Friday, February 13, 2009

Ramen for the Recession

A Reuters story today notes that a recession is a great time for instant noodle makers since people perceive the likes of instant ramen as a good value that doubles as comfort food.

I like the guilty pleasure of instant ramen. But straight from the package it's just a load of salt and fat with little nutritional value. Here's a recipe that takes cues from a recipe in my friend Pam Anderson's book The Perfect Recipe for Losing Weight and Feeling Great, and my former London haunt Wagamama.

The first step: throw out the flavor packet that comes with the ramen noodles. It's an artificially flavored salt lick. Use miso to flavor the broth. I buy a tub of red miso paste at health food or Asian food stores for about $4 and use it for soup and salad dressings. Packaged instant miso soup works well, too. Trader Joe's has a good version that's a good value.

A great discovery in the past year or so were frozen wild U.S.-harvested shrimp. I now keep a bag of them in my freezer so that I can grab a handful for a quick stir fry or soup. Simply put into a small colander and rinse with water to slightly thaw before cooking.

If you use chicken breast, leave it whole and toss with the lime or lemon juice, salt and pepper and quickly sear in olive or sesame oil for about three minutes per side until cooked through. Slice, and place on top of finished ramen soup.

And for those purists who will balk at this version and say, "Hey, that's not authentic!" Yeah, I know. I've had the real thing in Japan, too.

Quick Miso Ramen with Shrimp, Chicken or Tofu
Like so many soup recipes, this is just a starting point. I've included a bit of leafy greens, calamari, water chestnuts, grated ginger, garlic and even a bit of wasabi powder into this mix. If I've got leftover roasted chicken or precooked shrimp from another recipe, I skip the first step and just add it in at the end. Makes two servings.

1 lime or small lemon
4 oz. shrimp, tofu or chicken breast
Dash of coarse salt
Several cranks of fresh pepper
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 to 3 tablespoons vegetable, olive or sesame oil

1 package ramen noodles
1 tablespoon miso paste or 1 packet instant miso soup
2 teaspoons soy sauce
Two or three green onions, chopped
1/2 can bamboo shoots or 1/4 cup fresh sprouts
2 tablespoons chopped parsley, cilantro or basil
1 hard-boiled egg, sliced (optional)
Hot chili sauce, such as sriracha

1. Cut the lime or lemon in half. Juice one half into a bowl large enough to hold your shrimp, tofu or chicken. Cut the other into small pieces and set aside. Toss with the salt, pepper and about half the oil and let rest for a few minutes. Add the rest of the oil to a small saute pan or skillet over medium-high heat and saute the shrimp or chicken until cooked through.

2. Bring 3 cups of water to boil. Add the noodles and cook as directed by the package. Remove from heat and add the miso paste or soup mix plus the soy sauce and let steep for a couple of minutes.

3. Portion the soup into two bowls. Add the green onions, shoots and greens and stir through. Top with the egg and shrimp, tofu and the reserved lemon or lime pieces. Add sirarcha to taste if that's your thing.

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Blogger Larry said...

Timely writeup. While working at home yesterday, I pulled one of these little gems from the pantry. I was shocked to see 11 grams of saturated fat AND a couple of trans fat on the label. You might as well have a hot dog on a bun! Fortunately, I had some frozen chicken based soup with turkey andouille, lentils, and kale. Much better alternative!

February 13, 2009 at 12:09 PM  
Anonymous Lisa said...

As a young wife, I had a step-daughter who would simply look at dinner and pronounce it inedible. She loved Top Ramen, so I taught her to make it so that she could make her own dinner if she didn't like what I made. After the 5th night of yellow, salty noodles, she sat down at the table and from then on, she'd at least try everything. Top Ramen had broken her!

February 13, 2009 at 1:36 PM  
Anonymous Peter Hertzmann said...

Ramen in Japan can be really good. Ramen, after all, is the Japanese term for Chinese noodles. When my 88-year old mother-in-law comes to visit I make her saimin, which is Hawaiian for ramen, every day for lunch. I use fresh Chinese noodles with I repackage in single portion-sized bags for freezing, dashi, yellow onions, green onions, Hawaiian-style Portuguese sausage (No Ka Oi brand), and togarashi (red pepper). It's real quick to cook, about 5 minutes, when she gets hungry, and in the end, less expensive than the packaged variety.

February 13, 2009 at 1:46 PM  
Blogger E. Thai said...

I love ramen noodles! They are much cheaper than the Asian kind. Sometimes, I flavor it with garlic or sesame oil and with my own broth.

By the way, I live in Tampa, and read about you and your book in the paper. Are you writing full-time these days?

February 15, 2009 at 7:15 AM  
Blogger Kathleen said...

Hey E. Thai,
Yep, I'm writing full time, cooking on the side. I'm at work on my second book, with a few scattered freelance projects.

I've recently fallen in love (again) with good sesame oil...

February 18, 2009 at 6:10 PM  

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