We’re all supposed to eat more veggies, right? So the recent trend toward eating zoodles — a cutesy name for “noodles” made from zucchini — seems like a no-brainer. Sadly, the first time I swapped my favorite spaghetti for summer squash spirals, it did not go well. The red sauce pooled around the watery veggies instead of coating them nicely, and their mushy texture forced me to toss the dish after one bite. I was ready to write off the trend and go back to eating whole raw carrots like an animal.
Yet the sheer number of veggie noodle varieties at my grocery store kept multiplying. More and more products arrived in the refrigerated produce case until zoodles were just the starting point: Now I could buy “noodles” made with everything from beets and carrots to butternut squash and turnips. Turnip noodles? Really?
LESSON NUMBER 1: THE NUTRITIONAL SKINNY ON ZOODLESE
When it comes to questions of health and wholesomeness, there’s no question veggie noodles are winners. Compare a cup of pasta at 240 calories, 45 grams of carbs and 1 gram of fiber to a cup of zucchini noodles at 33 calories, 6 grams of carbs and 2 grams of fiber. They’re even easy to make from scratch if you have a spiralizer. This love child of an apple peeler and a Singer sewing machine can turn a long list of fruits and vegetables into perfect corkscrew shapes.
READ MORE > GARLICKY BROCCOLI “ZOODLES” WITH BACON
Of course, not all spiralized veggies are virtuous: Sweet potatoes made into a glistening pile of salted fries aren’t healthy just because they’re curly. (But dang, they are tasty.)
Queue to the all-important question: Can any veggie noodle really satisfy? Or are they just another food trend that has (excuse the pun) spiraled out of control?
LESSON NUMBER 2: THEY AIN’T PASTA
I only began to discover the virtues of veggie noodles when I stopped forcing them to act like traditional pasta, doused in red sauce or coated in creamy alfredo, and I started treating them as their own thing. They taste delicious when sautéed very briefly at high heat, or tossed with flavorful dressing in a fresh, crunchy salad. I discovered the delicate threads of the very thinnest angel hair cut works wonders in wraps and sandwiches, and can even replace noodles in soups. With experimentation, it seemed, I’d be able to work veggie noodles into meals from morning until night, adding a big dose of healthy veggies to my diet in the process.
READ MORE > MISTY COPELAND’S ZOODLE PRIMAVERA RECIPE
Used in the right recipe, there was no question low-calorie, fiber-filled veggie noodles were worth mixing into my menu. The benefits are obvious whether you’re trying to follow a gluten-free diet, consume fewer refined carbohydrates, or increase your veggie intake (and pretty much all of us who aren’t pious vegans need to do that).
LESSON NUMBER 3: TO SPIRALIZE OR NOT TO SPIRALIZE
When it comes to spiralizing, not all vegetables are created equal. Many vegetables can be spiralized, but the best choices are always those with a solid core and a firm outer layer. Beets? Absolutely! Tomatoes? Not so much. The best candidates include: beets, bell peppers, broccoli stalks, butternut squash, cabbage, carrots, cucumbers, daikon, fennel, jicama, kohlrabi, onions, parsnips, potatoes (white and sweet), radishes and zucchini.
Incorporating them into meals is surprisingly easy. And maybe after you’ve tried them all different ways and found some favorites, you’ll do what I do: truly savor every dish of real spaghetti.