The healthy noodle market is booming, thanks to low-carb fans, and so it's no surprise that kelp noodles, which used to be a specialty-store item only, are now readily available at the neighborhood supermarket.

Kelp noodles are a sea vegetable with a neutral flavor that makes them versatile and easy-to-use. They have only 5 or 10 calories per serving, offering almost no macronutrients (protein, carbs or fat), but they do have a nice boost of minerals, mainly calcium (a serving offers 15 percent of the recommended daily amount) and iron.

The big benefit is finding a nearly calorie-free noodle substitute for your recipes. Kelp noodles are thin, clear and bouncy in texture; almost rubbery. So they are nice swaps in Asian noodle dishes like pad thai or spicy cold peanut noodles.

Because they are a sea plant, they need to be kept in water, so you'll find them for sale in 12-ounce water-filled envelopes, usually next to the refrigerated tofu. Rinse and use the noodles without cooking — simply add to your recipes at the very end of cooking.

We love kelp as a swap for rice noodles, but they can easily extend outside Asian flavor profiles. One of our family favorites is a deceptively simple cabbage and noodle saute. Four ingredients are all you need to make this yummy side dish: cabbage, onion, butter and kelp noodles.

Saute the onion and cabbage in butter, and add rinsed kelp noodles at the end just to heat through. Charlotte, my pickiest vegetable eater, has loved this noodle dish since she was tiny. (For years, she thought the cabbage was also a "noodle" which helped the overall toddler appeal, I suppose.) I use butter because I think its flavor with cabbage is magical, but feel free to use olive oil instead if you wish, perhaps adding a little garlic in that case.

KELP NOODLES AND CABBAGE

Servings: 6

Start to finish: 15 minutes

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 large sweet white onion, sliced lengthwise, about 2 cups

1/2 large cabbage (green or red)

1 12-ounce package of kelp noodles

Pinch of salt or dash of soy sauce

Lemon juice (optional)

Cut the cabbage into 4 wedges, and cut out the triangular core at the bottom of each wedge. Slice each wedge crosswise into thin slices. Melt the butter in a very large saute pan over medium high heat. Add the onion, and cook until wilted, about three minutes, stirring frequently.

Add the cabbage and cook until begins to get tender, about 7 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon of water to the pan, and cover, allowing it to steam for 1 minute. Uncover and keep cooking until the cabbage is tender, about three more minutes. Drain and rinse the kelp noodles, and cut with scissors if desired. Stir the kelp noodles into the cabbage, sprinkle with a generous pinch of salt (or splash of soy sauce) and remove from heat.

Squeeze a little lemon juice just before serving, if desired.

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Nutrition information per serving: 73 calories; 35 calories from fat; 4 g fat (2 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 10 mg cholesterol; 86 mg sodium; 9 g carbohydrate; 3 g fiber; 4 g sugar; 2 g protein.

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