Have you ever been hunting through your pantry, trying to scrounge together a decent meal quickly and without turning to takeout? We’ve been there. Ramen or Instant noodles are a go-to because they are just that, instant. And let’s be real, comfort in a bowl for many people. But, have you ever asked yourself how to make better ramen?
Now, let’s get clear on one thing. If you LOVE instant ramen as is, keep on keepin’ on! If you do not have a personal or family history of hypertension and you are not salt-sensitive (if you’re wondering what that means, check out our recent podcast episode on all things salt), then you have more room in the sodium department than some people.
The purpose of this blog post is NOT to shame anyone for their ramen preferences, so don’t at me. We are advocates of food freedom over here. One person may love instant ramen as is, and that is great. Another person may want to add ingredients to it to give the meal more staying power, and that is also great.
Another person may want to swap out the seasoning packet for lower sodium options because they have high blood pressure, and that is great because they are finding what works for them and taking care of their body. It’s ALL GREAT.
If you want to jazz things up, read on for how to make better ramen depending on what you have on hand. This article covers a whole slew of ideas, plus I share my favorite combination of quick upgrades to date.
Step 1: Consider experimenting with your noodle choice
New-to-you brands of dried ramen noodles
Fresh ramen noodles
There are sooo many brands of dried ramen noodles out there! One of my favorite things to do is explore new stores and markets. You can find endless options and may just find a new brand you love. Many Asian grocery stores keep fresh ramen noodles on hand in the refrigerated or freezer sections as well.
Step 2: Upgrade Your Liquid
Broth – homemade or boxed
Mixture of miso paste and water
When thinking about how to make better ramen, evaluating cooking liquid is a good step. Typically ramen is made with water and the included seasoning packet. A simple way to not only make your ramen taste better, but also to reduce sodium, is to upgrade your liquid.
Most brands of ramen clock in around the 1000-2000mg range of sodium for a block of noodles cooked with the included seasoning packet. Maruchan for example, a popular and widely available brand in US stores, has 1660mg of sodium for the noodle block and seasoning. To put this into context, general recommendations for most adults are to stay below 2300mg of sodium per day.
Most of the sodium is coming from the seasoning packet. If you are looking to reduce sodium, one option is to reduce the amount of seasoning packet that you use. For example, use about half of the packet with the same amount of water, and some other upgrades of your choice based on this article.
Another option is using an alternative liquid vs water and seasoning packet. If you happen to have homemade broth, pat yourself on the back and use that to make your ramen!
If you have boxed broth on hand, give it a whirl. A typical low-sodium vegetable broth for example has around 260mg of sodium for 2 cups, which is the amount of water typically needed to make a block of instant noodles.
Bouillon cubes (here is a good read on the history of bouillon cubes for those who are food nerds like me) are a convenient staple in many homes. Many provide around 800-900mg of sodium per cube.
One bouillon cube is typically used to make 1 cup of broth. Do the math and we can see that swapping the ramen seasoning packet for a bouillon cube is not a low sodium move, but if sodium monitoring is not your endgame, rather experimenting with different flavor options is, then go for it.
If you do not regularly keep broth or bouillon cubes on hand, another option is to stir and heat some miso paste into water. I also like to add gochujang to the mix, which I’ll talk about below. Miso paste is a fermented paste made from soybeans, and it has gut-friendly probiotics (we talk more about gut health and probiotics in our group program!).
Step 3: Include aromatics
Aromatics is a term used to describe vegetables that bring a depth and complexity of flavor when heated or crushed. Some great examples that work well to fancy up your ramen are garlic, ginger, green onion and shallots.
Heating one or more aromatics in a bit of oil helps release that depth and complexity, adding to your ramen flavor profile. I like to sauté aromatics with some vegetables and add this mixture to the ramen noodles.
Step 4: Add vegetables
A leafy green like spinach
Adding vegetables is an easy way to make your meal more nutrient-dense. I often saute vegetables I want to add with some aromatics from the step above, and then add this to the ramen. Leafy greens like spinach can either be sauteed as well or tossed into the ramen at the end of cooking so it wilts in the broth.
Virtually any precooked vegetable you have on hand can be tossed in. Steamed or roasted broccoli is one of my favorites to add if I have it on hand.
Adding vegetables is a great way to add more bulk to the ramen meal, along with key nutrients like potassium, vitamin C and fiber. Fiber is key for helping us feel full and satisfied. This means if you want to feel full for a while after your ramen delight, it helps to add vegetables.
Step 5: Add a protein source
Frozen peas even add a bit (about 4 grams per 1/2 cup)
Frozen or leftover meatballs
Shredded rotisserie chicken
If you are looking for your ramen meal to have a bit more staying power, adding a source of protein is essential. Protein and fiber together contribute a lot to our sense of fullness after meals.
Keep it plant-based with additions like edamame or tofu, or go animal-based with egg, leftover/frozen meat you have on hand, or add some rotisserie chicken.
If you are adding frozen edamame or peas, you can do so straight into the boiling water with the ramen noodles. They only take a few minutes to thaw in boiling water.
Step 6: Garnish game strong
Sliced green onions
Garnishes can add pops of color, spice and texture to your bowl of ramen. Some of my favorites are listed here. You do you!
Read on for my favorite minimal time combination of upgrades to make your ramen better, more nutrient-dense and more satisfying.
Quick Upgraded Ramen
Instant ramen noodles with a few upgrades
- 1 pack of instant ramen
- 2 cups water
- 1/2 seasoning packet from ramen
- 1 teaspoon oil I often use sesame, but use what you prefer
- 1 clove garlic minced
- 1 teaspoon ginger grated or minced
- 1/2 shallot minced
- 1/2 cup mushrooms chopped
- 1/2 cup frozen edamame
- 1 cup spinach
- sriracha garnish
- sesame seeds garnish
- green onions, sliced garnish
Prepare your ingredients - mince the garlic, ginger and shallot; chop the mushrooms; slice the green onions
In a small skillet over medium heat, add oil. Once shimmering, add garlic, ginger and shallot. Let cook for a minute until fragrant.
To skillet, add mushrooms and let cook for 2-3 minutes.
While vegetables are cooking, heat water in a small saucepan until boiling.
To skillet with vegetables, add spinach and stir until wilted. Turn off heat.
Once water in the saucepan is boiling, add the seasoning packet and let boil for a minute.
Add noodles and frozen edamame. Cook for 2-3 minutes. Use chopsticks or a fork to pull noodles out and separate them.
Add your vegetable mixture to noodles.
Garnish and enjoy!
Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash
Photo by No Revisions on Unsplash
Photo by Anya Bell on Unsplash