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Volume 71, Issue 12, Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Life & Arts

Using your noodle turns ramen to riches

College Cooking 101

Melissa Barrera

If it wasn't for the ramen noodle, a college student may have starved to death awaiting the arrival of that next financial aid check. 

Often priced at just 10 cents a pop, the dried brick of ramen noodles, all too familiar to the student diet, has become a staple of cheap eating, but the cost of eating a menu of nothing but dehydrated flour products may come at a higher price than you might think.

Even though it may seem like switching back and forth between chicken and beef flavored packages of noodles is a suitable way to keep variety in your diet, all ramen products are generally comprised of the same things - sodium, fat and carbs. 

Now, I'm not one to say that carbohydrates are the enemy, but when it comes to eating a starchy white flour-based product several times a week, that's when I have to blow the whistle. 

Not only does a single serving of ramen noodles have 28 grams of the wrong carbs, but it's also not the average portion an adult will eat.

As misleading as it may be, the packaged brick of dried ramen noodles is actually twice the size of the recommended serving. That means that if you take a look at all of the information found in the Nutrition Facts section on the back of the package, you have to double that data if you are planning on eating the whole thing.

So now you're facing 14 grams of fat and more than 40 percent of the USDA's recommended daily allotment of sodium. But all of this doesn't mean you have to kick the ramen habit cold turkey. 

There are ways to be more cautious about your ramen intake, starting with a search for healthier alternatives. If you are craving that processed flavor package, try boiling up some buckwheat soba noodles instead of the ramen and adding just a portion of the sodium-rich seasoning. The dark soba noodles are higher in protein, dramatically lower in fat and calories, and seem to be more filling, so you won't have to feel as guilty about eating a dish made of nothing but pasta.

Another way to get around the horrible nutritional specs of dried ramen is by eating less of it. If you're thinking that you just can't make it on a half-block of those sumptuous slurp-able noodles, then you may want to try your hand at making today's recipe for Kicked-up Ramen. 

By adding meats and vegetables to a single serving of ramen noodles, you can keep your meals affordable while maintaining good eating habits. 

Things like seared tuna, thin strips of stir-fried beef, roasted pork and leftover rotisserie chicken are all fairly healthy sources of protein that can bulk up a noodle bowl. Vegetables like mushrooms, snow peas and carrots all help to make a minimal amount of pasta feel much more substantial.

For this recipe, I make use of soy beans, which can be purchased as frozen edamame (soy bean pods) at Asian markets. These seeds can be defrosted and then popped out of the inedible pods and used in a variety dishes. Edamame, if boiled for about three minutes and then lightly salted is also a great healthy snack for those late nights of studying.

Shrimp are also a great ingredient to keep around in the freezer. Packages of frozen de-veined shrimp are incredibly handy, as shrimp are frozen individually and can be defrosted quickly in a bowl of room temperature water. 

If you have never tried cooking shrimp, pick some up next time you are at the grocery store. Boil them for two minutes and then add them to mixture of ketchup and hot sauce -- It's a shrimp cocktail that's so easy and impressive that you just might find yourself discovering a slew of different ways to use the crustacean.

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