So, I realize that a dish with the word “ants” in it might not sound that appetizing. But trust me on this one. And, um, I’m pretty sure this goes without saying, but there are no actual ants in or anywhere near this dish, mmkay? This recipe is adapted from an Alton Brown version of the classic Sichuan dish. The reason it is called “Ants in Trees” (or lots of different variations of that name) is because the meat on the noodles is supposed to resemble ants climbing up a tree. But it doesn’t taste like ants or anything. It is savory and umami and satisfying. Ok, glad we cleared that up, moving on.
This is one of my favorite weeknight meals because it is so quick and easy, and only requires a few ingredients. Plus it’s also healthy and low calorie. The major change I made here was to replace the traditional glass noodles with spaghetti squash. Is there anything spaghetti squash CAN’T do? Dessert, probably (I hope).
Mr.Briar maintains that this dish is the very best use of spaghetti squash ever, and that it is the only way he wants to eat spaghetti squash from now on. He pretends that he isn’t a fan of spaghetti squash, but he never complains when I make it for dinner, which is almost once a week. I love spaghetti squash, and I don’t care who knows it.
I feel like most people are on the spaghetti squash bandwagon by now, but if you aren’t, I will share my favorite way to prepare it. Ready? Microwave. I know. It seems anti-foodie to cook ANYTHING in a microwave, but Alton Brown (in a different episode!) said it was OK, and there are very few things that Alton and I disagree on when it comes to cooking. I started using the microwave to cook my spaghetti squash when I lived in Arizona and I did anything and everything to avoid turning on my oven for 9 months out of the year. I continue to cook it this way because it is so much faster than the oven, and I rarely want to spend an hour waiting for my spaghetti squash to be done.
So, the easy peasy way to make spaghetti squash for this or almost any other application, is to cut the two ends off and split it in half. Scoop out the seeds and other gross stuff in the middle – although you can roast the seeds just like pumpkin seeds! I use one of those grapefruit spoons with the little teeth on it, I think that works perfectly. Then place in a microwave safe dish cut side up and microwave for 12-20 minutes. You will know it is done when the skin can easily be pierced with a knife and the flesh can easily be shredded into strands with a fork. The time varies greatly from squash to squash, depending on size and how hard it is. Speaking of which – if your squash is really hard and you are having a difficult time cutting it, you can put the whole thing in the microwave – Just BE SURE to poke a bunch of holes in it to let steam escape. No one wants to clean exploded squash out of their microwave, not to mention exploding squash sounds kind of dangerous. I prefer to cut and clean the squash before cooking it because I think it tastes better when cooked that way and it is easier to clean the insides out before it is cooked. However, more than once I have encountered a spaghetti squash that was so hard I could NOT cut it. In that case, the whole thing goes into the microwave.
When the squash is done, let it cool a bit, then use a fork to shred the flesh into little noodles. Since the squash has quite a bit of water, I put it into a colander lined with paper towels, then if it is still very wet, squeeze it in the towel to remove more water. Then you can then use it like just like noodles!
This dish takes about half an hour to prepare, so it is a great meal for a busy night. Actually, the longest part of the process is hands off. Whisk together the soy sauce, rice vinegar, chili garlic sauce and cornstarch, then add the meat and mix so it is combined. Then let the meat sit for half an hour. This process allows the meat to be broken into tiny pieces so it clings to the “noodle”, giving the right texture to the dish. Also, this is the seasoning for the whole thing.
While the meat is marinating, start preparing the spaghetti squash, then chop the green onions and measure the chicken stock. By the time you have shredded your spaghetti squash noodles, you should be ready to start cooking the meat. The actual cooking process takes less than 10 minutes, so you will be eating delicious, savory NOT noodles before you know it.
Cook the meat for a few minutes on high heat, then add the green onions and continue cooking until the meat is well browned. Reduce the heat and add the chicken stock. Cook until the stock is reduced. Slowly start adding the spaghetti squash noodles by the handful. It can be a bit tricky to get them fully mixed with the meat, so it is easier if you do it a little at a time. I used one of those pasta fork/spoon/server things that you use to serve spaghetti and the like to mix it.
|Spaghetti Squash Ants in Trees|| || |
- 1 spaghetti squash (about 6 cups prepared)
- 10 ounces ground pork*
- 2 ounces low sodium soy sauce**
- 1 Tablespoon rice wine
- 1 Tablespoon chili garlic sauce
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon canola oil
- 4 green onions, chopped
- ½ cup chicken broth
- Whisk together soy sauce, rice vinegar, chili garlic sauce and cornstarch until smooth. Add the ground pork and mix together until incorporated. Allow to sit for half an hour.
- While meat is marinating, prepare spaghetti squash. Cut ends off of squash and then split in half. Scoop out seeds and "innards", then place squash in a microwave safe dish, cut side up. Microwave for 12-20 minutes, until done. Squash is done when skin can easily be pierced with a knife and flesh easily shreds with a fork.
- After allowing the squash to cool for a few minutes, use a fork to shred the flesh into "noodles". Drain in a colander lined with paper towels to remove excess moisture.
- Heat a large skillet over high heat, then add the oil.
- When pan and oil are hot, add the pork and cook, stiring constantly, for about 2 minutes, breaking the meat into smaller pieces.
- Add ⅔ of the green onions to the pork, then continue to cook until the meat is well browned, about 2 more minutes.
- Lower heat to medium high and add the broth. Cook for 2-3 more minutes, until broth is reduced.
- Add handfuls of the spaghetti squash noodles, stirring as you go to combine.
- Top with the rest of the green onions and serve.
**for gluten free, be sure to use GF soy sauce!
Adapted from Alton Brown
Do you love spaghetti squash as much as I do? What is your favorite way to prepare it?
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