So let’s say you’ve got some packets of ramen noodles. I’m not even talking about the cups with a smattering of freeze-dried corn and peas on top; this is the ten-for-a-dollar college student staple. But let’s also say that you want to get some nutrients in your diet and are willing and able to acquire and prepare vegetables. In that case, you might want to try this recipe:
- Start with water in a pot or large saucepan. I use 1.5 times the recommended amount for the number of noodle packets (3 cups per packet). Add the flavor powder from the ramen, and/or some bouillon, consommé, or other flavoring of your choice. Bring the water to a gentle boil and keep it there until serving.
- Cut carrots into slices a couple millimeters thick (I actually just sliced a handful of bagged baby carrots lengthwise) and get them in the water to soften.
- Similarly slice and add some onion (I used half of a yellow onion) and mushrooms (bog-standard button mushrooms work fine, but if you can afford it I thoroughly recommend trying various Japanese mushrooms!)
- Cube some firm tofu or chop some meat (about one centimeter, or half an inch) and chuck it in there.
- In the same vein, feel free to add other ingredients in order of hardness. At this point I put in napa cabbage stems (the thick white portion), separated from the thin leafy parts and cut into strips.
- When the other ingredients have been cooked to about the firmness you want, add the noodles. You’re no more than five minutes from eating at this point.
- After the noodle blocks have started softening and coming apart, add some soft greens. I added the napa cabbage leaves and cut leek at this point.
- If you want some more protein and flavor, crack an egg into a bowl. When the noodles and greens are at the desired softness, pour the boiling soup over the egg.
- Take a couple of minutes to eat a side dish or stare at the moon or whatever, stirring the soup a bit every now and then. By the time it’s cool enough to eat, the egg should be cooked and integrated into the broth.
- Add any other flavorings you want and enjoy! I recommend 七味唐辛子 (a.k.a. “shichimi“), or the killer combo of fish sauce, chili sauce, and a splash of lime juice.
This takes about half an hour, and produces two to three servings per ramen packet, depending on the size of the bowls you use.
Obviously, there’s a lot of room for customization. You can turn the animal-product dial from “vegan” to “has a layer of schmaltz on top,” and the ingredients dial from “a handful of cheap veggies” to “gourmet cornucopia.” The only really important keys are to add the ingredients one or a few at a time, bringing the water back to a gentle boil each time, and to do this in the order of the amount of cooking they need.
That said, the veggies are the real heart and soul of the soup, with the noodles themselves being more of a backbone. If it were a band, the noodles would be the drums and the veggies would be almost everything else, with meat or egg taking the role of lead vocals. Um, anyway. In order to keep the soup from becoming a gray mass I do recommend throwing in some warm colors and some greens – carrots and leeks, for example. If you want to make a more classic Japanese ramen, feel free to top with slices of hardboiled egg, meat, or fish cake. If possible, eat with chopsticks and with gusto.