Ah, instant ramen. Salty, MSG-laden, devoid of any nutritional benefit … what’s not to love? When I eat instant ramen, I like to kid myself and pretend that it’s not too bad for you if you don’t drink the broth. And if you hack it up.
Now, there may be purists out there who shudder at the thought of ramen "hacking". And believe me, there are times when I crave nothing other than the simple, undoctored stuff.
But besides making your meal nutritious, adding veggies, meats and other odds and ends literally bulks it up, making the ramen more substantial and meal-like. And, depending on which option you go with, can be a great freezer-cleaner-outter, as well.
Here are a few ways to doctor your basic ramen:
Some instant ramen comes with dried scallion bits in the spice packet, so this "idea" isn’t really stretching things. But I prefer to omit the dried vegetable packet in favor of fresh ones, when I have them on hand: a little fresh scallion tossed in right before serving certainly spruces your noodles up both visually and flavor-wise.
Same as above. Beat an egg, then swirl it in as your noodle is almost done, ala egg drop soup style. Thickens the soup up nicely and rounds out the broth.
I’m sure this is nothing new to Koreans, who eat kimchi everywhere and anywhere, but for non-Koreans this may seem like a strange idea. If you’ve got plain ramen and you wish it were spicy, chop up some kimchi (it can even be old) and toss it in when your noodles are half-cooked. Go nuts and add scallion, eggs AND kimchi (my fave).
4. Shrimp (w/cilantro & scallions)
This is a classic Thai combination -- fresh and different. Shrimp cooks quickly, so assuming your shrimp is the frozen/raw kind, add with your noodles. And cilantro and scallions before serving and give it a toss.
The beauty of corn is that everybody usually has a frozen pack squirreled away, deep in freezer no-man’s land. Dig it out and sprinkle some corn in. The sweetness goes well with the overly salty ramen spice pack flavors. Try pairing corn with a bit of pork and you've got something!
6. Fish cake
I usually have thin sheets of fish cake on hand in my freezer as well for a specific Korean banchan. However there are types of fish cake, for dishes like oden, that are perfect for this as well. Slice as you wish, and since fish cake is almost always cooked, you've got easy, instant protein.
7. Fish eggs/roe - now we're getting a little crazy. I thought of this idea after -- surprise, surprise -- scanning my freezer and trying to empty a few things out. The downside of roe is that it's typically pretty salty, so unlike some of the other toppings, this does nothing to "balance" flavors out. But if you like fishy-flavors, then you'll like this. Let the roe defrost (if you have it in the freezer, if not, just remove it from the fridge). You can either scrape the eggs out and let them scatter throughout the broth, or cook the roe sac whole, then slice into little discs (peel the sac off).
This is starting to get suspiciously like cooking, no? Which defeats the whole purpose of instant ramen.... but trust us. Chicken goes great -- bust out the chopping board, slice into small pieces and if you feel inclined, even try marinating it for 10-15 minutes. But only if you feel so inclined.
9. Napa Cabbage
Napa is not as firm as regular cabbage, and it also wilts in just a heartbeat. I like the texture -- leafy yet with crispy portions -- and flavor better than regular cabbage. Rinse a few leaves, chop roughly and add as your noodles are nearly done.
10. Bean sprouts (or mung bean sprouts)
You'll often find bean sprouts as a topping for Real ramen. One of our favorite vegetables to add as they cook quickly, and tend to moderate the ramen since they seem mostly made of water. Wash thoroughly, snip off tails (if you're using bean sprouts) and add into the pot for a minute or two.
So there you have it -- several ways to make your ramen seem more, well more than it actually is. But which brand of ramen do you use? We’re fans of spicy ramen like shin ramyun, but sometimes the spicy kind is not the best canvas for instant ramen hacking. Basics like Sapporo Ichiban (original flavor) or Maruchan (original flavor) tend to be our go-to ramen for these types of hacking exercises.
Got a ramen hack? Share it below!