I never did the typical college thing — while my friends went off to live in dorms their freshman year, I hit the mean streets of Craigslist to find off-campus roommates.
From the outside looking in, my friends had it made with their meal plans and busy social lives. I had to fend for myself when it came to food. The plus side was it ignited my love of cooking and playing with recipes, although I was far from the food-obsessed gastronaut I am today.
Like most busy-yet-lazy college kids, my personal cooking plan consisted of burritos, grilled cheese, plain spaghetti with butter and that staple of college life everywhere, ramen noodles.
Simple to make, inexpensive and readily available, it’s no wonder that humble little packet with its too-salty seasoning is a go-to meal for college-era cooking. But you, fine student, deserve more than a bowl of salty water and limp noodles. There’s more to ramen packets than meets the eye, and a little creativity will unlock its infinite potential to transform: ramen burgers, ramen salad and cold, spicy sesame noodles, to name a few.
But why stop at ramen? Aisles and aisles in the grocery store are dedicated to quick-and-easy meals targeting unimaginative, left-to-their-own- devices college kids with teensy kitchens. Items like Spam, that gelatinous meatstuff, or Tater Tots, God’s gift to snacking.
Is it possible to fashion creative meals out of these quotidian ingredients?
The answer, my college-bound friends, is a resounding “yes.”
A recurring theme in many college diets? Not enough vegetables. Well, this ramen salad will help you with that. Broken up and toasted with almonds, ramen acts as a delicious crouton in this dish, which comes together in no time. If you can open a bag of slaw from the grocery aisle (I prefer broccoli slaw), you can make this salad. Slice up an orange, and will ya look at that, you’re fighting off scurvy too.
- 1 (3-ounce) packet dry ramen noodles, crumbled in bite-size chunks
- 1/4 cup sliced almonds
- 1 (14-16 ounce) package slaw mix
- 1 cup regular or golden raisins
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons rice vinegar
- 1 garlic clove, finely grated
- 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
- Salt pepper, to taste
In a dry, nonstick pan, toast ramen noodles over medium-low heat, 4 to 5 minutes. Add almonds; toast until fragrant, another 2-3 minutes.
In a large bowl, whisk together dressing ingredients. Add slaw mix; toss until well coated. Add ramen, almonds and raisins. Serves 2.
Approximate nutritional analysis, per serving: 806 calories, 42 g fat, 8 g saturated fat, no cholesterol, 106 g carbohydrates, 57 g sugar, 12 g protein, 1,415 mg sodium, 11 g fiber
If you spend any time on Pinterest, you’re probably familiar with totchos — Tater Tot nachos. Think of this as a classy version. Inspired by Spanish patatas bravas, fried potatoes smothered in an earthy, spicy paprika sauce, this recipe also incorporates crumbly Mexican chorizo for added texture and kick. Rather than go through the trouble of potatoes (which can get messy), frozen tots get the job done.
- 1 (16-ounce) bag frozen Tater Tots
- Salt, to taste
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 small yellow onion, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 8 ounces Mexican chorizo
- 1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce
- 1 tablespoon smoked Spanish paprika
- 1 tablespoon favorite hot sauce (even fast-food packets, if you’ve got ’em)
- Optional toppings: Mayonnaise or sour cream and chopped parsley
Heat oven to 425 degrees. Arrange frozen tots on rimmed baking sheet in even layer; bake until crisp, 20-25 minutes. (If you want to go crispier — who doesn’t? — add 5 minutes.) Remove from oven; season with a pinch of salt.
Meanwhile, make sauce: Heat olive oil in saucepan over medium- high. Add onion and garlic; cook a few minutes. Add chorizo; cook, stirring occasionally and breaking it up, until cooked through.
Add tomato sauce, paprika and hot sauce, stirring to combine. Simmer a few more minutes; remove from heat. Taste sauce; season with salt, if needed.
Drizzle hot tots with sauce. Top with dollops of mayo or sour cream and parsley, if using. Serves 4.
Approximate nutritional analysis, per serving: 636 calories, 44 g fat, 12 g saturated fat, 52 mg cholesterol, 43 g carbohydrates, 5 g sugar, 18 g protein, 2,002 mg sodium, 5 g fiber
Spam, besides being unnaturally geometric, is surprisingly versatile — its salt content is seasoning enough. Here, the addition of maple syrup balances out the salt. Use this maple-caramelized Spam in fried rice, on its own or in your own creations
- 1 tablespoon cooking oil
- 1 (12-ounce) can Spam, sliced about 1/2-inch thick
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup
In a nonstick skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium. Add Spam slices; cook, turning once until browned, 2-3 minutes per side. (Don’t crowd the pan. You may have to do this in batches.) When Spam is browned, top each slice with a drizzle of maple syrup, flipping in pan until each slice is coated thoroughly. Continue cooking until syrup caramelizes, another 2 to 3 minutes.
Remove Spam from pan to rest. Wipe out excess oil and sugar to ready pan for further use. When cool, roughly chop Spam into cubes, using half in the recipe at right and reserving the rest for another meal. Serves 5.
Spam and Kim Chee Fried Rice
Kim chee brings heat and crunch to the salty-sweet maple-caramelized Spam. Use leftover rice from Chinese takeout, and you have a meal that costs less than $10.
- 1 tablespoon oil
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1-1/2 cups kim chee, reserving 1 tablespoon liquid
- Half the maple-caramelized Spam from recipe at left (6 ounces)
- 2 cups cooked day-old leftover rice
- 1/4 cup chopped red bell pepper
- 1/4 cup green onions, thinly sliced
- 4 to 6 oil-fried eggs (optional)
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon hot chili sauce, such as Sriracha
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil (optional)
- 1 teaspoon kochujang (Korean red chili paste)
To make sauce: Combine ingredients in small bowl. Set aside.
Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat until it shimmers. Add onion and garlic; cook until aromatic, 3-5 minutes. Add kim chee, stirring until heated through, 2 to 3 minutes. Incorporate diced Spam to just heat through. Using a slotted spoon, transfer mixture to a bowl, leaving liquids behind. Don’t wipe out pan.
Break up rice with either spatula or your hands; add to skillet. Turn heat to high. Cook rice, stirring, until cooking liquids are absorbed, a few minutes.
Make a well in center of rice; add bell pepper and half the green onions to the well. Cook vegetables within the well until aromatic. Mix in reserved sauce, Spam-kimchee mixture and reserved tablespoon kimchee liquid, stirring everything into rice. Cook until all the liquid is evaporated.
To serve, top each serving with a fried egg and more Sriracha. Garnish with remaining green onions.
Approximate nutritional information, per serving (for 6 servings): 210 calories, 12 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 20 mg cholesterol, 20 g carbohydrates, 3 g sugar, 6 g protein, 741 mg sodium, 1 g fiber