Happy January, everyone! I trust that you’ve all recovered from the bustling holiday season and are settling in to the new year and a slower pace of life.
I’m one of those people who relishes January. After the first week is down, I feel rested and productive. Ready to take on the year ahead, I dust off all my tasks and goals that were put on the back burner and return to the routines I hold dear, all for the sake of my growth and well-being.
During the last six weeks or so of each year, my habit of eating in my best interests tends to falter. I feel most sound when I routinely eat well. Though I’m mindful when I stray off course, all the little changes add up. Along with the bombardment of less-than-optimal food choices over the holidays, dining times are also more erratic in our house because of the added social activities and extra work. Getting back to our reasonable, predictable routine of sit-down family dinners that are rich in quality protein and fresh veggies is one of the first things I implement as soon as the season wraps up.
Though I have my qualms about harmful, nutrient-devoid processed foods and sugar, I don’t advocate a “One Diet for All” approach. I believe that what works best for one person may not be ideal for another, for whatever reason. But for me, eating lots of veggies is ideal for my lifestyle. I feel and perform my best when I make an effort to include a wide variety of them into my daily routine.
Spiralized noodles are one of my favorite approaches to incorporating more vegetables into my life. Though I started on the craze as many do, with the ubiquitous zucchini noodles (or “zoodles,” if you will), I’ve since branched out to other, more interesting “noodles” made from sweet potato, jicama, and my all-time favorite, daikon radish.
A member of the cruciferous vegetable family, daikon is crisp and mild-flavored, with a much less peppery bite than other radishes. It’s refreshing and a bit tangy when raw, but when cooked it’s akin to a mild turnip. The unfamiliar vegetable makes a fantastic stand-in for starchier roots such as potato, adding unique taste and texture as well as abundant nutritional value, including potassium, magnesium, vitamin C, and fiber.
In most parts this side of the globe, daikon isn’t the most widely known item in the produce section. In one sense I hope it stays that way, lest we see daikon go down the path of cauliflower, kale, and celery—in high demand, hyperinflated, and over-farmed. In Asia, the long, often massive snow-white roots can grow up to 18 inches (the word daikon is, in fact, Japanese for “big root”). It’s used abundantly, whether raw, pickled, or cooked, and it’s also revered in Chinese medicine for its bountiful healing properties, particularly in the winter. All in all, it makes perfect sense to use daikon as a substitute in an Asian-style noodle bowl.
This version is full of warming, restorative goodness and a deep, vibrant flavor. The daikon keeps some texture and acts as a blank canvas to soak up all the yummy juices. It also harmonizes well with the other vegetables and the meatballs to create a delicious main course that’s simple enough for a weeknight dinner.
Of course, you could easily prepare the vegetable part of this dish alone and enjoy it as a vegetarian main course or side dish. But the meatballs complete the bowl for me—plus they’re a delicious snack on their own! Inspired by my favorite wonton soup from my childhood, the juicy meat is laced with wonderful flavor from ginger, scallions, and Chinese five spice. Any time I make them I find myself munching before I can put together a final dish. Meatballs of all sorts are one of my favorites. Easy and economical, adaptable to almost any flavor profile, they also make great leftovers and quick bite-sized protein-rich snacks for those in a rush. These are no different and certainly hover near the top of my list of all-time favorite meatballs.
Eating healthy doesn’t have to be a chore, in either preparation or enjoyment, and this dish is a prime example. The surest way to stick to the healthy food goals you may have set for the new year is to enjoy the creative process of cooking, the wonderful tastes of nutritious food, and the benefits you get from treating your body with care.
Here’s to a prosperous and delicious 2020!
Asian-Style Daikon Noodle Bowl with Gingered Pork Meatballs
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes
For the Daikon Noodle-Vegetable Stir-Fry:
2 medium daikon (approximately 2–3 lbs.), peeled, trimmed, and cut in half horizontally
1 small onion, peeled and sliced
1 carrot, peeled and thinly sliced on diagonal
1 celery stalk, sliced on diagonal
8 shitake mushrooms, stems removed, sliced
2 cups broccoli florets
2 cups shredded cabbage
3 tablespoons peanut, raw sesame, or coconut oil, divided
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup bean sprouts
2–3 tablespoons tamari
2 tablespoons mirin
1 tablespoon sesame oil
Sea salt and pepper, to taste
Sesame seeds and sliced scallions, for garnish
Hot sauce, optional
For the meatballs:
1½ lbs. ground pork
1 egg white
4 scallions, minced
3 tablespoons minced cilantro
1 tablespoon minced ginger
3 tablespoons tamari
1 tablespoon sesame oil
½ teaspoon Chinese five spice
- Prepare vegetables: Using a spiralizer, make noodles from daikon. Cut into lengths (about 10–12 inches) with scissors or a knife and set aside in a large bowl. Next, set aside sliced onions, carrots, celery, and shitakes in one bowl and the broccoli and shredded cabbage in another. Have all your seasonings ready.
- Prepare meatballs: Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine ground pork with remaining meatball ingredients and mix well (clean hands work best). Pinch off a healthy 2 tablespoons of meatball mixture and roll into a ball. Place on prepared baking sheet. Continue with remaining mixture until all meatballs are rolled. (You should get approximately 20–32 meatballs.) Bake until cooked through, about 15–20 minutes. Meatballs will be firm and juices will run clear when done (test by breaking one if half if you’re unsure). Turn off oven and keep meatballs warm inside with oven door ajar.
- Prepare Daikon Noodle-Vegetable Stir-Fry: While meatballs cook, stir-fry the veggies. Heat about half the oil in a large wok or shallow pan until very hot. Add onions, carrots, celery, and shitakes to wok and stir-fry over medium-high for 5–6 minutes. Add minced garlic and stir-fry 1 minute. Add broccoli, cabbage, and bean sprouts, and cook until everything is crisp-tender, about 5–7 minutes longer. Transfer everything to a large bowl. Heat remaining oil and stir-fry daikon for 5 minutes, until slightly wilted but still crisp. Return veggies to pan with daikon. Add tamari, mirin, sesame oil, and salt and pepper. Cook for a few more minutes until everything is heated through and noodles are crisp-tender. Taste and adjust seasonings to your liking. Divide among serving bowls and top with meatballs. Garnish with sesame seeds, scallions, and hot sauce if you wish.
Image from Briana Goodall.