Photo by Jac Bergenson
by Jac Bergenson

With homework, a job, a club or two, and impending midterms, who has time to cook a gourmet meal?

Forget the filet mignon and lobster; Ramen is more your style, right? It’s convenient, it’s easy, and two months’ worth will cost you less than a Big Mac Meal at Mickey D’s.

What if the fun of ramen didn’t just end when you popped it in the microwave? Here are a few tips on how to jazz up your ramen and turn that twelve-cent bag of noodles into something to write home to mom about.

1. Spice it up!
I get it, I get it, there’s no room for a spice rack in your dorm—at least not since that new textbook took up the last space on your windowsill. Fortunately, the best cooks only need a few spices and seasonings to make their food pop. Tabasco or a pinch of cayenne pepper will make the dish sizzle like it was Cajun. Use a bit of garlic and you’ve suddenly added a whole new element to your creamy chicken ramen. And there’s always good ol’ salt and pepper. Yes, ramen already has more sodium in it than a Diamond Crystal factory. That sodium lies solely in the flavor packet, though. Therefore, try removing half of the flavor powder, and replacing it with a pinch of salt. You will find the taste to be subtler, but it will pop at the same time.

2. Say cheese!
Seems a logical solution, no? Cheese makes everything better…unless it’s peanut butter and jelly (I’ve experimented). A tablespoon of pecorino or Parmesan cheese, along with a dash of garlic powder, can turn the simplest chicken ramen into something resembling ramen alfredo. Add cheddar to your beef ramen and I bet you it will taste something like cheeseburger pasta. Silly? Yes. Just remember that you’re working out of a dorm.

3. Say cheese, part deux!
What I am about to tell you may make you furrow your eyebrows: make macaroni and cheese! I know what you’re thinking: “Why should I do that if I can buy Easy Mac?” Assume all you have on hand is your ramen, a quart of milk, and a few slices of cheese. Even though a classical cheese sauce is thickened with flour, made with milk, and finished with cheese and butter, you can achieve something similar with just a half a cup of milk and three or four slices of American cheese. The cheese will be more than enough to thicken the small amount of hot milk, and what you’re left with is enough sauce to coat a whole pack of ramen. Yes, it was a little bit of work, but who doesn’t need that sense of accomplishment after studying so hard for a pop quiz earlier that morning?

4. Make it healthy!
Just because Maruchan gives you a magical packet of flavor doesn’t mean you have to use it. Daily ramen will spike your blood sugar with its high sodium levels, so why not cut some of it out? Rather than use the packet, invest in a can or two of reduced sodium chicken broth or stock. Simply boil the noodles in the broth/stock instead of water and you’ll get the same basic flavor with a much lower health risk.

5. Make it healthy, part deux!
Maintaining a balanced diet as a resident student is harder than juggling a ten-page midterm paper and two group projects at once. Fortunately, you don’t need to go all Ferran Adria (one of the world’s most influential avante garde chefs) to hit your macronutrients. You’ve got your carbohydrates in the noodles. Add protein with tuna and fat with a bit of mayonnaise and/or olive oil. What you’ve got: tuna salad over noodles. Add texture with some red onion and celery. If you’re wary about the mayonnaise, replace some of it with Dijon mustard at a fraction of the calories. If you’re going for something a bit sweeter, keep the onions, but replace the celery with apples and dried cranberries.

6. Soup it up—or not!
This last one might go without saying for some, but try eating the ramen with more, or less, broth. I ate ramen for years without broth. I simply drained all of the water and then emptied the flavor packet on the ramen. Conversely, I know a few people who never thought to do that, and they always ate ramen like soup with lots of liquid. Everyone has their favorite way of eating ramen, but don’t be afraid to change it up a little bit. The more broth it has, the lighter it will be, but the dryer it is, the more intense the flavors will be. The choice is up to you.

The great thing about ramen is that the possibilities are endless. With a neutral flavor, you can use it in just about any way that you can imagine. The above six points are just to get your gears turning. If you use them–great! If you come up with something else instead, share the knowledge; Mount Saint Mary College has students from all walks of life, but nearly all of them would benefit from another way to prepare their ramen!