Instant noodles fuel America. In 2019, Americans consumed around four and a half billion servings of instant noodles, which works out to about one serving per person per month. This number is probably appreciably higher among college students and parents of small children. But ramen is more than just a cheap meal. Nissin’s Top Ramen and Maruchan brands are cultural icons, as are the signature curly crisp-fried noodles. Dried ramen noodles are seasoned and sold as snack food, but I’ve also seen them in cookies and ice cream. And for a time they were a ubiquitous fixture at potlucks, served as croutons in a so-called Ramen Salad.
This particular recipe for Ramen Salad comes to me by way of the Hobart (Indiana) Jaycees’ 2009 Community Cookbook. I’m not usually in the market for cookbooks of such recent vintage, but this one came as a “freebie” in a batch of Indiana cookbooks I ordered off of the internet. The recipes in here probably aren’t of general interest to the “vintage” cookbook collector, but they’re of personal interest to me. For me 2009 was a peak child-raising year, with the oldest out of grade school and the youngest starting to become somewhat independent. This might have been the first time in a dozen years that I was able to sleep in on weekends consistently. And it was a time when church potlucks and kid-friendly dinner parties were an important social outlet. Perhaps our only social outlet. And Ramen Salad figures prominently in those memories, although always as something that other people made. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I made it myself.
Preparation is pretty straightforward: crumble up the ramen noodles and toss them with coleslaw mix and green onions. Whisk up a simple vinaigrette seasoned with the flavoring packet. Dress the salad and refrigerate it overnight: the noodles will still be crisp for the potluck the next day. And you build a little bit of social capital for using such a quirky ingredient (“Oh, are those ramen noodles? How clever!) I’ve made a few adjustments to the original, such as swapping out honey-roasted sunflower seeds with slivered almonds and backing off a little on the sugar. This keeps the sweetness in check, but also saves you the trouble of having to track down honey-roasted sunflower seeds which, as best as I can tell, are primarily sold at gas stations. I also julienned a few of the green onions and blanched them in ice water which gets them crispy and makes them curl up a little. This helps both texture and presentation.
If you don’t have potluck plans in your future Ramen Salad works well as a weeknight salad, too. I served this as a side for a Hawaiian-style Spam, eggs, and rice dish, which made a nice sweet complement to the salty Spam. Beyond that you may serve it pretty much anywhere you’d serve coleslaw. It might be a little weird on top of a pulled pork sandwich, but as a simple side for hamburgers, hot dogs, fried chicken, etc. you could do a lot worse. It’s not going to win you a Michelin star or anything, but it’s perfect picnic food. Enjoy!
For the salad:
- 1 14 oz bag shredded cabbage
- ½ cup slivered almonds
- 2 bags chicken ramen (such as Nissin or Maruchan brand)
- 1 bunch green onions
For the dressing:
- Pour cabbage and almonds into a large bowl. Crumble ramen into small, crouton-sized pieces and pour on top of the cabbage.
- Trim the green onions and cut a two inch piece of the green off the top of each onion and seal in a plastic bag until ready to serve. Slice the remaining onions into thin rings and add to the cabbage mixture.
- Whisk together the remaining ingredients. Pour over the top of the salad and toss well. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
- About ten minutes before serving, remove the reserved green onion tips and julienne. Submerge in ice water (about half ice/half water) for 10 minutes, then shake dry and let sit on a paper towel until they become crispy and curly. Serve on top of the salad, and dress with additional almonds if desired. If serving with Asian cuisine (or even Asian-inspired) top with furikake.