Cooking Basics

How to cook ramen so it's healthy

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Bowl of ramen
A few tweaks turns plain ramen into a tasty meal
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Turning plain ramen into a healthy meal is easy when you know how to cook ramen

There are few foods as cheap as ramen.  For about a quarter, you get noodles and seasoning.  Add hot water and it's edible, especially if you're a hungry college student. But did you know that with a few small additions, you can learn how to cook ramen that's actually a healthy meal?

Here are some low cost ways to turn that ramen packet into something your body will actually appreciate.

Where's the veggies?

One of the biggest problems with cooking ramen according to the package directions is that it leaves you with just noodles and salty broth.  You need some veggies in that bowl!  So here are some cheap ways to add veggies.

Frozen mixed vegetables -

Head over to your local big discount super store, and reach for the store brand mixed vegetables in the frozen food section.  Most stores have 3 or 4 varieties, usually for about a dollar a bag.  And that one dollar bag can add nutrition and flavor to 5 or 6 ramens. How's that for budget cooking?

Shredded carrots, diced peppers or chopped onions

At about $2 a package, small bags of shredded carrots or finely diced vegetables are available in most produce sections.  These fresh vegetables can add a lot of flavor, nutrition and color to that ramen bowl. And their small size means they'll actually cook in your hot soup.

Mushrooms -

If your market offers fresh mushrooms by the pound, pick up one or two to add when you cook ramen. Sliced thin, even one or two mushrooms can add a lot of flavor and some healthy nutrients to your noodles.

Bean sprouts -

One of the staples of Asian cooking is the crunchy, tangy bean sprout.  If you're thinking of adding these to your ramen, skip the prepackages ones, and grab a handful from the bulk bin instead.  Bean sprouts have a short shelf life, so buy only as many as you plan to use for a day or two.

Tossing in some protein

Ramen noodles may be filling and cheap, but they offer zero protein.  And over time, a diet lacking in protein is likely to lead to illness.

But how can you add protein without pushing up the cost?  Here are some cheap ways to make that ramen soup bowl a protein powerhouse.

Tofu -

Yes, tofu has gotten a bad rap.  And to be honest, plain tofu eaten alone has all the taste of, well, nothing.  But tofu in a flavorful liquid becomes a flavor sponge, absorbing the tastes of the broth and any other additions to your soup.

For a firmer texture, crumble firm tofu, then freeze it.  This changes the texture from smooth to a more complex firmer feel.

Fish -

Check out the seafood section of your grocery store.  Odds are there are lots of things you can buy one or two of to add to your ramen bowl, and it will cost less than a dollar.  Try a couple of scallops, catfish nuggets or shrimp.  Chop them up before adding to your soup, and spread the flavor throughout the bowl, (They'll also cook much faster than way.)

Meat in a can -

There's a protein source on the shelf at your local dollar store in tghe form of canned chicken and other meats. Experiment with different flavors and types to find a taste you like.

Beans -

Beans are both a cheap addition to your ramen and a great source of protein.  Chick peas, white beans and black beans are all available in cans for under a dollar.

Kick up the taste

There is no rule that says you have to use that little packet in your ramen as the only flavoring. Honestly! 

Try these additions instead:

  • Replace the little silver packet with leftover soy sauce, duck sauce, or mustard sauce packets from take out Chinese food. 
  • Use a bullion cube instead of the packet
  • Add some hot sauce, pepper flakes or some cayenne pepper to spice up the bowl
  • Toss in spices you have on hand.  Ginger, cardamon, thyme, cumin and bay leaf are all good choices. Remember a little goes a long way in a single ramen!
  • Add a splash of white wine, a bit of Worcestershire sauce, a few drops of bar-b-que sauce or salsa. 

Mix and match

Now that you know how to cook ramen "outside the packet", get brave. Mix and match the veggies, proteins and seasonings until you find some combinations you like.

Now go and have a ramen. It might just be good for you.

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