Product of the month: Explore Asian

I know, I know, I’m late with this month’s favorite, but I’m going to try and stick with my plan of reviewing an innovative new product every month.  Given my current obsession with cooking, it should come as no surprise that this month’s favorite is a food. More specifically, it’s a kind of pasta. A low-carb, low-sodium, high-protein, gluten-free, absolutely delicious vegan pasta!

I whipped this up last week (recipe on the way): fresh prawns, asparagus, cherry tomatoes, Persian Feta and mung bean fettuccine. That’s right, those green noodles are made entirely of organic mung beans and water. No processed carbs, no gluten, no eggs. They’re vegan and even qualify as raw. Most importantly, they are absolutely delicious! They cook perfectly al denté and, unlike many refined flour pasta substitutes, they could easily pass for the real thing. How awesome is that?

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It gets even better: Explore Asian, the New Jersey-based company behind this innovative product, makes not just one, but five different kinds of bean pasta. I haven’t had a chance to sample their edamame, soybean or adzuki bean spaghetti but I recently used the black bean version in a stir fry and was thrilled with the results.

To understand why this is a truly groundbreaking line of products, lets take a look at how regular fettuccine stacks up against Explore Asian’s mung bean version.

Fettuccine (literally “little ribbon” in Italian) is a flat thick noodle made of egg and flour. It’s popular in Roman cuisine and holds up well with thick, hearty sauces, making it a popular choice for Alfredo and Carbonara.

If you look at any nutritional chart for fettuccine, the “standard” serving size is 2 oz dry noodles or 1 cup cooked. The reality, however, is that most restaurant portions you’ll encounter are far larger.

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A 2 oz serving of dry mung bean fettuccine contains more than three times the fiber, nearly three times the protein and 30% fewer calories than regular fettuccine. On top of that, the mung bean version contains almost no sodium and very little fat.

80% of the calories in regular fettuccine come from carbohydrates vs. 37% in mung bean fettuccine. The bulk of calories in the mung bean version actually come from protein (55%) which, amongst other benefits, requires more energy to metabolize and keeps us feeling full longer.

Now, meeting our protein requirements (between 0.8 – 1gm per kg of weight) isn’t a big deal for those of us who eat meat, but for a vegetarian, vegan or someone committed to a raw diet, it isn’t as easy. As I mentioned earlier, this is a product that qualifies as “raw” because the process by which it’s made involves extruding mung bean dough at temperatures lower than 120F. In fact, the noodles can be eaten simply after soaking in water for 36 hours. No heat needed.

Photo by Fresh Beet
Photo by The Fresh Beet

The bean version is also packed with fiber (45% of RDA), and with vitamins A, B, C and E. Made from the mighty mung bean, it is also rich in folate and in vitally important minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium and potassium. A nutritional powerhouse, mung beans are native to India where they’re popular in fresh salads , as a side vegetable dish and in lentil stews. Mung bean flour can also used to make rotis and pancakes, while in China and East Asia, mung bean paste is often used in desserts. Mung beans have been credited with reducing cholesterol levels and heart disease, supporting liver function and promoting healthy hair, nails and skin.

So, whether you’re gluten sensitive, pre-diabetic or simply trying to eat low-carb and healthy, this is an amazing product to incorporate into your regular meal rotation. It truly is a guilt-free pasta.

Where can I get my hands on this?

If you’re in the US, you should be able to find Explore Asian products at most natural stores and at Whole Foods and even Costco. You can also order directly from their website. The bean spaghettis are priced at an affordable $30 for a 6-pack. Here in Sydney, I was able to get the black bean spaghetti and mung bean fettuccine from Kemenys, a specialty wine and food store in Bondi Beach. I haven’t looked farther afield but reckon you’d be able to get it at most natural food stores here as well.

So, what are you waiting for? Get ahold of some bean pasta and get cracking with those delicious recipes!

Kale, Asparagus, Beef and Black Bean Noodle Stir Fry

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When it comes to cooking, stir fry is a firm favorite in my book. Like sautéeing, stir frying involves cooking evenly-sized pieces of meat or vegetables on high heat. An important distinction however, is that stir fry dishes are made in a wok, which gives you a little more surface area to work with and an ability to cook different ingredients in different styles, with a small amount of oil.  Stir frying works especially well with vegetables, so it’s also a great way to get in your 3 cups a day veggie quota.

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I made this dish using gluten-free, black bean noodles from Explore Asian. I’ve have been raving about this product (review on the way!) but feel free to substitute with buckwheat noodles (soba) or something more traditional if you don’t mind the gluten / carbs. Also, I chose to use beef, but this recipe would work well with another kind of meat or tofu if you prefer.

Ingredients (serves 4)

  • A large wok and a saucepan to boil water
  • 200gms sirloin (New York strip) steak, cubed or cut into thin strips
  • 1 bunch (around 8 stalks) asparagus
  • 2 cups fresh kale
  • 2 scallions (green onion) or shallot
  • 1/2 a packet of black bean spaghetti by Explore Asian
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon sriracha

Method (20 minutes)

The key to a good stir fry is heat and speed, so prep your ingredients ahead of time: cut the beef into bite size cubes or strips. Chop the asparagus into 2 inch pieces, discarding woody ends. Cut the scallion on the bias (or finely slice the shallots) and wash and tear the kale leaves, discarding the stems.

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In the meantime, bring a saucepan of water to a boil. Blanch the asparagus by adding to the boiling water for 2 minutes and then transferring to an ice bath to halt the cooking. Retain the water, reheat and once boiling, add half a packet of the black bean noodles. Cook until the noodles are al denté, about 6 minutes.

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Sear the beef: add a tablespoon of vegetable oil to the wok and turn up the heat. Add the beef and keep it moving, ensuring you flip each piece around so that both sides cook evenly (about 3 minutes). Remove from the wok and set aside.

Wilt the kale: add another tablespoon of oil to the wok and once hot, add the garlic, ginger, sliced scallions / shallots and the sriracha. Throw in the torn kale and cook, stirring often, until the leaves are wilted.

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At this point, you can push the kale to the sides of the wok and add the blanched asparagus. (You can also remove the kale and set aside.) Stir the asparagus, coating in the remnants of the prior ingredients, about 1 minute. Now add back the beef, add a splash of soy sauce and let it reduce. Mix in the kale and add the noodles. Cook the entire thing another minute or so, stirring vigorously. Serve hot and enjoy!

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