Takeout Alternative: Spicy Noodles with Szechuan Tofu

by Maris Callahan on February 24, 2012

As you might have inferred from my last post, my finances are not in the best shape. I would normally be mildly embarrassed sharing a detail like this, except that I am 99.9% sure that I am not the only person who has ever been in this sort-0f -broke situation in her twenties. In fact, some of you might be there right now in which case you are probably thinking something like “there is no way I am making this recipe because it’s so expensive to stock my kitchen full of ingredients for a recipe that I will only use once.”

Yeah, I hear you, but don’t get ahead of yourself. Despite my unrequited love for Whole Foods, I haven’t set foot there in weeks (except for one particularly traumatic evening when I stopped to buy two slices of pizza for $5 and left, miraculously, with only the pizza). Instead, I have adopted the practice of shopping at Trader Joe’s and going no more than once a week. This has led to more than one instance where I have eaten oatmeal with peanut butter for breakfast and lunch and pasta with some version of frozen vegetables for dinner.  I say this not to elicit pity or sympathy, because on the bright side, I am losing weight!

In reviewing my bank statements and financials from 2011, I expected to discover that I had spend the lion’s share of my disposable income on 365 brand organic non-perishables. Instead, I was not entirely shocked to find that the money I spent taking cabs over the past twelve months could have probably fed a small country, flown me halfway around the world or purchased an island in the South Pacific. I only bring this up because I know that a lot of people spend this kind of money on take-out and purchased lunches.

Since I clearly can’t provide any solid advice about how to reduce transportation costs when you live in a large city, I can share an alternative to ordering takefout next time the craving for spicy, Asian-inspired noodles strikes. To be fair, I’ve never been especially tempted by take-out and despite my love for the Pad Thai from the noodle joint down the street, it isn’t hard for me to look to the spaghetti in my cabinet every time an Eastern-style craving strikes.

Spicy Noodles with Szechuan Tofu

Serves 4
Inspired by Weight Watchers One Pot Meals

What You Need:

1 14-ounce block of tofu, drained and patted dry
2 tablespoons corn stach
2 teaspoons canola oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 (10 ounce) package of broccoli slaw
1 bunch of scallions, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
4 ounces whole wheat spaghetti, broken in third and cooked according to package
2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon Mirin (OR rice wine vinegar OR white wine vinegar)
2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons peanuts, toasted

How-To:

Combine tofu and corn starch in a large zip-close plastic bag. Squeeze out air and seal bag. Shake until tofu is coated evenly.

Heat a wok or a large, deep, non-stick skillet over high heat until a drop of water sizzles in pan. Add 1 teaspoon of oil and swirl to coat wok. Add tofu and stir-fry until cooked through, about three minutes. Add garlic and stir-fry until crisp-tender, about 4 minutes. Add scallions and pepper flakes; stir-fry 2 minutes.

Return tofu to wok along with spaghetti, stir-fry until heated through, about two minutes. Add soy sauce, vinegar and sugar; stir-fry until mixed well, about 1 minute. Serve sprinkled with pine nuts.

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Simply Life February 25, 2012 at 5:19 am

Oh this looks delicious! Ha, definitely been there! I’ve taught english abroad and then back in the states I was a barista (just under full-time so they didn’t have to give me benefits). I think those experiences are great and make you appreciate everything so. much. more. Plus, you really learn the difference between needing and wanting! This dish looks great for any budget!

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Candace February 25, 2012 at 7:17 am

No need for embarassment at all! I, for one, appreciate how real you are with us and have such respect for you. I have been there many, many times over the years and I’m well past my twenties. With this economy the way it is, I’m sure there are many there now that haven’t ever been in their lives. It is what it is. Now that I’ve moved to “snowland”, all of my extra income is going to heating fuel, property taxes and excessive utility bills so we are feeling the crunch around mi casa. I can definitely relate, girl! This recipe looks fantastic. Even if we had lots of expendable cash for things like takeout, we don’t have access to anything like this in rural New Hampshire. With my family’s love of all things Asian, they would happily welcome this dish to be added to our menu sometime soon. I’ve never been able to wrap my head around tofu; but that won’t stop me from trying it. I think I can substitute chicken and it will be delicious. Thanks for sharing your heart so openly here and for always giving us yummy treats that are completely doable for my family. Have a wonderful weekend!

