Top 5 Ramen Hacks

We don't need flavor packets where we're going...
We don't need flavor packets where we're going...

The life of a food critic is often far less glamorous than it may seem. Truly.

For as many fine dining meals as I may eat, I eat far more often in my own kitchen. And most of those meals are leftovers designed to last for at least a few days. But while the majority of my home-cooked meals are dollar-stretching standbys like cassoulet and Hoppin' John (it's not just for New Year's!), I shamefully admit to eating Ramen noodles on a fairly standard basis.

Feel free to judge me now.

However, I learned back in college that Ramen tastes absolutely foul when prepared according to the package's instructions. (Not to mention that little flavoring packet is a vicious sodium bomb.) Instead, I came up with all manner of "hacks" to make the noodles taste better while still staying within a pretty small budget.

Here are five of my favorite Ramen recipes, good for small budgets and large appetites. (And none of them involve breaking off pieces of Ramen blocks and dipping them into salsa. You're welcome.)

Cut-Rate Carbonara

A like to keep a jumbo bag of frozen peas on hand at all times. Aside from soothing the burns I often inflict on myself, they work thrown in nearly any dish to add a quick-cooking vegetable and they're very inexpensive. Not to mention, frozen peas are usually far better, quality-wise, than what you'll get in the produce department.

For this hack, boil your Ramen noodles in a sauce pan until they're starting to soften. Add a handful of frozen peas. Drain the noodles and peas when both are cooked, then transfer immediately back to your hot pan. Crack one egg over the noodles and peas, then whisk quickly until the egg is completely incorporated into the mix. The heat from the noodles and pan will cook the egg and transform it into a sauce. Top with cracked black pepper and salt to taste.

Very minimal cost, plus you'll get protein and vegetables from the egg and peas. (And despite the cholesterol present in both the egg and the noodles, this is still a lot better for you than restaurant-made faux carbonara sauce with heavy cream.)

Super-Fast Shepherd's Pie

Again, break out the frozen peas. If you have a bag that's both peas and carrots, even better, because you'll need them both.

Brown a half-pound of ground beef with salt and pepper to taste and boil your noodles in one pan and your peas and carrots in another while your oven is pre-heating to 350 degrees. Pam-down a baking dish, then make three layers: ground beef on the bottom, peas and carrots in the middle, Ramen noodles on top. Bake for 5 to 10 minutes.

This sounds silly, but it's a very fast and very hearty dish that's great for colder months as well as for leftovers (unless you're cooking for two). And if you want some added flavor, you can always use a bit of the "Beef" flavor packet in your Ramen package in the ground beef, but a little goes a long way.

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