Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Healthy Ramen: Not An Oxymoron and Not Just For College Students

We've all done it.

We've all had a time in our lives when we lived on ramen noodles.

We knew it wasn't healthy, but it was CHEAP, quick and filling.

Well, it's time to break out the ramen you have hiding in your cabinets for a healthy new twist on an old standby.

In case you haven't surmised, I enjoy taking ordinary dishes and making them healthier. I also enjoy doing this with a budget in mind and in ways that just about anyone could mimic using what they like or have on hand.

Taking ordinary ramen and making it into a healthy meal is a prime example of this concept.

All you have to do is make the ramen on the stove top like you normally would, but add some "stuff" to the pot to add vitamins, minerals and protein and to stretch out the calories. True, it will still have a lot of sodium and it IS processed. But not every meal can be perfect and I think this is a great option for a quick meal every now and then.

When I make my healthy ramen, I put the water, seasoning and noodles into a pot on the stove top. Before bringing it to a boil I also add such things as (but not all at the same time):
  • carrot matchsticks
  • baby spinach
  • bean sprouts
  • shredded cabbage
  • sliced pepper
  • snow peas
  • etc
My favorite veggies to add are those that taste good lightly cooked and that have a little crunch. In this dish I prefer the first three on the list, but I have used the others, and probably other veggies I can't think of right now. Last night I also added a few leftover shrimp from my summer rolls.

You could also add fresh, sliced chicken breast to the pot. Make sure to cut it into small pieces so that it cooks quickly. And make sure it is fully cooked before you eat the soup.

Once the soup is boiling, I reduce it to a simmer and crack an egg into the soup. If you do it very gently, it will cook relatively whole. This adds just a bit of creaminess to the soup and some protein. You can eat the whole egg, or do what I do and just eat the white. Or you can leave the egg out.

I allow the soup to simmer until the egg, chicken, etc are cooked through. Don't allow to simmer for toooooo long or the noodles get a little soggy.

By adding the extra stuff, it makes an ordinary packet of ramen enough for a meal for two people (or one really hungry person.) If you want more, you can just add enough water and an extra packet of ramen to the pot.

Go ahead, you know you want to try this.

Ignore the stigma and give an old favorite a healthy makeover.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Summer (roll) Lovin, Had Me A Blast

I've said it once, I'll say it again. I love Vietnamese food!

It's generally light and healthy and full of fresh ingredients. And it's super tasty!

Taking a few cues from this cuisine can help you lighten up (and add some flare) to your meals.

For example you can:
  • Add fresh herbs to your dishes. Cilantro is great, but it isn't for everyone. Do you or someone you know violently hate cilantro? It might be a genetic preference, so don't force it. But if you do like it, it can add a lot of flavor without calories. Also try mint or basil...or all three at once!
  • Try rice paper or rice vermicelli. They can add structure to your dish without many calories.
  • Cook with ginger. You don't need much. And it's super cheap to get a small piece at the store. Just peel it, chop it up and cook it along with your dish.
  • Use lime for flavor. Squeeze it over your salad, into your water, or onto your dish.
  • Add more veggies! Toss shredded carrots, bean sprouts, chopped greens, etc in to add bulk and reduce the calories per serving.
  • Make meat an accent, not the main star.
One of my favorite things to eat (and now make myself) are vietnamese summer rolls. These are not to be confused with spring rolls or egg rolls. Summer rolls are made with rice paper and are NOT fried. They are also served room temp or chilled. They are easy and fun to make and low in calories.

Need to eat more salad but bored with the same old iceberg/ranch concoction? Or afraid to make salad a meal? Then try summer rolls!

You can use whatever you want in them. You have creative control. But here is how I recently made them:

You will need:
  • Rice paper rounds: many regular stores have these in the international area. Otherwise you can get tons super cheap at an Asian supermarket.
  • Fresh herbs: cilantro, basil, mint or any combo of these. I have just been using cilantro.
  • Fresh veggies: I like shredded carrot, chopped romaine, sprouts, cucumber sticks, red pepper sticks or some combo of these. You don't have to have a huge variety. Use what you like or have on hand. I prefer things with a bit of a crunch.
  • Shrimp (or not): If can leave these out. But they add protein and flavor. I purchased unpeeled shrimp, boiled them with the shell on, then soaked them briefly in ice water before peeling and slicing them in half. I use about 2 shrimp per roll. If I make more than I need I put them in the fridge for another day. You can also use another meat that is cooked already and can be eaten chilled.
  • Dipping sauce: Don't go crazy here and add in too many calories with a heavy dip. Soy sauce is nice. Or a sweet chili dipping sauce is fun. My favorite right now is TJ's gyoza dipping sauce. It only has 30 calories for 2 Tablespoons. It's salty and a little sweet and goes well with the rolls.
To assemble:
  1. Cook, chill and slice your shrimp.
  2. Chop your veggies. I like chopping the lettuce small. And I like cutting the pepper, cucumber and carrots into matchsticks.
  3. Chop your herbs.
  4. Set everything out buffet style so it's easy to reach.
  5. Clear off a cutting board or smooth surface for rolling the rolls.
  6. Fill a large bowl (I actually use a stock pot) with a little cool water.
  7. Place one wrapper in the water and allow it to soak. You will know it's ready when it's very flimsy. Some wrappers even have designs on them that go away when they are ready. But don't get scared. Even if it's not fully ready, it'll work.
  8. Place the wrapper on the board. Put the next wrapper into the water to be soaking while you are working with the first.
  9. Fill it with your veggies, herbs and shrimp. Don't add too much or it won't wrap up.
  10. Roll it up like a burrito. It make not stick together well at this point, but it will. Just carefully wrap it up so nothing is going to fall out.
  11. Set it aside on a plate. I find these do better if you let them set a bit before you eat them. It allows the flavors to meld and the wrapper to stick together a bit better.
  12. Once you have made all you want to make, put together your sauce and eat them!
I typically eat 3-4 of these as part of a meal. They are very light calorically but packed with nutritiousness. ;)

Give summer rolls a try. They are fun, tasty and healthy. And they are a great choice for an appetizer or social gathering.