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Soup up your ramen


Article and photo by Lisa Crockett

Like a fresh coat of snow, the new year offers a blank slate. Now is the time for contemplation and simplification. Perhaps this year you’ve decided on resolutions pertaining to healthy habits or sticking to a budget. Maybe instead of formal resolutions, you’ve simply decided to be open to trying new things. If any–or all– of these sentiments describe your personal January outlook, then this ramen recipe is exactly what you’re looking for.

Yup, ramen.

For real. You may have thought that ramen was only for college freshmen with nothing but a crumpled dollar bill and a microwave, but ramen has joined the ranks of “real” food. And if you do it right, it can be tasty and even relatively nutritious. Ramen is a perfect blank canvas for whatever ingredient you might want to experiment with, and it’s a great way to warm up and fill up when the weather outside is blustery. What’s better, even a pretty fancy version of ramen only dirties one pan, so cleanup is hardly worth mentioning.

Ramen isn’t just a meal that can be ready in less than five minutes. Ramen shops dot the landscape in larger cities, and Japanese food connoisseurs compare the relative merits of curry versus soy sauce flavored ramen. Noodles can be of the standard instant variety, available at any grocery or convenience store for mere pennies, or the more highbrow soba variety. Nearly all restaurant ramen involves “toppings” like vegetables and proteins, with regional variations that include the likes of braised pork, seafood and pickled mustard greens.

The recipe here is a hybrid of fancy “foodie” ramen and basic “college” ramen. In order to keep it relatively simple, I used regular packaged ramen and the included broth packet. Some of the things I put on top were a little fancier, though, and dressed up the overall finished product. It should also be said that ramen from the package, on its own, isn’t really a health food. The noodles are fried before being dehydrated, so they’re high in fat, and the seasoning is filled with sodium. Adding fresh veggies and lean protein, though, amps up the nutrients in the dish and adds a varied flavor profile and a welcome splash of color. I added chopped spinach, bell pepper, peanuts and an egg, but you can add whatever strikes your fancy (or whatever happens to be languishing at the back of your fridge.)

As a final note, do not be horrified by the addition of American cheese to this dish. I picked up the suggestion for this addition to ramen in an article I read in The New York Times. A Korean-American chef named Roy Choi offered the suggestion, and mentioned that this particular combination is a popular one in Korea. I was mystified at this addition, and couldn’t imagine it would be good, but I figured that the cost of a single slice of processed cheese and a ramen packet wouldn’t set me back much, so if it went horribly wrong it wouldn’t have been much of an investment. I went ahead and tried it, and it’s hard to describe what the cheese does to the ramen, but it is, in a word, divine. It makes the broth silky and rich and smooth. Choi actually recommends two slices, but I found one to be just right. Choi also added butter and sesame seeds to his creation, but for me, the cheese was enough richness all by itself.

Enjoying an old favorite with some new additions seems like just the right way to start the year. This dish is a treat, not just because it’s tasty, but also because it’s easy to make and it is very affordable. Head to the kitchen and in no time at all, you’ll be happy to know that “soup’s on” just took on a whole new meaning.

Doctored Ramen

You can poach the egg right in the ramen broth. If that seems too complicated, you can hard boil or scramble an egg separately and add it to the finished product.

1 package ramen noodles (any flavor)
1 slice American cheese
¼ cup chopped spinach
2-3 chopped mini bell peppers, any color
2 tablespoons chopped, roasted peanuts
2 tablespoons chopped green onion
1 egg

Cook the ramen according to package directions, then remove from heat and add the included flavor packet. Carefully crack the egg into the broth and gently cover it with the ramen noodles and then cover the pot and allow to stand for three minutes to allow the egg to poach. Slide the whole mixture into a shallow bowl and serve immediately, topped with spinach, peppers, peanuts, green onion and cheese. Stir the mixture gently to wilt the vegetables and melt the cheese before diving in.

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