Asian cuisine is the fasted growing ethnic cuisine, and it’s in no small part due to the exploding popularity of broth and noodle bowls in restaurants and at the market. It can be a lot of fun to take part in this major food trend. Sometimes, though, it can seem challenging when we also try to prioritize our health, since we know that Asian take-out can often be high in hidden calories, sodium and even sugar. And we also know that people who cook at home tend to consume fewer calories and less total salt, sugar and fat than those who eat out more frequently and cook less.*
So the question is: Can you do ‘Asian take-out’ at home? Yes, you can!
Start with a favourite, high quality noodle and broth. Then …
1. Toss in veggies … fresh or frozen. Vegetables not only add nutrition, but also texture and volume to your meal. Think baby bok choy, broccoli, beans, carrots, corn, spinach, and kale. There’s room for mushrooms, bean sprouts and more! And frozen vegetables work great, too. Try frozen peas, broccoli, mixed vegetables or snow peas (which have been blanched so require less cooking time) into the pot on the stove about 3-5 minutes before the soup or noodles are done.
2. Mix in fresh greens like spinach, kale, chard to bump up the nutrition, colour and bring a satisfying crunch to your noodle bowl or soup.
3. Add an egg. You can add hardboiled (halved or sliced), scrambled egg or fried egg to your noodle bowl, or drop a raw egg into the hot broth (on the stove) and let it cook in the soup alongside the noodles and other ingredients. Tip: an egg will take about the same time to cook as the noodles.
4. OR include another type protein. In addition to or in place of an egg, try chicken, fish, shrimp or tofu. Try frozen shrimp for a lean, low calorie and quick protein. Slice and add baked or roasted chicken, or a piece of cooked, heartier fish. When sliced thin, lean raw beef, chicken or pork can even be added directly to the noodles and broth as they cook and will take just a few minutes. Use tofu—soft to firm, sliced and lightly stir-fried—and add it to your broth and noodles. Or try a store-bought variety of tofu that’s been marinated and ready-to-eat.
5. Spice it up. Instead of the pre-made flavour packets with unfamiliar or artificial ingredients, lean on a few herbs and spices and other flavourful condiments to bump up the taster without the excess salt.
• Some common tasty flavour pairings you can try:
• Ginger, garlic powder, crushed red pepper, honey, low sodium soy sauce
• Cinnamon sticks, ginger, whole cloves, crushed red pepper
• Thyme, oregano, garlic powder, black pepper
• Ginger, garlic powder, minced onions, hot chili sauce, fresh cilantro
• Experiment with your own favourite herb and spice combinations or blends! In general: if they smell good together, they’ll probably taste good, too.
• Just a splash of vinegar or squeeze of lime or lemon can bring an unexpected brightness to your noodle bowl or soup.
• A small amount of low sodium soy sauce can add just enough ‘salty’ taste without going overboard and that authentic noodle bowl taste.
• A spoonful of miso paste can make noodle bowl or soup tastier and more authentic; it’s a good swap or alternative to high sodium ‘flavour packets’ that come with many lower quality store-bought noodles.
• A teaspoon of sesame oil or hot sauce creates instant depth of flavor and aroma in your final dish.
What’s left? Grab some chopsticks and a spoon, and slurp away!
Looking for full recipes that are quick, easy and flavourful? See below.
Sesame Noodle Bowl
BBQ Pork Bowl
Udon Noodle Bowl
Stir Fry with Rice Noodles Ramen Bowl
Beef Noodle Soup
* Reference: Wolfson and Bleich, (2015), Is cooking at home associated with better diet quality or weight-loss intention? Public Health Nutrition, 18(8).