Do you know the magazine “Cook’s Country”? I love that magazine. Big format, sensible writing. I learn something new in every issue, and how many cooking mags can you say that about? I get almost all the cooking magazines on offer, just to see what’s going on, and I’m telling you, a couple of them make my heart bleed, as I imagine some young woman thinking she has to find pomegranate seeds to put on her potato salad.
“Cook’s Country,” however, can be trusted to only put pomegranate seeds where pomegranate seeds belong. And it can also be counted upon to figure out the easiest way to remove pomegranate seeds from pomegranates without turning whatever you’re wearing a beautifully splattered pink.
Useful, like I said. I almost always have a hankering to meet their young people who so enthusiastically test pie plates, figure out best ways to melt chocolate, and braise everything braiseable in sight.
This most recent issue (the Thanksgiving issue! Really? Are we there yet?), aside from being perfectly pomegranate free, actually taught me not just one, but TWO new ways to use packaged ramen.
You know ramen. By ‘ramen’ here, I am not referring to the wonderful huge bowls of soup with skinny noodles that the Japanese, and Japanese ramen restaurants here in the US, do so well. No, I’m talking about the packaged stuff that comes in individual servings with flavor packets included of allegedly six different flavors. The basic foodstuff of college students and starving artists the world over.
As an aside: I once asked my nephew why he was still living at home, long after he had graduated from college. “Aunt Tod,” he said patiently, “the only thing that costs the same as when you were young is ramen!” I had to admit he had a point there.
Now, I also have to admit to a secret love of ramen, dating back to the days of when I was a college student, and then a starving artist. Less starving when I got hold of packages of ramen, costing, I recall, about 25 cents apiece. (Ah, the days of wine and ramen, they are not long.) When I was young, I figured out about a hundred different ways to use those very filling noodles, and was thankful for whoever had invented them. (I’ll share my favorite hack at the end of this post, never fear.) Honestly, I thought I had figured out every conceivable thing to do with ramen.
But I was wrong. And “Cook’s Country” has just come up with two of the best.
The first I particularly like, since I’m a fan of One Bowl Cooking—or, as I approvingly call it in the revised and updated edition of “Jam Today,” (which just came out, by the way), “Millennial Cuisine.” Now, Cook’s Country thinks those little packets that come with ramen are too salty, and while this is a matter of taste, and I personally love those little packets (see my hack below), I can appreciate the position. So what Cecelia Jenkins, who wrote the piece, did was a great idea. She sautéed mushrooms, added chicken broth, added 3 packages of ramen noodles for four people, steamed them on one side, flipped them, steamed them with chopped broccoli on top on the other, added browned marinated pork, topped with minced scallions, and served the whole thing forth. “Serve the noodle bowls with Sriracha hot sauce,” she says, and I can’t argue with that.
You see the pattern here: sauté veggies of your choice (I’d add garlic, but then I always add garlic). Add broth of your choice, a lot if you want soup at the end, a little if want a dry noodle bowl. Steam a green veggie atop. Add a cooked protein. Garnish with your choice: minced cilantro, minced parsley, chopped scallions—that sort of thing.
But where is that little packet of sodium and mystery flavor? That one that is so enticing, even as you know it’s probably more than a bit unhealthy—but perhaps even more enticing for all of that.
Cecelia has a place for that, too. And I think it’s practically the best part of the whole article. She says: “Don’t discard the packets; you can use them to flavor freshly popped popcorn.”
Which leads me to my own personal favorite ramen hack. I wish I could say that I never do this anymore, that this is a remnant of my misspent youth, but even though I know those ramen noodles are just soaked in the oil they were originally cooked in, and even though I know those flavor packets contain…well, who knows what, but anything tasting like that can’t be good for heart health…even though it was long, long ago that I was a college student, I still, when I’m alone and blue, get out the secret packet of Top Ramen I have hidden away against just such moments. (I like the beef or pork flavors best, though my sneaking suspicion is those packets never got anywhere near an actual natural ingredient.)
This is what I do:
I boil enough water to cover a package of ramen noodles.
When the water is at full boil, I drop the noodles, without the flavor packet, in. Using chopsticks to stir, I separate the noodles for the few minutes cooking time recommended. (Meanwhile I tear open the flavor packet and hold it at the ready.)
When the noodles are done, I strain them in a colander, put them back in the pot, and THEN I ADD THE CONTENTS OF THE FLAVOR PACKET.
Stir around, decant into a large bowl (I like my noodles to be comfortable), and then sit down to eat, with—and this is important—a cruet of soy sauce and a bottle of hot sauce close to hand. Adding both of these liberally to an already salty bowl of ramen, I look around to make sure I am not being observed by my doctor, and blissfully have at it.
I have been known to lick the bowl at the end. Yes, I have been known to do that.
Usually, I eat a piece of fruit afterwards. This helps dispel some of the guilt. But not the delicious memory. Which lingers on until the next time I feel the urge to revisit one of my very earliest cooking hacks.