If you are looking for a quick and easy low protein dinner idea, then you’ve come to the right place!
This recipe is especially for people trying to preserve kidney function with a low protein diet who are not on dialysis. (Note: if you’re on dialysis and need to ramp up your protein you can add a couple of eggs!)
It’s a weeknight. You’ve just come home from work. You’re tired and hungry. I get it – I’ve been there too. On those evenings all I want to do is to whip up something quick and eat something that satisfies both my hunger and palate.
Sometimes that means a simple salad or sandwich for me. But other times, when I’m craving for some warm home-cooked meal, my go-to is always stir fry. Stir fry is versatile for many different diets, even and especially a very low protein diet.
The Versatility of Stir-Fry
Whether you’re looking for a low protein dinner idea for your low protein renal diet, or just looking for a delicious and healthful meal, stir fry is a good answer.
Coming from an Asian background, I enjoy a lot of stir-fry. But I never get bored of them because I always make it different every time!
Here are five ways to personalize your stir fry:
- Make it vegetarian – great for a quick low protein dinner
- For a high protein meal, add some eggs or sliced meat
- Serve it over rice or noodles – or even toss them into the stir fry to make fried rice and noodles!
- Make it low sodium or low potassium according to your needs
Whatever your goal and vision is, a stir fry can be customized to your needs!
But before we go ahead of ourselves, let’s go over some basics first.
What is a stir fry?
Stir frying is a cooking method that originated from China that involves high heat and constant tossing/stirring during the cooking process (hence the name stir fry). The idea behind this technique is to cook bite-sized ingredients very quickly to preserve freshness as well as maximize flavor and nutrients.
When I say stir fry is a quick cooking method, I mean it – cook time is often less than 10 or 15 minutes! But mind you, that is just the cook time.
Stir frying can be a lot of prep work. You need to cut up your vegetables into small and uniform pieces, then prep your aromatics, then make the sauce, and so on and so on… BUT it doesn’t have to be!
5 Tips for Cutting Down on Prep Work for this Low Protein Dinner (and other stir fries!)
- Pre-chop your vegetables over the weekend and store in air-tight containers in the fridge for when you need it
- Grate tougher vegetables like carrots or zucchini with coarse shred instead of julienning
- Buy pre-washed, pre-chopped fresh vegetables (might cost more $)
- Buy frozen vegetables (usually already chopped in bite-sized pieces)
- Grate aromatics with fine shred or zester instead of chopping finely
- Make a big batch of aromatic paste using a food processor and freeze with some oil in ice cube trays (can last for months!), thaw before using
- Make a big batch of sauce or seasoning mixes to use for multiple low protein dinner dishes on multiple days
Hopefully these tips convince you that stir frying is very doable.
So what exactly makes this recipe the ideal kidney friendly, low protein dinner for people not on dialysis?
1. It’s vegetarian.
This recipe is power-packed with loads of great vegetables and bold flavors if you’re looking to minimize protein.
If you have a potassium restriction, choose the following (delicious!) vegetables to keep your potassium intake reasonable: cabbage, collards, kale, lettuce, bell peppers, chayote squash, carrots, eggplants, summer squash, and more!
Feel free to add or substitute with your favorite veggies. I used a little less than 1 cup of vegetables in my recipe. You can add more if you’d like, but keep in mind that the sauce might get diluted and the flavor may not be as bold if you go crazy with the veggies (.
For people on dialysis needing a HIGH protein dinner idea (NOT a low protein dinner idea), then throw in a couple of eggs or some sliced meat. They work perfectly with the meal and can ramp up the protein for this! Again, when you add more components to the dish, you might need more sauce to experience the same bold flavors.
2. It uses mung bean vermicelli.
Sounds weird – I know. It also goes by the name of: bean thread vermicelli, longkou vermicelli, mung bean noodles, cellophane noodles, glass noodles, saifun, and more. It is made from mung bean starch and water, sometimes with the addition of other starches.
Because it is made from just starch, which is a carbohydrate, it has so little protein that it’s practically negligible. Other low protein noodle options that are also relatively low in protein are: sweet potato vermicelli, soy vermicelli, and rice noodles.
We cook with mung bean vermicelli a lot where I come from in Indonesia. In fact, this is my mom’s recipe that I’ve modified to make more kidney-friendly, which is why I’m especially excited to share this with you!
Where can I find mung bean vermicelli?
As stated previously, mung bean vermicelli can be a useful ingredient to start adding to your dinner rotations. But for many people it is an unusual ingredient. So here are the details on how you purchase and prepare mung bean vermicelli.
