Oodles of Healthy Noodles

One of the great things about writing a food blog is having the opportunity to review new products, kitchen equipment or food. I was recently asked to try “Mr Lee’s Noodles” which are marketed as “Gourmet Oriental Noodles in a Cup”. They are gluten-free, and contain freeze-dried ingredients which retain flavours better once reconstituted  – as opposed to dehydrated – with “absolutely no nasties”. And there’s more – they’re low in salt, low in sugar, low in saturated fats and low in calories. All well and good but would they also be low in taste?

I was keen to put them to the test as I’m always on the lookout for healthy options for food on the go but first I thought I’d better see what the competition was like so I trotted along to the supermarket to see what I could find. It seemed that a popular and not too expensive variety was “Pot Noodle” and there are apparently at least a dozen different flavours to choose from. I selected the Chicken & Mushroom – here it is:

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And here’s the nutritional information on the back of the pot:

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It’s disappointing for someone who’s trying to eat more healthily to see palm fat and monosodium glutamate in a list of ingredients and what exactly do things like potassium carbonate and disodium inosinate add to these noodles? If I don’t know what it is, I’m certainly not going to eat it.

So onto the noodles provided by the team at Mr Lee’s.

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I spent a week trying out the six available flavours (noodles almost every day!) and you can see below what I thought of them. It’s worth bearing in mind that I’ve never tasted any other brand of instant cup noodle (I only photographed the chicken and mushroom Pot Noodle – it then went back on the supermarket shelf because the ingredients really put me off) so I couldn’t do a direct taste comparison with other noodles on the market. I took photos of the nutritional information panels of each Mr Lee’s flavour and there are indeed no “nasties” such as monosodium glutamate or palm fat. I’ve also calculated – for any Slimming World members who may be reading this review – the amount of Syns per pot and Mr Lee’s Noodles are reassuringly low Syn.

As I’m a bit of a chilli wimp, I thought I’d start with a flavour that was classed as ‘mild’ ( one chilli rating) – Hong Kong Street Beef. Mr Lee’s consist of rice noodles which I find are a lighter option than wheat noodles.

Here’s the nutritional panel:

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Here’s what they looked like when I’d made them up:

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You can see the decent sized pieces of beef (which actually tasted of beef and not some indeterminate meaty substance) , broccoli and red pepper and the noodles softened very well but weren’t soggy. There was more than a subtle hint of chilli – I’d say 5/10 in the heat stakes – and the flavours of ginger and five spice were evident in the light, savoury sauce. The sauce had a clean, fresh taste and wasn’t over salty. Slimming World Syn value – 2 Syns per pot

Next I tried the Shaolin Monk Vegetable noodles.

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This flavour is suitable for vegetarians but not vegans as it contains honey. This flavour has no chilli rating. It had a good selection of vegetable pieces with cauliflower, green beans, red pepper and sweetcorn being particularly evident.

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Although five spice, garlic granules and yeast extract were listed as ingredients, they didn’t come through that well. Overall, this pot was quite bland and while not unpleasant, it was a little disappointing as I thought the variety of vegetables – including usually more robust porcini mushrooms – would add more flavour. Perhaps a little chilli would have livened it up. Slimming World Syn value – 1 ½ per pot

Next came the Warrior Fighting Shrimp flavour.

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Now this flavour was rated “3 chillis” so I was prepared for quite a whack of heat.

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What came through very strongly at first was the five spice and the fish sauce and the hit from the chilli came soon after and numbed my taste buds somewhat – so much so that I couldn’t really distinguish any other flavours. The prawns were quite plump and you could see spring onion and seaweed flakes but for me, the chilli overwhelmed them. I think a “medium / two chilli rating” would have allowed the other elements to shine a little more. I found the chilli levels in this pot a little too challenging – perhaps a 9/10 heat factor – and would recommend having a large glass of water nearby. Due to the amount of chilli in this and the very fishy taste (as opposed to a more delicate seafood flavour), this was my least favourite of the noodles I tried and I didn’t finish the pot. Slimming World Syn value – 1 ½ per pot

The first of two chicken varieties I tried was the Tail Chi Chicken.

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Once made up, this pot had quite a strong smell of chicken (not artificial) and the pieces of meat were clearly visible along with sweetcorn and green beans.