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Melissa@IWasBornToCook February 25, 2012 at 8:00 am

We’ve all been there – and these days there are definitely LOTS of people watching their wallets. I tend to spend a lot of $$ food shopping too. It’s tough to budget but it’s a necessity or else it really adds up! This dish looks great.

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Lisa @ Tarte du Jour February 25, 2012 at 8:12 am

I love this! We love to order take out Oriental food but I’d much prefer to make some of my own… you know for sure what you are eating! This looks delicious!

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emily (a nutritionist eats) February 25, 2012 at 10:54 am

Asian noodles are a great budget meal, without tasting like one! Ugh, I am really trying to only go to the store once a week as well…the more you go, the more you spend!

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lisa {smart food and fit} February 25, 2012 at 11:16 am

First of all congrats on loosing some weight and congrats on saving some money. I’ve changed the way I feed my family, especially with having three kids.
If anything, eating whole foods has helped in more ways than one, from saving money, to feeling good about my weight, to even my complexion. I can’t put into words how it makes me feel to see my kids ask for fresh fruit and vegetables over processed snack foods. Keep it up my friend.
Forgot to mention, this recipe sounds great too! thanks and have a great weekend!

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Joanne February 25, 2012 at 12:59 pm

Umm definitely do NOT be embarrassed. I’m pretty much in the same boat. Unfortunately, I live in possibly the ONLY city in the world where my local supermarket is actually more expensive than whole foods (though trader joe’s is still cheaper. when it comes to some things.) And I take cabs. Many many cabs.

Take-out doesn’t happen much, though. But that doesn’t mean I ever stop craving pad thai! I love it and this recipe sounds delicious!

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camille February 25, 2012 at 7:40 pm

We are about to buy a house and while we can afford down payments etc., there are other costs I’m sure will surprise us, so we’ll be right there with you sometimes, I’m sure!

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Roby February 25, 2012 at 8:50 pm

Did the tofu morph into chicken?

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Maris Callahan February 25, 2012 at 8:57 pm

Maybe it did!

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Betty February 25, 2012 at 11:35 pm

It’s prudent to be thrifty whatever your economic circumstances! :) I remember the $ struggle back in my twenties. (Wish I could say that it stopped there!) We’re eating mostly meatless these days, so this looks like a great supper to me. :)

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Lauren@LittleYellowKitchen February 26, 2012 at 10:40 am

Trader Joe’s is the BEST place to shop on a 20-something budget. Even regular old grocery stores have some absurd prices these days. Chrissy and I have managed to spend far less than than anyone we know by cooking 95% of our meals from scratch, taking left overs to work for lunch and shopping for the best deals around. I’m very happy you have discovered ways around your tough financial situation :) Oh, and take out is the other 5% of our meals so this recipe is just perfect for us!

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amy @ fearless homemaker February 27, 2012 at 12:55 pm

this looks awesome! i’m definitely someone who spends too much on takeout when time in short/i’m busy/i’m feeling uninspired in the kitchen, + i’ve been trying to cut down on that lately. asian food + indian food are particular weaknesses of mine, so this sounds like it would fufill my craving without costing so much money. yay for that!

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Kelly February 28, 2012 at 4:27 pm

I think my cab expenses are probably similar. I’m sure I’ve got a lot to cringe about money wise.

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Roxana GreenGirl { A little bit of everything} March 1, 2012 at 11:59 am

You should not be embarrassed at all Maris! Most of us have been there and I can say now, although I hated back then, I’m glad I was on a very tight budget. Made me appreciate things in a better way and forced me to think twice before going into a store.
Your noodles would make such a wonderful dinner!

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Carlyn May 21, 2012 at 12:48 pm

I really want to make this but the recipe is very confusing. You just add the whole block of tofu to the pan and stir fry? Surely you cut it into pieces before coating it in corn starch. And when do you add the broccoli slaw and red bell pepper? At the end? With the garlic? You say “serve sprinkle with pine nuts” but peanuts are listed in the ingredient list. This sounds like a great recipe that I really want to make soon so I would just like some clarification.
Thanks!

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