By Sarah McColl
The words “instant noodles” conjure up memories—salty broth steaming over a styrofoam bowl, late nights studying for finals in dorm rooms, cheap meals slurped in front of the TV in our first shabby apartments post-college. What they usually don’t make us think of—healthy eating.
All that is about to change. With better-for-you noodles now available and a few creative ideas, you can enjoy quick, convenient and cheap meals just like the old days, and still feel like the grown-up champ you are now.
UPGRADE YOUR NOODLES
Trade the highly processed noodles for modern fast-cooking versions made with ingredients that love you back:
Lotus Foods offers a variety made from both brown and antioxidant-rich black rice. If you prefer wheat noodles, GreeNoodle boosts theirs with fiber-rich moroheiya, an ancient super-vegetable with five times more calcium than spinach and more beta carotene than carrots. Slurp up these noodles as they come, with their flavor packets, or make them more of a balanced meal by steaming vegetables while the noodles cook, and gussying up the bowl with a squirt of Sriracha, fresh lime, and a drizzle of toasted sesame oil.
Chef Ernie Bradley of Kimura Ramen Bar in San Antonio, Texas, also recommends shirataki noodles, made from a tuber similar to yams: “They have a great texture, but they’re low-carb, gluten-free and veggie-based.”
MAKE A DECADENT BOWL OF SOUP
You can also skip the spice packet and whip up a quick vegetables-based broth, Bradley suggests. Saute onions and cabbage and add a spoonful of awase miso, an all-purpose blend of shiro and aka miso. “It’s incredibly healthy,” he says. Since it’s fermented, miso boasts gut-health benefits. Once you add the miso, just don’t boil it—that would kill the live, active cultures that offer a probiotic boon. As the noodles cook, chop up and add whatever vegetables you have on hand: scallions, kale, broccoli, baby bok choy, mushrooms. Want a protein kick? Poach an egg in the broth.
TRANSFORM THEM INTO SPRING ROLLS
Think outside the bowl, and turn your noodles into fresh spring rolls. Combine cooked noodles with cooked, shredded chicken and crisp vegetables like sliced radishes, julienned cucumbers and carrots and shaved asparagus. Wrap in a collard or lettuce leaf and enjoy. Feeling fancy? Make a quick dipping sauce with tamari, chopped fresh ginger, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil and Sriracha.
GO NUTS OVER ALMOND NOODLES
It’s easy to make a noodle bowl in just minutes: Steam green vegetables along with the noodles while they cook. Meanwhile, saute minced garlic and ginger in a bit of oil. Add a big spoonful each of almond butter and soy sauce and a glug of coconut milk. Sprinkle in cumin and crushed red pepper. Toss the cooked noodles and vegetables in the almond butter sauce, drizzle with a little toasted sesame oil and sprinkle with black sesame seeds and sunflower or bean sprouts, if you have them.
SLICE UP SOME RAMEN SLAW
Be the star of the BBQ with this dish: Toss bagged coleslaw mix with crushed raw ramen (we like the GreeNoodles here), chopped cashews or almonds and sunflower seeds. Add thawed edamame, extra shredded carrots, julienned raw green beans, fresh cilantro and/or radishes. Whisk a quick dressing of apple cider vinegar, honey, and sesame oil, drizzle over the slaw, and toss well. Fold in some Sriracha if you like a little heat.
BIO: Sarah McColl was founding editor in chief of Yahoo Food. Her food writing has been featured in print and online for Bon Appétit, House Beautiful, Modern Farmer, Extra Crispy and others.
Also published on Medium.