Ramen Meals for under $5

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Ramen got me through a lot of meals when I was a teenager. A lot of people fondly remember ramen from their college years. Mostly, though, they only remember the little dried packets of overly salted noodles and nothing else. Those who have had the pleasure of eating real ramen from an Asian Restaurant know that there’s a lot more to this dish than dried noodles and a pouch of spices. Traditional Ramen soup is generally made from stock combined with a variety of ingredients such as kombu (kelp), katsuobushi (skipjack tuna flakes), niboshi (dried baby sardines), shiitake, noodles, and onions. Often there are sprouts added, or pieces of pork and even soft boiled eggs. It is very yummy, however, we’re talking budget meals. Therefore, I want to focus more on the budgetary go-to for folks in the U.S. 

Using the plain old dried ramen packets with just noodles and a packet of seasoning, you can make meals for less than $5. Think about it, each packet costs at most 35¢ and you can make 2 servings from each packet. The only big cost will be what ingredients you decide to toss in. Usually, my favorite method of making these cheap meals is to saute a bunch of left-over veggies, onions, and mushrooms (or whatever you have on hand that needs to be used) in butter. Then add the noodles, some veggie broth or just water, and half of the packet of seasoning. I can adjust the seasoning beyond that as needed. I also like less soup and more goodies in my own version. Remember that, so long as you get those noodles al-dente, anything goes!  

Below are the best recipes I have found over the years and a couple from more recent research that I plan on trying as soon as I can find more ramen noodles!  Enjoy! 

French Onion Soup

A new one for me, I kind of can’t wait to try it myself. Unfortunately, the store was sold out of the packets by the time we got there yesterday. It’s been a wild month, hasn’t it? Anyway, here goes the gist of the recipe. I am using one packet of ramen per recipe. 

You place butter in a pan and allow it to melt. While that happens, slice up a full medium onion or half of a large onion for each packet of ramen you plan to use. This recipe is such that you cannot substitute the real thing. Add the sliced up onion to the melted, hot butter. Then, add in the spice packet. I usually only use half of it for most recipes, but it’s up to you. It’s your soup! You’re going to let that all saute until the onions are all caramelized and brown. That’s very important. Brown, not black… no burning, please! 

Once it’s to that point, add in about 1 quart (almost a liter) of your broth of choice or water. If you used the entire packet that came with your ramen, I think it might be best to just use water. Mix it up good and let that cook down a bit. Remember to taste it with a clean spoon and add whatever it lacks. It may need some salt (seriously?) and black pepper. Don’t do much more than that or it won’t taste as good as French Onion Soup should taste. 

Now it’s time for adding the noodles. Cover the pot and let it steam and reduce. After a minute, open it up to turn and move the noodles around. Cover it again. Repeat this until the noodles are al-dente and it should be ready. 

Take the noodles and put them into two oven safe bowls which should already be on a cookie sheet. Place the onions/broth over top of them equally. Then, whatever cheese you happen to have available, place on top of the steamy dishes. Once the dishes are topped in cheese, put them into the oven to broil for just a few minutes. You want the cheese to be toasty. 

Once the cheese is toasted brown in places, take those out of your oven and they are ready to serve! Just be careful of the bowls, they will be hot. 

Vegetable Soup

My casual favorite! It’s great for clearing out leftovers or forgotten vegetables that made a trip to Narnia via your deep freeze. My recipe is pretty straight forward. 

I take whatever veggies I have on hand and make sure they are out of their can – thawed – chopped – sliced – whatever needs to happen to get them ready for cooking. I chop ¼ of an onion for each packet of ramen I’ll be using as well. If I’m using fresh mushrooms I will mix those with the onion and begin sauteing them. I want the onions translucent, then add the veggies. I want the onions to the point of caramelization, but not overly caramelized like we did for the French Onion Soup. The goal is to have 1 cup of this mixture for each ramen packet you’ll be using. 

At this point, add the ramen noodles along with nearly 3/4 quart (almost 1/2 liter) of water to the pan. Make sure and scrape the bottom for good flavoring before adding the packet. As I’ve said before, I usually only use half the packet. Then I add in other spices that I like for making my tastebuds happy. With this recipe, I’ll usually add thyme, rosemary, and oregano plus salt and pepper. 

Cover this and let it cook, the spices will get stronger and the noodles will soak it up. Stir as the noodles separate and soon it should be al-dente and the dish ready for placing in two bowls and ready to eat by whomever wants some. I’ve also found that adding just a teaspoon of mayo or veganaise to a bowl of this soup can take it over the moon, but that’s up to personal preference. 

Cacio e Pepe

As I like to call it, Italian Butter Noodles. The other name literally means “cheese and pepper” in several Italian dialects. This is a very simple dish made even more simple by using ramen noodles instead of spaghetti noodles. The basic ingredients are noodles, black pepper, grated romano or parmesan cheese – but I will add some butter. 

You start with a pot to bring a quart of water to a boil. Then you add the ramen noodles. While that’s getting to it, you have another pan next to it and you add about 3 pats of butter to that for melting. 

Once your ramen is softening, you’ll see that the water is also becoming cloudy with the starch from the noodles. That’s what you’re waiting on. You’re going to pour about ¼ cup of that water directly into the butter pan. Be careful not to splash it everywhere! The starch worked with the butter to make a creamy sauce. Once it has emulsified into a sauce, add over your ramen noodles into this pan from the pot. Let it mix up well and then you can either add in your flavoring packet (I only use half of mine) OR you can just add salt and pepper to make your taste buds happy. You want a lot of pepper, because that’s supposed to be the dominant flavor of this dish (refer to the name). 

