Friday, July 29, 2011

The "Skinny" on Ramen

Friend or Foe?
Let me be the first to admit that planning a meal can sometimes be stressful, even for me!  When I cook I often have lofty goals.  I am usually trying to balance the need to: make it quick, make it healthy, make it nutritious, make it cheap, try not to dirty too many dishes, make it delicious, make it look good, generate as little waste as possible, and be mindful of my carbon footprint.  Seriously, how am is anyone supposed to do all that?  I find it helpful to prioritize my goals, and pick just a few from the list to strive for when preparing each meal.  I also LOVE it when I find creative shortcuts and great products that don't compromise taste or nutrition, and I try to remember that my priorities don't have to be the same for every meal.

Today is one of those days where being thrifty seems like a pretty good idea.  It's getting close to rent time and I'm only "getting close" to having it!  Our CSA bounty for the week is just about used up, and I need to whip up something for lunch.  The weather has finally reached a more reasonable summer temperature here in New England, and there is a nice breeze so soup seems like not such a bad idea.  My solution: I head to my pantry to grab a packet of Ramen noodles.  That's right, read the last line again if you must, but I said Ramen.  I'll let you in on a little secret.  I may have a degree in nutrition, but one of my "must have" pantry staples is good old Maruchan Ramen noodles.  You got it...the kind that costs about $.40 and have quite a bad reputation for being the quintessential unhealthy food that college kids live on.  Am I crazy...most certainly, but also quite crafty if I do say so myself!

Have I lost you yet?  Let me clarify.  Ramen noodles (when prepared "as is") ARE NOT a healthy food option, I will not dispute that, nor do I recommend eating them.  The label confirms that they are high in fat, low in nutritional value, LOADED with sodium, and that they contain MSG and other potentially undesirable preservatives and flavor enhancers.  I think what is most horrifying to me is that the package claims to be 2 servings!  Come on now, please let me know if you have ever managed to save half of a bowl of Ramen for a later meal.  I probably shouldn't admit this, but I'm eating the whole questions asked.  

So what gives?  Why am I even suggesting that you keep such a vile little "food" stocked in your pantry.  Well, with a bit of tweaking, Ramen noodle soup makes a cheap (very cheap) fast, delicous and nutritious meal, and I only have to dirty 2 or 3 dishes!  Curious yet?

First things first.  Here are some fun facts for you.  Inside the little package you will find 2 things:  dried noodles, and a packet of "soup base."  That seasoning packet is the devil.  That's where the MSG, some of the fat, and almost all of the 1780mg of sodium is hanging out.  (For any of you that are paying attention, or are interested, that is 280mg of sodium more than is recommended in an ENTIRE day.)  So... here's Step 1 of my Ramen recipe.  THROW THAT PACKET IN THE TRASH!!!  I know, it seems wasteful, but no good can come of what's in there.  Now, we begin.  You may now follow the package directions.  Boil 2 cups of water and add the noodles.  Cook three minutes. (I like to do this right in a wok, but any medium sauce pan will do just fine.)  Now stop.  Do not pass go, do not collect $200.  Here's Tip number 2:  Pretend you have just made pasta and drain those noodles in a colander.  Now rinse them off with cold water.  Why?  You may have noticed an oily layer floating on your cooking water when the noodles were done.  If you continue with the directions on the package, that oily water will become your soup broth.  Most of the fat found in the package is in those noodles and a fair amount of it tends to be released into the water as the noodles cook.  If you drain and rinse them, your soup broth will be free of a large portion of that oil, and therefore the fat.  This is kinda like sopping up your pizza oil with a paper towel.  Same idea.  Did you know that by doing that you actually save your self from eating quite a bit of fat?  I digress...
Not a bad looking bowl of soup I made for lunch huh?  I added a few more pantry and freezer staples back into my wok and boiled a fresh two cups of water.  When I added my rinsed and drained noodles back in I had a do-it-yourself healthy Ramen soup that no doubt will keep me full for quite some time!  So I succeeded in making a fast, cheap, nutritious (and low sodium!) lunch while only dirtying 3 dishes!  I'm calling that a WIN!   See the full recipe below. 

Grown Up Ramen Noodle Soup:
1 Package Maruchan Ramen Noodle Soup
1/2 Cup frozen broccoli pieces (really any combo of frozen vegetables will work nicely)
1/4 Cup frozen edamame
1/4 Cup chopped scallions (or just use an onion if that's what you've got)
1 Tbsp Ginger People Minced Ginger
1 Tbsp minced garlic (I use jarred here too for convenience and speed)
1 Tbsp Bragg Liquid Aminos (A fantastic low sodium alternative to soy sauce)
1/4 Tsp sesame oil
1/4 Tsp Chinese 5 Spice Powder
1 Tbsp lime juice
1 Tbsp Siracha (you can use less, or omit it entirely if you don't like life a bit spicy!)

-Cook the noodles according to package directions in a wok or medium sauce pan.
-Drain and rinse noodles.
-In the same pan, over medium heat, add sesame oil, frozen veggies, scallions, ginger and garlic.
-Cook 1 minute.
-Pour 2 cups of water over veggies in the pan and bring to a boil.
-Add the noodles back into the pan and the remaining ingredients.  Heat just until noodles are warm again.  About 30 seconds.
-Pour contents into a large soup bowl.

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