toss in peppers, eggplant, or bok choy on the veggie side. So, with apologies to Szechuan cooking, here we go…Remember, the key to Chinese cooking is good mise en place!
Szechuan-Style Shirataki Noodles (Serves 2 as a main dish)
3 packages shirataki, drained and rinsed in cold water
8 oz. protein (ground turkey, soy crumbles, or firm tofu)
2 tbsp. soy sauce (I like double soy for this dish)
2 tbsp. rice wine or dry sherry
1 tsp. chili sauce (Szechuan if possible, I often use Sriracha)
2 tbsp. minced fresh ginger
2-3 scallions, sliced thin in rings (both green and white parts)
2 c. raw, chopped veggies of choice (e.g., eggplant or peppers)
1 tsp. sesame oil
1. Microwave the noodles for 1 minute on high, drain them thoroughly, pat them dry, and set aside.
2. Add the soy sauce, rice wine, and chili sauce to your protein, toss to coat (or mix thoroughly if you’re using ground meat) and set aside.
3. Spray a non-stick skillet with a little vegetable oil and heat it over a high flame. Add the ginger and cook for about 30 seconds until it starts to become fragrant. Toss in your veggies and cook, stirring, until they’re al dente – nearly (but not quite) done.
4. Add the scallions and your protein and continue to stir-fry until it’s cooked through (about 1-2 minutes for tofu, soy, or turkey). Add the noodles, sprinkle with a tiny bit more soy sauce (about 2 tsp.), and cook about 1 minute until the shirataki are heated through.
5. Turn into a serving bowl, drizzle the sesame oil over the noodles, and toss.