Most of us have some sort of Parmesan cheese in the fridge. I mean, that stuff lasts forever, am I right? Whichever brand you want can be used, and even the vegan kind should work decently, though don’t expect the sauce to be as creamy with that stuff.  Take a handful of that and mix it into the noodles. Incorporate the cheese and the last step is separating this into two bowls, after all, it’s actually 2 servings worth. 

Serve this like you would any noodle dish, on a plate. Add more parmesan and black pepper to the top and it’s ready to serve. 

Ramen Stew

This one is a bit unorthodox, but wow does it taste good! 

Use whatever meat that matches your ramen flavoring or if you are vegan, you can always saute a vegan meat or tofu.  Be sure it’s sliced and sauteed and set aside. For the chicken version, I’ve used leftover pieces of rotisserie chicken from restaurants before or I just cook up two thighs and peel the meat into it. For beef, grab a small inexpensive steak and chop it up. For shrimp, half a bag of the salad shrimp from the frozen seafood section would work. It’s up to you. 

Heat some butter or oil over high heat. Add in two bricks of ramen (crushed) directly into the pan. Brown your ramen and then add just enough water to cover it.  Add in the protein of choice. Add in some parsley. Let that cook down while adding in your ramen seasoning (I will only use one packet, but you can use both if you want). Add your favorite hot sauce sprinkled all over it. Add in your choice of spinach or kale (frozen or fresh, doesn’t matter). I’ve often wondered about leftover collards, to be honest. It might be good, who knows? Once everything is incorporated well enough, lower the heat and you can optionally add cheese to the top. 

Ramen Salad

Ramen Salad can be made two different ways. I plan on sharing both here for you. 

Make a funky vinaigrette using about 2 teaspoons of mustard (spicy brown works well) and 1 tablespoon of Red Wine Vinegar. You would normally add other spices, chives, shallots, salt and pepper – but if you want, you can actually use the ramen noodle packet of seasonings here. You will whisk this together and then while whisking you can add the 2 tablespoons of oil to it. The goal is to get it all emulsified well. 

Dice and chunk up the ramen noodles – don’t cook them! You want them crunchy and bite-sized.Add them to the bowl with the dressing. 

Chop up what you want to use as your base, whether that’s kale or lettuce or cabbage – whatever you’ve got. Use maybe ¼ of a large head of lettuce or cabbage – an equivalent amount of kale since that’s usually bought by the bag in most stores and not by the head. Add that to the bowl. 

Chop a firm apple into bite-sized pieces. Add that to the bowl. Chop some onion and add it in. Grab some frozen veggies or whatever is on hand. If you place peas or beans in a bowl to thaw, that’s the easiest addition you can have one they’re drained. Use what you like, just add enough that the dressing can coat it all without losing too much strength.

I prefer the creamy version without the crunch. It’s more like a traditional pasta salad instead of using the ramen for a substitute for croutons. 

First thing – cook your ramen noodles. When they are al-dente, drain them and set them in a bowl in the fridge. 

While it’s cooling, mix some mayo or veganaise with some ranch seasoning to taste or use that handy-dandy seasoning packet and mix it with the mayo. This is your dressing. Tada! 

Grab a cup of whatever vegetables you want to use in it. I like those frozen bags of peas and carrots that are already chopped for soups? Or you could use the canned version. Either works. As soon as they are defrosted or drained – whichever the case may be, you add that to the ramen noodles along with the dressing. Mix it well and add some bacon or some bacon bits depending on whether you’re vegan/vegetarian or not.  Separate it into two servings and there ya go! 

Flavorizing Ramen

You don’t have to keep it standard. I’ve done the following simple additions to your standard cooked ramen and they all have their perks. Try what you want! 

Lemon juice, dill, and capers – drain all but a ¼ cup of the water off, add in the dill, lemon juice from half the lemon, and a teaspoon and a half of capers. Add a teaspoon of mayo or veganaise for a creamier sauce. Salt and pepper to taste. 

Lime, green onion, and sriracha sauce – Add half a lime’s worth of juice to your normal base ramen as it cooks. Chop the onion.  Bring out the ramen to a bowl, sprinkle the onion over it, squirt the sauce in lines over the noodles, and add a wedge of lime to the side. 

Change things up and add protein? As the ramen cooks, add in an egg and stir it into the ramen. If you want it to be more traditional, soft boil an egg. Bring enough water to cover an egg to a boil, add the egg, cover and let it boil for about 6 minutes. Take it out and place it immediately in an ice water bath. Peel it and cut it in half to place in your Ramen bowl. 

Instead of using the flavor packets, use soy sauce or liquid aminos. 

Slice carrots and zucchini thinly and after the ramen has half-cooked, add in the slices of vegetables. 

I also like to add in some seaweed snack sheets, or even sprinkle some over the noodles after crushing them in my hand. And don’t forget toasted sesame seeds if you have them! 

Ramen is versatile and cheap. You can make it a healthier dish by subtracting half of the seasoning and adding healthy additions to the meal. So, don’t overlook these things, especially if you’re on a budget. We typically use the Maruchan Ramen Noodle Soup for our main ramen ingredient.

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