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.

 

‘Japanese Food Made Easy’ – A Review

My kitchen cupboards contain an array of sauces and condiments including soy sauce, mirin, rice vinegar, toasted sesame oil, ketcap manis and even a small bottle of sake. When I make any food classed as ‘Asian’, I tend to randomly throw in some or all of these things in varying quantities until I’m happy with the taste. So for 2016, one of the things on my ‘to-do’ list was buy a book on Japanese cooking and learn how to make some authentic dishes. After a quick Google search and a look on Amazon, I found “Japanese Food Made Easy” by Fiona Uyema.

Japanese Food book cover

Fiona explains in the introduction that she was born in Ireland, studied Japanese at College and lived in Japan for three years, where she met her husband. After the birth of her first child, Fiona started writing a Japanese cooking blog and also taught cookery classes, and demonstrated at food festivals and events in Ireland and then had the opportunity to write a cook book.

The book guides the reader through the basics of Japanese cooking and gives some of Fiona’s favourite traditional recipes (some with a modern twist). I was pleased to see that almost every recipe was accompanied by a full-page photograph. Fiona has also included chapters about Japanese food culture and dining etiquette and a comprehensive list of basic Japanese ingredients. Suggested suppliers and stockists are listed – with website addresses – although these are based in Ireland. There are of course similar suppliers in the UK and elsewhere.

The recipe sections are divided as follows:

Rice

Soups & Salads

Chicken

Beef, Pork & Lamb

Fish & Seafood

Vegetarian

Noodles

Sushi & Sashimi

Desserts & Drinks

Bento Planner.

This book contains a lot of the items I’d eat if I went to a Japanese restaurant e.g. gyoza (dumplings), chicken katsu curry (a Wagamama restaurant staple thaqt’s very popular), tempura, a variety of noodle dishes (I’m really into noodles at the moment) and of course sushi. Fiona shows you how to make a variety of dips, stocks and sauces and as these are the real ‘flavour carriers’ for the dishes, it’s useful to know how to whip these up to keep stored in the fridge.

I’m in temporary accommodation at the moment (we’re in the process of buying a house having relocated from south London to North Norfolk) with only a very small, poorly-equipped kitchen, but I’ve made a few of the sauces e.g. teriyaki, tonkatsu and okonomiyaki and used them to liven up the limited range of food I can currently make.

Here’s my ‘teriyaki rice’ dish using Fiona’s recipe for the sauce:

 

Teriyaki rice

 

And here’s my very substantial ‘miso soup’ using Fiona’s recipe for the stock. I added edamame beans (I buy them fresh in Tesco), rice noodles, mushrooms and spinach.

 

Miso soup

 

I can’t wait to move into our new house and have a fully functioning kitchen again so I can make more of Fiona’s recipes. I’d recommend this book to anyone interested in Japanese food particularly if they have felt a bit daunted by the thought of trying it at home. I have three or four other Japanese cook books written by Japanese authors which are also worth a look but they assume that the reader is more experienced in Asian cookery. Fiona’s book stands out because it takes the fear away!

 

Disclaimer: I purchased the book ‘Japanese Food Made Easy’ and was not asked to write a review for any rewards or incentives. This review represents my honest opinion about Fiona Uyema’s book.