It’s been four decades since Dr. Atkins first introduced his no-carb diet, and yet, no one has managed to come up with a sufficient replacement for a squishy hamburger bun or a pile of spaghetti. But one trendy kitchen contraption is helping cooks find other ways of delivering a burger or holding sauce. Enter the spiralizer.
Related to a mandoline or a julienne peeler, a spiral slicer — or spiralizer — isn’t exactly a new concept. Certainly, we’ve managed to live without a tool that turns vegetables into pretty shapes for eons. Chefs skillful in the art of vegetable garnishes were perfectly handy with a paring knife. But come across a display at any home or kitchen store of the varied and inexpensive spiralizers currently on the market, and you’ll wonder where these doohickeys have been all your life.
There’s the handheld contraption, in which you insert a long and narrow vegetable and twist it like a pencil in a sharpener. There’s the hand-crank option, which drops hair-thin strands into a container below the blade. And then there’s the tabletop device, the Cadillac of spiralizers, which acts similar to one of those apple peeler/slicer/corers from Grandma’s country kitchen; load up the apparatus with any array of veggies, turn the handle, and out comes your pick of ribbon noodles, spaghetti or fettuccine.
A new pair of cookbooks pegged to this device prove curly fries aren’t the only spiralized vegetable worth eating.
In “Inspiralized” (Clarkson Potter, 224 pages, $19.99), Ali Maffucci, a New Jerseyan of Italian descent, shares the joys of discovering she could live a leaner lifestyle and still consume her grandparents’ meals from the homeland. Her book offers many vibrantly photographed recipes for noodle dishes of every origin — from Italian spaghetti Bolognese to Thai drunken noodles. In place of pasta for both: zucchini.
For experimental cooks, Maffucci gives alternative vegetable options. Try kohlrabi, rutabaga, celeriac, beets. All of them look like noodles when they pass through the spiralizer. But do they taste like them?
They taste like kohlrabi, rutabaga, celeriac and beets.
A pasta substitute
Zucchini’s mild flavor and somewhat slimy texture comes closest to passing for al dente pasta, but true carbo-loaders may not be satisfied. Still, those willing to try mixing and matching different vegetables and sauces may be surprised to find that these meals, while not necessarily a replacement for pasta, are just as good. Those Thai zucchini noodles with ground pork and a just-right blend of Asian sauces was takeout-worthy.
For those who come around to zucchini’s spiral magic, Leslie Bilderback’s “The Spiralized Kitchen” (St. Martin’s Griffin, 200 pages, $18.99) offers a whole chapter of just zucchini noodles (or “zoodles,” if you want to talk the talk). Carbonara, primavera, lasagna — all can be had with a vegetable noodle as the base.
Both books excel in their noodle-based dishes. But other dishes were hit-or-miss. For one thing, not all vegetables can or should be spiralized. It is hard to find carrots wide enough to span the blade, so my attempts at carrot mac and cheese resulted in me busting out a box of regular macaroni. Attempting to spiralize an eggplant for a spin on the eggplant Parmesan casserole turned frustrating, as the purple bulb became mush.
Other dishes were more successful, yet still left me wondering why. The Greek salad in Bilderback’s cookbook, a mélange of cucumber, bell pepper and red onion ribbons, was tasty and utterly beautiful to look at. But couldn’t it have just as easily been enjoyed chopped and diced?
At times, spiralizing can feel like one more step preventing cooks from getting a meal on the table. Because recipes in both books are vegetable heavy, prep-time can be arduous. (Time at the stove can go rather quickly, however, as many veggie noodles can be consumed raw, and others, when cooked too long, lose their shape.) That Greek salad took as long to assemble as a chicken I had roasting in the oven. Never mind when the authors ask you to go a step further by turning your spiral veggies into rice. Bilderback has you break by hand thin shreds of butternut squash into tiny pieces for a risotto; Maffucci recommends pulsing beet strands in a food processor to make rice for sushi. Why not use a box grater in the first place?
Worth the effort
Yet, even when recipes called for these extraneous steps, their results were often tasty and texturally interesting. Some were downright delightful, like Bilderback’s chicken soup with zucchini noodles. It didn’t need any noodles at all, yet they were so fun to slurp up with the lemony broth.
Each book offers a number of delicious recipes, differing in only minor ways. Maffucci, who began sharing her spiralizing antics on a blog, clearly loves the contraption and what it can do. Not a trained chef, she shares personal anecdotes for how she came to develop certain recipes. But her recipes mostly make only two servings; trying to double those, or swapping out alternate vegetables, sometimes yielded inconsistent results.
Bilderback, whose previous cookbook, “Mug Cakes,” also tackled a trend, remains more at a distance in “The Spiralized Kitchen.” Her recipes tend to lean vegetarian, and while nutritious, her ingredient lists can meander over multiple pages.
Both authors jump on the Atkins/Paleo bandwagon and give recipes for bread replacements — buns and crusts made by frying up a round of spiralized starchy vegetables. Maffucci’s everything bagel-flavored bun, a patty of spiralized white potatoes bound with egg and topped with seeds, was a heavy and soggy affair when packed up with ham sandwich fixins. Her pizza crust, for which I swapped out rutabaga, came out more like an omelet — perfectly fine when topped with sauce and cheese, but definitely not a pizza.
The lesson: Even all these years after the Atkins Diet ruined carbs for a lot of us, there is still no real replacement for a bagel or a gooey bowl of macaroni and cheese. Spiralized vegetables may not hit that chewy, bready spot, but when taken as their own food group, they can yield some innovative — and highly Instagrammable — meals.