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There was a noticeable hint of ginger which balanced the overall flavour and it reminded me – in a good way – of chicken and sweetcorn soup that I used to eat in Chinese restaurants, back in the day. This had no chilli in it but there was a gentle warmth from the ginger and plenty of flavour without it. Slimming World Syn value – 2 per pot

Next I chose the Dragon Fire Mushroom pot.

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This had a rating of three chillis like the Warrior Fighting Shrimps and so I prepared myself with a glass of water and an electric fan – just in case. (Actually, I’m joking about the fan!) Reassuringly there were a lot of mushrooms in this pot along with red pepper pieces.

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When made up, the vegetables looked very substantial and the mushrooms weren’t slimy once reconstituted. The liquid was very well absorbed so it was less “soupy” than the other varieties I tried. This pot had a mild savoury taste with a hint of wild garlic and surprisingly, given the three chilli rating, wasn’t as hot as I’d anticipated. I’d say it had an 8/10 chilli factor and as a result I managed to finish all of it. Slimming World Syn value – 1 ½ per pot.

The final pot of Mr Lee’s Noodles was Penang Chicken Curry Laksa which had a two chilli rating so I expected a manageable medium heat.

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When prepared, this pot had a good mix of chicken pieces, cauliflower and red pepper.

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The ingredients included coconut cream but I couldn’t really taste is as the predominant flavour was curry powder – which was fine but I’d hoped the coconut would have had more of a presence. I’d give the heat from the chilli a 6/10 rating. I felt this pot had a good ‘clean’ flavour and the curry taste didn’t linger on my tongue afterwards. Slimming World Syn value – 2 per pot

 

Having sampled all six varieties of Mr Lee’s Noodles, I would recommend them for occasions when you have to grab lunch on the go. Of course, I’ve given my honest opinion on each of the flavours based on what I like and the fact that I can’t eat food with too much chilli.

Mr Lee’s Noodles would be a good cupboard standby for times when you can’t always cook from scratch e.g. when you’re at work as all you need is a kettle. All varieties are gluten-free and some flavours are suitable for vegetarians.

Slimming World members – Mr Lee’s Noodles are only 1 ½ or 2 Syns per pot whereas standard pot noodles (any brand) are at least 5 Syns – and may contain several unhealthy ingredients and fillers too. As far as ‘fast food’ goes, Mr Lee’s Noodles are a healthy option that you can easily incorporate into the food optimising lifestyle.

 

Mr Lee’s Noodles (and there is a real Mr Lee behind them) are not currently available in supermarkets but you can buy them online at: www.mrleesnoodles.com.

 

 

Disclaimer: I was sent a box of Mr Lee’s Noodles in return for an honest review. The above reflects my genuine opinion of the product.

 

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Terrific Tarka Dal – A Recipe

In the 1990s, we used to live in India and I developed a real taste for all sorts of lentil and pulse based dishes, and I still like them today. My ‘go to’ favourite has to be tarka dal because it’s relatively quick and easy and you can throw in whatever vegetables you have in the fridge. It’s definitely one of those meals that’s useful at the end of the week when you want to use things up. A slightly soft courgette or a bendy carrot languishing in the vegetable rack undergoes a complete transformation once immersed in a spicy lentil base.

This recipe is a real feast for the eyes as the colours jump out at you. Red peppers, courgettes, aubergines, onions and spinach – this is what ‘eating a rainbow’ is all about. Even better, this recipe is fat-free and therefore ideal for anyone on a diet. For Slimming World members, it’s all *free food* based around protein (lentils) and speed food (the vegetables).

Purists may say that my version of tarka dal isn’t truly authentic and they may be right. However, it’s a recipe I’ve adapted to suit my taste – not too ‘chilli’ hot but with lots of flavour. I think it tastes amazing and with any recipe, isn’t that what matters?

Recipe serves 4 – 6 people.

Ingredients

350g split, dried red lentils, washed and drained

2cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated

1 tsp ground turmeric

1 onion, sliced

4 plump cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed

I medium courgette, aubergine, red pepper – all cut into bite-sized chunks

FryLight low calorie cooking spray

150g fresh spinach leaves

1 tsp cumin seeds

2 tsps black mustard seeds

1 tsp garam masala

1 tsp ground cumin

2 tsps ground coriander

1 tsp jalapeno red chilli flakes – add more if you like your dal with more heat

Method

Spray a large non-stick pan with Frylight and add the garlic, onions, courgette, aubergine and red pepper and cook on a relatively high heat, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned. Put pan to one side.

