Oh, I know what you're thinking. Ramen? Dried ramen!?! That's not cooking! That's 30¢, broke-as-a-joke, college dorm food that insults dedicated ramen chefs making it fresh in Kyoto every day.
Hey! Stick with me here. I wanna go to Hokkaido for the fresh ramen as much as the next gal but even dried American ramen is better than no ramen.
Would you believe that I'd never had ramen until my husband, Michael Thompson, introduced me to it last year!? Yes, at the ripe old age of thirty-eight, I fell madly in love with Maruchan Ramen. It became my default, never-let-me-down comfort food for a quick breakfast, lunch, supper or a midnight snack.
But...something was missing. Even with the Oriental flavor packet, it hinted at greater things and I was determined that our ramen would be not just a quick, easy and cheap meal, but delicious, nutritious and satisfying as well.
Every culture has their particular comfort food. My step-children are devotees of mac-n-cheese. My Vietnamese friend scarfed baby duck eggs (yes, feathers and all) when her American husband (also called Mike Thompson) wasn't looking. When I was sick as a child, and I was sick a lot, Mom always made me grilled cheese sandwiches. And for all of us, there's the ubiquitous chicken noodle soup aka Jewish penicillin.
But for the Japanese, their under-the-weather, sniffles-and-sore-throat comfort food is miso soup. You've probably had it. It's the de rigueur appetizer that precedes most sushi or hibachi meals. Y'know! The little red bowl containing a cloudy, salty liquid festooned with the odd morsel of tofu, seaweed and scallions. That's a pale, watered down version of what we're going to make together.
Miso is a paste made from fermented soybeans. I know it sounds gross but miso is like baby animals. They're so ugly, they're cute. Miso is so gross, it's delicious. One bite and you'll be addicted for life. Sometimes I eat it straight, right out of the bag. It's more satisfying than my precious stinky French cheese and incredibly healthy.
As with most fermented foods, according to the BBC's GoodFood, "Miso is rich in essential minerals and a good source of various B vitamins, vitamins E, K and folic acid. As a fermented food, miso provides the gut with beneficial bacteria that help us to stay healthy, vibrant and happy; good gut health is known to be linked to our overall mental and physical wellness."
And this is where our ramen-on-steroids "receipt" begins, with Oriental flavor Maruchan ramen and miso. In a large bowl or mug, place your dried ramen noodles (I like to crumble ours) and shake in the flavor packet. Now pour 1-1/2 cups of hot water over all. (Yes, I know the packet says 2 cups of hot water...that's too much.)
Next, add 1 to 2 teaspoons of miso. One teaspoon if you're Michael and prefer a delicate, polite flavor. Two teaspoons if you're me...and lost a lot of the ability to taste during an illness, hence my fondness for strong flavors and lots of condiments.
If you're lucky enough to have dashi stock on hand, this might be a nice addition. Authentic miso soup traditionally served for breakfast in Japan is based on dashi (fish stock) and miso.
Michael and I are partial to the Shinsyu-ichi Shiro (White) Miso Paste made in Japan. It's only $9.65 from Amazon and one bag lasts six to twelve months, depending on how frequently you eat ramen and include miso in your other Japanese recipes.
As the ramen noodles soften and absorb the flavor of the miso broth, now's the time to slice those scallions in fine medallions. Ramen without scallions is like...is like...well! It doesn't bear thinking about. Red or white onions will work but they're not as good. In Japan, a smallish leek called negi is used...but scallions work well too.
Shrimp? Absolutely. A few shrimp grilled yakitori style over a loaf pan full of hot coals or lightly sautéed in butter are brilliant. Pretty much any seafood or fish is wonderful in miso ramen.
If you're more turf and less surf, slices of cooked pork.
If you prefer to keep it vegetarian, small cubes of (pressed and drained!) tofu, plain or marinated.
Bean sprouts? Absolutely, if you've got 'em handy.
Mushrooms? Oh, baby! Thinly sliced and sautéed...or even raw.
Fresh spinach? Of course!
When Anthony Bourdain visited Hokkaido, he blissfully chomped into a big bowl of ramen that contained kernels of sweet corn topped with a thick slab of melting butter. I'm salivating at the thought, but we haven't tried it yet as ramen is typically our "hold the lipids" meal.
Nori? Assuming you have extra sheets of seawood for wrapping sushi, tear or cut into small pieces and throw into the miso broth to soften. Their bitter note will really round out the flavor.
Fresh cilantro? Heck ya! The more, the merrier.
Siracha? Ooooooo, tred lightly!
John Daub of the brilliant and calming YouTube channel, Only in Japan, is partial to a "half-boiled" (I think he means "soft-boiled") egg in his ramen.
Tried it. Ummmmmm, not a fan. This may be the only situation where I don't like eggs. But more power to ya if you like eggs in your ramen!
And there we have it. We began with your basic starving artist ramen and ended with ramen-on-steroids. So flavorful, so comforting, so satisfying and so chockful of nutritous ingredients that your family will beg you to make it again and again.
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I dislike cooking but since I'm obliged do it, the result must be spectacular or it's a waste of time and effort. That's why I seek out the best dishes and culinary techniques to test and perfect before sharing them with you!