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New takes on the ramen noodle cliché

by Brian Clarey

Ramen noodles: It doesn’t have to be this way. (stock photo)

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College kids eat ramen noodles. It’s a trope, a meme, a cliché. But it’s true — Ramen noodles have been holding down college kids’ appetites since the 1980s, when the instant version of the ancient dish became popular in the US. College kids love them because they’re inexpensive, sometimes as cheap as a dime a serving or even less, and they can be prepared in a couple of minutes — just the thing to tide you over until the cafeteria begins dinner service.

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The thing about ramen, though, is that it’s not exactly delicious, especially when prepared using the bare-bones method of simply adding hot water to the dry noodles and dumping the broth packet on top.

But if you’re willing to drop a couple bucks on extra ingredients, you can turn the humble bowl of Ramen into genuine cuisine — or, at least, something that’s a little more pleasant to gag down after a long study session or a late night at the bars.

• The easiest way to doctor a bowl of ramen noodles is to simply add a handful of mixed frozen vegetables. You can buy a bag for a dollar.

• Add a raw egg while the water’s still hot to add protein and a little substance to the dish. Hot sauce works well here.

• Half a can of cream of mushroom, cream of chicken, cream of tomato or cream of celery soup adds flavor and body to the thin broth.

• Get the spicy style ramen and add a spoonful of peanut butter after cooking for a little Thai action.

• You can always add meat to the dish: ground beef or turkey (brown it first), frozen shrimp, cooked chicken or a can of tuna.

• Ham and cheese ramen: Use Velveeta or some other melting cheese and a few slices of ham to make a hearty version of mac and cheese. Hot dogs work too.

• The website campussqueeze.com suggests treating your block of ramen noodles like a hunk of meat, marinating it uncooked in the broth with a few dashes of soy sauce, hot sauce and rice wine vinegar and then grilling it over an open flame.

• You can make a ramen salad with cold, cooked noodles and the addition of fresh greens and vegetables, • Add Chex cereal, peanuts, pretzels and a little Worcestershire and butter to crunched-down ramen noodles to make snack mix. Use nuts and dried fruit to make trail mix. And it is not unheard of to use pieces of the hard, dry noodles themselves as a vehicle for dips and heavy sauces.

• There are several dessert recipes for ramen noodles. One has you boil the noodles with brown sugar instead of the broth packet, drain the water and then add a little vanilla and a cup of chocolate syrup before topping the whole thing with powdered sugar.

• You can make caramel ramen by making caramel on your stovetop with butter, brown sugar and corn syrup, then breaking the uncooked noodles into the mixture before baking it in a 300-degree oven for 4 minutes. Let it cool before eating.

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