Instant ramen noodles are the ultimate convenience food. Ramen is a Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese word lo-mein, which means 'boiled noodles'. Packet ramen consists of dry noodles and an envelope of soup base (and sometimes a few dried vegetables) which can be cooked together in a small amount of water on the stove top. Cup ramen noodles are pre-mixed with their seasonings in a styrofoam cup or bowl, and 'cooking' them involves merely adding boiling water and letting them stand covered for a few minutes.
Ramen and the Modern Student
The convenience and low cost of instant ramen has made it a popular staple food of students and other people with limited amounts of money and time. However, it is not the perfect food. A single packet is a meagre meal and certainly not a balanced one. What can be done to make a more satisfying, but still quick and convenient, meal out of that little brick of noodles?
Souping up your Ramen
The addition of vegetables and some source of protein can transform ramen soup from a boring bowl of carbohydrates into a balanced, filling, and interesting meal. With the following methods, the ramen enthusiast can do this without even having to dirty a second saucepan.
To add vegetables to your ramen, cut them into soup-sized pieces beforehand, and sauteé them in a little bit of oil in the same pot that will be used to cook the soup. Add the water and soup base. Boil until the vegetables are almost cooked to your liking, and then add the noodles. Remove from the heat and transfer to a bowl as soon as the noodles are cooked.
Mushrooms - White button and cremini varieties are generally cheap and easy to find. Wash well and slice thinly.
Bok choy - Cut up the leaves into spoon-sized pieces. Look for 'baby' bok choy and Shanghai bok choy. These are small, single-serving alternatives to the larger heads.
Carrots - In order to keep cooking time to a minimum, grate the carrots. This will mean washing an extra utensil, however.
Spinach - A handful of leaves, torn into small pieces, can be added just before the noodles without having been sauteéd first.
Cabbage - Shred very finely in order to keep cooking time down.
Brussel sprouts - Cut off the flat base end, and halve or quarter each head before sauteéing.
Bean sprouts - No sauteéing is needed. Add simultaneously with the noodles.
Snow peas - Cut or break pods in half, and without sauteéing first, add simultaneously with noodles.
Meat - Not recommended because cooking time is short, and food poisoning may result if meat is undercooked or if left-over cooked meat is not heated through.
Tofu - Cut extra-firm tofu into dice-sized cubes or smaller, and sauteé before the vegetables.
Eggs - Scramble an egg in your soup bowl, and pour it into the boiling broth, while stirring, just before adding noodles. Wash your bowl to ensure that no raw egg will contaminate your food.
Meat substitutes - Products specifically designed to replace meat usually come with their own instructions. Soy chunks, for example, can be added immediately after the water and soup base, and will soften up before the noodles are added. Remember that dehydrated products will bulk up greatly when cooked in liquid.