Ramen is the stereotypical college food.
Easy to prepare and somewhat filling, at eight packages to the
dollar, ramen noodles are the key to frugal and fast dining. As
much as I enjoy the flavors, ranging from salty chicken and salty
beef to salty oriental and salty mushroom, sometimes I want more
from the brick of noodles.

Kate Green

Time should first be spent discussing the proper way to prepare
the noodles. Microwave, stovetop, boiling water …
what’s a poor college kid to do? Stovetop is definitely the
best way to prepare ramen. Use a small pot and boil about two cups
of water. Then, add the noodles and cook for a few minutes. Add the
flavor packet and you are good to go.

Some might prefer the microwave option, but this method is
lacking in many regards. First of all, it takes just as long,
because microwaves are notoriously bad at simply heating water.
Moreover, the water doesn’t boil quite right and the noodles
come out tasting a little funny and really soggy. Trust me, if
you’ve got a stove, use it.

While perhaps I shouldn’t be using fancy culinary terms to
describe ramen, the word is al dente. To the tooth, people!
I cannot stress this enough — those noodles had better not be
all limp and soggy. Ramen is a fickle noodle and it only takes a
little bit to cook it. Don’t overdo it.

For a more wholesome, filling and protein-rich dish, add an egg.
After you add the noodles to the boiling water, and about 30
seconds before you take the noodles off the stove, break an egg
into the water and stir it around. The egg will largely dissolve,
but will fill your broth with yummy goodness.

Alternatively, small cubes of tofu, added while boiling, can
help fill out the meal. If you are looking for a more balanced
diet, you could also stir in some spinach leaves just as you remove
the pot from the heat. The water will wilt the leaves and the
spinach will go nicely with the tofu.

Sometimes the flavor packets just aren’t the taste you are
looking for. The noodles themselves can become the base of many
other dishes. To make a hearty stir-fry, cut up some vegetables,
meat or tofu and stir-fry them in some hot oil. Be sure to time the
cooking so that things that take longer to cook, like onions and
tofu, are added first, and other things like green beans and summer
squash are added last. Add some soy sauce, fish sauce, ground or
fresh ginger, garlic, sesame seeds, hot pepper flakes and salt to
taste.

To make a liquidy sauce simply add some water. If you want to
thicken it, mix in a 50/50 mixture of corn starch or flour and
water. It will thicken right up. Then take your already boiled
noodles and add them to the pan, stir frying them as well. Once
everything is all cooked, you’re ready to go.

If you want a quick alternative to the flavor packets, look into
some hot, spicy sesame oil. Available at Whole Foods and Asian
Market on Maynard Street, a little bottle of this stuff adds a kick
to the noodles and carries with it the distinctive nutty flavor of
good, dark sesame oil. Definitely a worthwhile addition to any
household.

Once, in my freshman year, late for class and ravenously hungry,
I grabbed a pack of ramen and headed out the door. Eaten raw and
plain, ramen doesn’t have much taste, but it does have a nice
crunch and is surprisingly edible. While this wasn’t the best
use of ramen, it did open up more uses for ramen.

Make an Asian-inspired salad. Use Napa cabbage, shredded
carrots, orange slices, bok choy, some sliced onions, a red pepper
cut into small pieces and dress it with an Asian dressing or a
mixture of rice wine vinegar and sesame seed oil. Crumble over the
top an uncooked package of ramen, like breadcrumbs. The noodles
will absorb the excess dressing and the added crunch will finish
out the salad nicely.

Ramen will always remain a college staple. Often derided as the
least respectable food — after all, who would serve ramen to
impress guests — properly prepared, ramen can become both
more nutritious, and yes, even respectable. With a little
creativity, and not much extra work, that wavy block of noodles in
your hand can become the centerpiece of a delicious meal.

A note about this column: My general goal is to raise the level
of cooking on campus and promote a greater appreciation for the joy
of cooking. Every other week I plan to include recipes, helpful
hints and easy ways for you to increase your culinary
opportunities. Food preparation is an easy way to impress friends,
romantic interests and parents. A good homemade soup can provide as
much comfort as a pint of good whiskey — without the
hangover.

I’m a vegetarian who occasionally samples fish, but I ate
meat through high school and have an appreciation for all flavors.
I can honestly say there really aren’t any flavors or foods I
really dislike. While I will try to give out original recipes and
ideas, a lot of my cooking opinions have come from a few
influential cookbooks, among them, “The White Dog
Cookbook,” “The New Vegetarian Epicure,”
“How to Cook Everything” and of course, my mom, who has
helped bail me out of numerous kitchen disasters with timely advice
over the phone.

— Having hunger pains for more? Piskor can be reached
at
“mailto:jpiskor@umich.edu”>jpiskor@umich.edu.

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