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Ramen rules

Humble noodles might deserve a healthful makeover

Humble noodles might deserve a healthful makeover

August 06, 2008|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

Considered a college dorm food staple, instant ramen turns 50 this year.

But ramen might be losing ground to fruits and veggies, according to recent market data on buying habits of college-age young adults.

With back-to-school looming, maybe it's time to give the cheap, humble noodle a makeover, health-food style.

"The noodles themselves aren't that bad, but it's the seasoning packet that freaks people out," said Mickey Molnaire, who helped her late husband Ron Konzak author the cookbook "The Book of Ramen."

Momofuku Ando, the founder of Nissin Food Products Co., is credited with launching instant ramen in 1958. But ramen has been around much longer. According to the Shin Yokohama Raumen Museum - a Japanese museum dedicated to ramen - ramen noodles were around since the 1900s, when Japanese cooks came up with their own take on Chinese lo mein noodles. Ando, according to the museum, was the first to package and distribute the noodles as instant ramen.

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Ramen has since earned a reputation as choice cuisine for the American collegiate set. Slim cafeteria offerings and even slimmer dorm-room kitchen space - a microwave or hot plate - often forced students to employ guerilla culinary tactics, nuking ramen in oversize coffee mugs or boiling the noodles in water retrieved from the nearest drinking fountain. People have even been known to eat them plain, uncooked and straight out of the package.

Ramen rebirth

But these days, ramen has fewer fans among young adults, who are now opting for healthful choices, said Kim McLynn, spokeswoman for market research firm NPD Group, which examined the food-buying habits of young adults. According to NPD data, sandwiches, fruits and vegetables were the three most popular foods purchased by 18- to 24-year-olds outside of college cafeterias in 2007.

Health-food companies are now touting organic ramen, noodles that are made with organic ingredients and, in some cases, are air dried instead of deep fried. Molnaire said you can find the "healthful" instant ramen at many health food stores.

Make it healthy at home

But if you're not able to find "healthful" instant ramen, you'll have to make do with the stuff at the local grocer. And if you want it healthy, Molnaire said you might want to start by chucking the seasoning packet.

Based on what's listed on the package of Nissin's chicken-flavored Top Ramen, an entire package of cooked noodles with the season pack accounts for 76 percent of the recommended daily value for salt. In fact, salt is the first item listed on the seasoning packet's ingredient list. Monosodium glutamate is the second.

Molnaire recommended replacing the flavor packet with a bouillon cube, which, she said, "hasn't got as many strange things as a season packet." You also might try adding your own blend of seasonings. Onion powder, Molnaire said, works well.

Another way to help out the noodles is by adding real food to it. Crackled, uncooked ramen can act like quasi-croutons or sunflower seeds if sprinkled on top of a salad, Molnaire said.

If you're short on ideas, there are a bevy of cookbooks that offer other ways to doctor up the humble noodle. "101 Things to Do with Ramen Noodles," (Gibbs Smith, 2005) by Toni Patrick, includes recipes for minestrone and an oriental chicken salad, which calls for shredded chicken, fresh veggies and toasted, slivered almonds.




Oriental chicken salad



1 package ramen noodles, any flavor; discard seasoning packet

1 cup toasted slivered almonds (see cook's note)
1 teaspoon vinegar
1/2 cup oil
3 teaspoons seasoned salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
3 tablespoons sugar
4 cups shredded cooked chicken breast
3 to 6 green onions, sliced
3/4 cup celery stalks, sliced
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/2 head lettuce, torn or shredded

Cook noodles for 1 minute and drain. In a bowl, mix the vinegar, oil, salt, pepper and sugar. Add the chicken, onions, celery, sesame seeds and toasted almonds. Add lettuce just before serving and toss.

Cook's note: To toast almonds, spread nuts on baking sheet in single layer and toast in preheated 350-degree oven for about 5 minutes until lightly browned.

Serves 2 to 4.

- Recipe courtesy of "101 Things to Do With Ramen Noodles," (Gibbs Smith, 2005) by Toni Patrick.




Minestrone



1 package ramen noodles, any flavor; discard seasoning packet
1 10.75-ounce can tomato soup, condensed
8 ounces spicy smoked sausage, thinly sliced
1/4 cup cooked sliced celery
1/4 cup cooked sliced carrots
1/4 cup peas
1/2 cup green beans
1/2 cup canned kidney beans, rinsed and drained
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook noodles in water according to package directions. Do not drain. Add soup, sausage and vegetables. Simmer 5 to 10 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Add more water by tablespoon if soup is too thick. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Serves 2.

- Recipe courtesy of "101 Things to Do With Ramen Noodles," (Gibbs Smith, 2005) by Toni Patrick

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