Making a real ramen from scratch is best left to the experts. The soup stock is an art in itself. So for us ordinary folk, make ramen in your own home using packet ramen – but transform it by piling on stir fried vegetables cooked with a light sauce. It’ll make instant ramen unrecognisable!
I grew up being taught that instant meals were bad bad bad. The same applied to take out, frozen meals and canned meals. It wasn’t until I moved out of home and instant ramen became a regular in my midweek meal rotation that it dawned on me that my mum used to dish up ramen all the time – using instant ramen.
“That’s against her rules!”, I thought. “What a hypocrite!”
Night after night, I’d rip open a packet of ramen and boil it up in a saucepan, throwing in whatever scraps of vegetables I happened to have wilting in the fridge. As a poor uni student, I’d eat anything. But every time, I would think “Why is mum’s so much better?”
It wasn’t until many years later when I actually started earning enough to be able to afford decent ingredients and taking an interest in cooking that I asked my mother how she makes her ramen. “It’s all in the topping”, she said to me wisely. “Anyone can just boil vegetables in the ramen soup. But if you top it with vegetables stir fried in a sauce, it is much better.”
How true her words were. OK, so it’s a bit more effort than tossing everything into one saucepan. But the little bit of extra effort of stir frying the vegetables and making a sauce truly transforms a plain packet of instant ramen into a bowl of noodle goodness that you would never even associate with packet ramen.
As for mum being a hypocrite? I take that back. I don’t think this counts as an “instant” meal if you make the effort to add a stir fry topping! Plus, there are some things that are best left to the experts. Ramen is on that list – you either get it from a ramen shop, or you use instant. I once attempted to make ramen soup stock, from scratch. I researched for hours about techniques and the right stock bones to use, and I cooked it for hours. It was a dismal effort, nowhere near as tasty as even the average ramen shops in Tokyo, or even in Sydney.
Packet ramen soup stock is pretty darn good these days, if you ask me. Not like back when I was in school when all you could get was Maggi Noodles (which was actually yellow from the artificial chicken stock powder!) and Cup-a-Noodles. Most instant ramen soups have a decent depth of flavour and not just lots of salt. My tip is to get an Asian brand (you can usually tell from the packet – lots of Asian characters on it!). I am a creature of habit, and since I first discovered Shin Ramyun, I have remained loyal to it. This is a Korean brand of instant ramen. I’m of Japanese background and there are a lot of Japanese instant ramens on the market, but this is my ramen of choice because I love the intense spicy, strong flavoured soup.
You can use whatever vegetables you have to make this. I used carrots, mushrooms, bean sprouts and Chinese cabbage, because that’s what I happened to have. Just remember to cut them into bite size pieces that will cook in a wok, and to add them into the wok in order of how long they will take to cook, starting with the ingredients that take the longest first.
This is a great midweek meal to add to your rotation for those days when you just don’t have the energy to make a meal completely from scratch! You will have it on the table in 15 minutes, piping hot, ready to slurp down!
- 1 packet instant ramen (see notes)
- 1 cup Chinese cabbage (loosely packed), chopped into 2.5cm/1" pieces
- ½ carrot, sliced on the diagonal
- 3 mushrooms, sliced (I used shiitake)
- ¼ cup bean sprouts
- ½ shallot/scallion, finely sliced (for garnish)
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- ½ tbsp peanut oil
- ½ tsp corn flour / cornstarch
- 1½ tsp soy sauce
- 1½ tsp chinese cooking wine (see notes)
- ½ tsp sugar
- Dash of sesame oil (optional)
- 3 tbsp water
- Combine the sauce ingredients in a small bowl and mix well until there are no cornflour lumps.
- Bring water to boil and cook ramen per packet instructions, using the soup stock packet that comes with the ramen. (See Notes)
- Heat oil in wok (or fry pan) over high heat. Add garlic and stir fry for 20 seconds until fragrant - be careful not to burn it.
- Add carrots and mushrooms and stir fry for 30 seconds, then Chinese cabbage and stir fry for another 30 seconds.
- Add sauce and cook for 30 seconds until it becomes thick and glossy.
- Remove from heat, immediately add the bean sprouts and give a quick stir to coat the bean sprouts in the sauce and use the residual heat to slightly cook the bean sprouts.
- Place noodles and soup in bowl, top with vegetables and garnish with shallots. Serve immediately.
2. You can use whatever vegetables you want. Around 2½ cups, loosely packed, is a good quantity per packet of ramen and for the amount of sauce this recipe makes.
3. Chinese cooking wine can be substituted with sake or sherry. If you don't have it, leave it out and instead of using 3 tbsp of water, use 3 tbsp of vegetable or chicken stock and you'll still get a good flavour.
4. The sauce is not as salty as most stir fry sauces because the ramen soup stock has enough flavour so you only need a mild flavour for the topping.
5. I always reduce the cooking time of the noodles by a minute or two because the residual heat continues to cook it while it's in the bowl and I find if I boil it for the full prescribed time per the packet, by the time I eat it, the noodles are a bit overcooked.