Mung bean vermicelli is sold dried. You can find it at most Asian grocery stores or sometimes in the Asian or international section of your grocery store. Target, Amazon, Walmart, and Safeway via Instacart also sells them if you don’t mind waiting for delivery (they might not be in stock at your store locations!)
The brand I used for my recipe is the Chance Longkou Vermicelli. I found it at a Korean grocery store near my apartment.
For this particular vermicelli that I used, you need to rehydrate it with hot water for 5 minutes. If you’re using other brands, please follow the package instructions.
This is a great option if you want to minimize dishes and cooking time (think boiling pasta in a separate pot for 9-11 minutes). Once rehydrated and drained, the noodles will be clear, translucent, bouncy, and ready to soak up any flavors you add to it.
Besides stir frying, you can also add mung bean vermicelli is to clear soups or flash fry it in hot oil to make it puffy and crispy as salad toppings. Be creative!
So without further ado, here is the recipe for you:Print
Quick, easy, flavorful, and healthful, low-protein dinner fit for a weeknight.
- Prep Time: 20
- Cook Time: 10
- Total Time: 30
- Yield: 1 1x
- Method: Stir Fry
- Cuisine: Ethnic
2–3 cups boiling water
2 pieces dried shiitake mushrooms, washed
1 serving mung bean vermicelli (~38 g)
1 tsp oil
1 tbsp oil
1 tbsp grated garlic (~3 small or 2 large cloves)
1.5 tbsp grated shallots (~1 small or 1/2 large)
1/2 cup carrots, cut into matchsticks
1/4 cup green beans, cut at a bias
1½ tsp low sodium soy sauce
1 tsp molasses
½ tsp chili garlic sauce
¼ tsp pepper to taste
Lime juice to taste
1 scallion, green parts only, sliced at a bias
More chili garlic sauce or red pepper flakes
Rehydrate the mushrooms: In a mug or a cup, place 2 pieces of washed dried shiitake mushrooms, pour enough boiling water to submerge them completely, let soak for 10 minutes, then fish out the rehydrated shiitake mushrooms and slice thinly. Reserve 1 tbsp soaking water for sauce.
Rehydrate the vermicelli: In a larger bowl, place 1 serving of dried mung bean vermicelli, then cover completely with the rest of the boiling water, let soak for 5 minutes, then drain the water and toss the vermicelli in 1 tsp oil to keep from sticking.
Cook the aromatics: Heat 1 tbsp oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Once oil is heated, add garlic and shallot, sautée for 1-2 minutes or until fragrant, mixing constantly with a spatula and taking care not to burn.
Cook the vegetables: Add the carrots, green beans, and sliced mushrooms into the pan, and toss or mix with spatula for about 3-4 minutes or until desired tenderness (although some crunch is good!)
Bringing everything together: Add the rehydrated vermicelli into the pan, along with the 1 tbsp shiitake mushroom soaking water, 1½ tsp low sodium soy sauce,1 tsp molasses, ½ tsp chili garlic sauce, and ¼ tsp pepper or more according to taste. Mix gently until sauce is evenly distributed, taking care not to break apart the vermicelli.
Final touches: Add a squeeze of lime juice, top with some sliced scallions, add more hot sauce or red pepper flakes, and your vermicelli is ready to serve!
Different vermicelli brands will cook differently – follow your package instructions!
Feel free to add or substitute your vegetables with kale, asparagus, napa cabbage, green cabbage, bell pepper, broccoli. Stick with low protein vegetable options and/or low potassium options if you are on a potassium restriction.
If you choose to include an egg, cook it first then remove and set aside when cooked through. Then wipe the pan and proceed to cooking the aromatics and vegetables per instructions. Toss the scrambled egg into the stir fry along with the noodles before adding your sauce.
Keywords: low protein dinner
It took me multiple tries to refine this recipe before I finally feel satisfied with the dish. Balancing all the flavors and textures while keeping the dish low in protein, sodium, and potassium was very challenging. But I’m excited to say that this dish is…
Very similar to my mom’s!
It has a bold and well-rounded flavor: rich in umami, a little sweet and tangy with the molasses and lime, with a little bit of underlying heat thanks to the chili garlic sauce. In terms of texture, it has the bounce from the vermicelli, the crunch from the vegetables, as well as a chew from the mushrooms. A very satisfying low protein dinner indeed.
Other great low protein dinner recipes you might want to check out:
Recipe and article credit: Clarissa Paimainta, Texas A&M Intern 2019 Review and additional recipe testing: Jessianna Saville, MS, RDN, CSR, LD, CLT