Thursday, March 3, 2011

Rockin Ramen

Ok, raise your hand if you love ramen noodle soup. (You'll notice that my hand is held high, even waving frantically with enthusiasm.) That's right - the pre-packaged ramen soup - made up of a brick of dry noodles and a mystery spice packet (just add water), loaded with sodium and calories, and a staple of college students' diets everywhere - I am a fan.

It's such a guilty pleasure. In the last couple of weeks when I've been down with a nasty cold, it's pretty much all I've wanted to eat. Or slurp, as the case may be. It's an odd thing that I find myself loving ramen, but I know exactly from where this love stems. When I was a kid, before I was old enough to get a "real" job, I had the opportunity to seasonally work on my grandparents' ranch to make a little pocket money. The tasks were varied and mundane, but I distinctly remember the highlight of my day would be lunch. I would take a break with my cousin (who was my same age and also roped into ranch duty), and he and I would sit at grandma's kitchen table gleefully slurping up Top Ramen, making sure we each got our own full package. It was a real treat, since such packaged fare wasn't served at my house, presumably due to my siblings' allergies and hopefully thanks to my mom's healthier food sensibilities (it couldn't have been because it was too expensive - my single mom of three would have surely jumped all over it otherwise). But at grandma's house, boy oh boy, ramen was the shizz. (Let's just note that my grandma - who loved to eat and reveled in dining out - wasn't much of a day-to-day cook. Maybe that is obvious.) At any rate, it's a comfort food to me, and I crave it quite a bit.

And there's the dilemma. It's quick and comforting - but not exactly the type of whole and wholesome food I generally prefer to feed myself. So in these past weeks of nursing a cold, I did indulge once, but quickly wanted to come up with a better solution to satisfy my craving. So, I made my own.

I devised a simple but rich Asian-inspired broth and cooked a big batch that would last for days. At the same time, I steamed vegetables so that I could add them to the broth (again, enough to last several days - goodies like broccoli, shiitake mushrooms and carrots), and instead of using traditional ramen noodles (or any of my other favorite substitutes like soba or rice noodles), I used tofu noodles. Do you even know about tofu noodles? If not, learn now! You can get tofu noodles in the refrigerated tofu section of a good grocery store (like Whole Foods). They are extremely low in calories, contain zero carbs, and have ample protein. The caveat is that unless you can find fresh tofu noodles (my local Whole Foods has them - lucky me!), the packaged noodles come stored in a liquid that has a bit of an off-putting odor when you first open them. But no worries - simply rinse the noodles under some hot water, and voila - a perfect pasta substitute.

So, I've included my recipe for the broth below, and believe me, it's delicious. Way better than what comes of the mystery spice packet in the Top Ramen package. It's quick too - it honestly doesn't take much more effort to make homemade than to boil up the packaged brick of ramen. I know I've been a happy camper all week long, with just a little minimal effort at the start. Get slurping!

Ramen broth
  • 1 tablespoon oil (I use sesame, but any cooking oil will do)
  • 6 scallions, chopped (include the green tops)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, chopped
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon dried red-pepper flakes (optional)
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth or homemade stock
  • Salt, to taste
  • Zest of 1 lemon, grated
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
In a large stock pot, heat the cooking oil over moderately low heat. Add the scallions, garlic and ginger and cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the chicken and cook until well-browned, about 5 minutes. Add the soy sauce, red-pepper flakes, water and broth and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and add in the lemon zest, lemon juice, sesame oil and fish sauce. Simmer for 5 minutes. Ladle over noodles and veggies.

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