There’s a reason why over 100 billion servings of instant ramen are consumed worldwide every year. Instant ramen is cheap, easy to make, and tastes delicious. From the grocery stores of Nairobi to the bodegas of the Bronx, the ubiquitous dried noodle block with flavoring powder has become the go-to ultra-affordable quick meal; perfect for late night study sessions, hungover Netflix binges, or any time you need to eat but don’t want to spend more than a dollar, like around tax season.
But don’t just eat it as-is. Chock-full of salt, palm oil, monosodium glutamate, and sugar, a single serving of instant ramen is high in carbohydrates and fat, but low in protein and fiber. If you’re looking for ways to upgrade a basic package of instant ramen and make your dining experience a little more healthy in the process, these suggestions will take your noodle game from zero to “this tastes better than take-out.”
Maruchan Roast Chicken Instant Ramen, 24 packs for $7.08 at Walmart
A classic choice, but you can do better.
1. Miso Paste
If you’re a fan of miso ramen and you want to Macgyver your own version at home, stock your fridge with a tub of miso paste. The fermented soybean paste is typically available in three different varieties: white (shiro miso), yellow (shinshu miso) and red (aka miso). Red tends to be the most potent flavor-wise and just a spoonful can add a serious dose of umami to your ramen. If you’re looking for a more subtle flavor, try the white miso and go from there.
Boil your ramen noodles as you would normally. Note: boiling miso kills its natural probiotics (nixing the health benefits in the process), so when it comes time to add the sauce packet, remove the noodles from the heat, drain and set aside. In a separate bowl, add some hot (not boiling) water and stir in the miso paste until it dissolves. Add a portion of the flavoring packet to taste.
Muso From Japan Light Sweet Miso, $4.80 on Amazon
If you have trouble finishing bigger tubs of miso, this tidy size is nice to have on hand.
2. Dashi Seasoning
Have you ever made miso broth at home, only to discover it didn’t taste anything like it does at your favorite sushi place? That’s probably because you were missing a key ingredient: dashi seasoning, a Japanese stock made from kombu (dried kelp), katsuobushi (dried and smoked bonito/skipjack tuna that is shaved into thin flakes), iriko or niboshi (anchovies/sardine), or a combination of the above. Want to eliminate the instant-ramen flavor packet altogether? Follow the miso broth instructions above and add some dashi powder instead. While this hack probably won’t do much to reduce your overall sodium levels, your miso will taste richer and more full-bodied.
Yamaki Katsuo and Kombu Dashi Pack, $5.99 on Amazon
This base is made from bonito and kelp.
One of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to add protein to a bowl of instant ramen is with tofu. Cut some plain silken soft tofu into cubes and add it to the broth as it simmers, or make a batch of this Asian broiled tofu that you can use throughout the week with ramen and other dishes.
4. Enoki Mushrooms
Looking for a way to add fiber and a feeling of fullness without piling on the carbs? Meet your new best friend, enoki mushrooms. These noodle-like mushrooms are a great way to add some texture to your ramen. Add a handful of mushrooms directly to your broth or saute them separately in some sesame oil to create an extra layer of flavor.
5. Bok Choy
This Chinese cabbage is a powerhouse when it comes to making a not-so-healthy meal, healthy-ish. If you’re pressed for time, simply wash and cut some of this leafy green, and throw it into the pot while the water boils. The bok choy will take on a nice wilted texture reminiscent of your favorite wonton noodle soup. Alternatively, make some sauteed bok choy or grill it before adding it to your soup.
6. Furikake Seasoning
A common item at Japanese grocery stores, furikake is a pre-packaged seasoning most commonly used to add extra flavor to white rice. A little bit salty, a little bit sweet, it also works wonders atop of a bowl of ramen. Common flavors include wasabi, seaweed, kimchi and shiso (perilla). Seafood flavors like salmon, tuna, and nori are also popular. While purchasing a topping just for ramen might seem indulgent, keep in mind that furikake also works wonders as a topping on avocado toast, quinoa, and popcorn.
Nori Komi Furikake Rice Seasoning, 2 for $6.38 at Walmart
Try it on pretty much everything.
Note: if you can’t get a hold of Furikake seasoning, use this as an opportunity to clean out the pantry. Got some nori sheets leftover from a sushi night that never happened? What about some sesame seeds from a homemade granola bar experiment gone awry? Cut up the nori and sprinkle the sesame seeds into your soup.
If you’re looking for a way to replicate the tangy, spicy splendor that is Korean kimchi tofu soup, you can jerry-rig your own version adding a dollop of kimchi to your favorite ramen combo (or better yet—learn how to make your own kimchi). Not only will the fermented cabbage add deep flavors and spices to your broth, it also acts as a powerful probiotic.
8. A Fried Egg
When it comes to easy and delicious proteins, you can’t go wrong with the almighty fried egg. Drizzle some hot sauce and furikake seasoning on top or leave it plain. Bonus points if you make your egg perfectly crispy along the edges.
9. A Soft-Boiled (or Hard-Boiled) Egg
Just as good, and perfect for using up those leftover Easter eggs, or for those who just can’t with runny yolks.
Related Video: How to Make Slow Cooker Pork Ramen
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