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In another large pan, add the lentils, turmeric and ginger to 1 ½ litres of water and bring to the boil, stirring occasionally. Skim off any froth as it appears. Once boiling, reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cook for 15 minutes, stirring every so often.

Add the cooked vegetables to the lentil mixture along with the fresh spinach and stir together. Simmer for 10 more minutes to ensure everything is cooked through and the spinach has wilted.

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While the lentil mix is cooking, take a small non-stick frying pan, spray with FryLight and allow to heat up. Once the pan is hot, add the cumin seeds and the black mustard seeds. After a short while on a high heat, they’ll start to pop and splutter in the pan. At that point, add the garam masala, ground cumin, ground coriander and jalapeno flakes and stir for about a minute.

Add the spices into the lentil and vegetable mixture and stir them in. Add salt and pepper to taste and the dish is ready to eat.

 

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“Flexible” Thai Red Curry – a recipe

I have to admit that I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to curries. Too much heat and my face turns an unflattering shade of purple and my nose starts to run uncontrollably. Not a good look especially on a lady of certain years!  So that means I’m usually limited to mild curries although since I’ve been losing weight I’ve intentionally stayed away from them because a lot contain coconut milk which is delicious but lethal in the calorie and fat department.

I fancied something other than a roast for our Sunday meal this weekend and finding a small jar of Thai red curry paste in the cupboard (not past its sell-by date, I hasten to add), I was inspired to create a “flexible” curry.

What is this, I hear you ask? Well, in my house there are some foods I like and other foods my husband prefers so sometimes, although we always eat together, there may be different things on our plates. After 31 years of marriage, we compromise, and it works for us with minimal food wastage.

Basically, a flexible curry is one that you can easily adapt during the cooking process. In this case, a vegetable curry becomes a prawn curry, or a chicken curry depending what you have to hand. I’m sure this is probably how a lot of restaurants do it but for me, it was the first time I’d really thought about it and it’s a really practical idea, especially if you’re cooking for a crowd and you don’t know their food preferences. I realised recently that a lot of my dishes are quite flexible – I seem to do it automatically these days.

I should mention that a lot of Thai red curry pastes contain fish or shrimp extracts (the Bart Spices paste I used did) and therefore you need to check before using them if you are cooking for vegetarians.

The good thing about the recipe below is that there aren’t many ingredients, it’s simple to make and it tastes great with just a little touch of heat to liven it up.

You’ll see that I added a very small amount of sweetener to my curry but this is optional. I find that it takes the edge off the spices (I told you I was a wimp) but you may prefer to leave it out.

I used FryLight in my recipe as it’s a Slimming World member’s saviour when frying food but if you are not particularly diet conscious, feel free to use some oil instead if you prefer.

Note for Slimming World members: this recipe could feed 4 people or 2 very hungry people! Count 1/2 a Syn each for four people and 1 Syn each for two.

Ingredients

FryLight or other low calorie cooking spray

1 large or 2 small red onions, finely sliced

1 large clove of garlic, crushed or finely chopped

2 level tablespoons Thai red curry paste of your choice

100g baby sweetcorn, cut in half lengthways

100g mangetout

1 red pepper, deseeded and sliced into batons

2 pak choi, roughly chopped

400mls vegetable stock

1 tablespoon dark soy sauce

1 teaspoon sweetener (optional)

Method

Spray a large non-stick frying pan or wok with a thin coating of FryLight and place over a medium heat.

Add the garlic and onion and gently stir-fry for 3 – 4 minutes until softened.

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Stir in the Thai red curry paste and stir for a minute.

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Add the baby sweetcorn and stir it around until its coated in the sauce.

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Slowly add the stock and soy sauce, bring to a simmer and cook for a minute then stir in the mange tout, red pepper and the pak choi.

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To make this dish “flexible”, at this point you could stir in some cooked prawns, chicken or any other meat of your choice. You could also add tofu but don’t stir too vigorously or it will disintegrate.

Bring back to a simmer, cover and cook for about 5 minutes until the vegetables are just cooked (and the meat or tofu has heated through). The vegetables should still have a bit of bite.

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Serve with rice and a refreshing salad if you wish. I added cooked prawns to my portion just before serving as you can see.

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Let me know if you make this recipe – I’d love to know what you thought of it.