There are certain foods that are synonymous with budget living, noodles being one of them. Whether you’re slurping down instant ramen or living off pasta with butter, chances are, you have some sort of noodle hanging out in your pantry.
While dishes such as the aforementioned ones are yummy in their own right, they aren’t exactly the most nutritious. Granted, it’s a challenge to follow a balanced diet or get fancy with your meal when you’re on a strict budget, but with some ingenuity, it’s possible to transform your noodles into meals that are packed with flavor and have way more nutrition than whatever the hell is in that seasoning packet.
There is something kind of magical about that little instant noodle cup. Just add water, and suddenly, dried, plastic food-like objects become actual food! I ate plenty of these super salty cups of soup in my past, but there is a better way that will actually help you make good use of frozen veggies and leftovers. Serious Eats has demystified the art of the noodle cup with this brilliant tutorial on how to assemble your own portable cups of instant noodles for quick, yummy lunches on the go. The tutorial includes recipes to get you started, but this is a very adaptable dish. Use that chicken from last night’s dinner to make a spectacular lunch. Got a handful of frozen peas? Throw those in, too! There’s a lot of wiggle room here, but following the method set forward in the tutorial will help you figure out how to layer your ingredients for maximum portability and tastiness. I got creative, using elements from the DIY Chicken and Dill Instant Noodles and DIY Spicy Kimchi Beef Instant Noodles recipes for my noodle pots. I also used Italian pasta, in this case, thin spaghetti, cooking it according to the tutorial’s directions, and it worked well. Shiitake mushrooms are fantastic here — I suspect that a vegetarian version of this would benefit greatly from their meaty, slightly funky flavor — and the peas were a great complement to the chicken. Also, try the Better than Bouillon concentrate that Serious Eats recommends if you can afford it. At a little more than five dollars at my local grocery store, it was a bit over my typical budget, but it really did make the broth incredibly flavorful. A squirt of Sriracha sauce added a nice bit of heat. All in all, this dish takes only a couple of bucks to make, if that, and it is way better than your typical cup of soup. Once you eat this DIY marvel, you will never want those sad noodle cups again.
We’ve all heard of eggplant carbonara, and maybe you’ve slurped down an egg in a bowl of ramen at a noodle shop, but have you ever just plunked a fried egg on a luscious bed of pasta? Well, you should. Buttered noodles or pasta dressed in olive oil are great and all, but take the time to add a little bit of protein and texture, and you have a tasty, filling meal that could even be eaten at breakfast. America’s Test Kitchen has whipped up this easy, budget-friendly recipe for Spaghetti with Fried Eggs and Bread Crumbs and shared it with Yahoo! Food. The bread crumbs add a nice crunch and extra flavor, while the silky yolk coated the pasta beautifully. This was a simple meal that felt downright indulgent.
I’m also sure if you’re living on a budget, bricks of ramen noodles have made their way into your pantry. Not exactly nutritious, but even this humble noodle can be taken up a few notches. Instead of using the seasoning packet, give this Spicy Sriracha Ramen Noodles recipe from Baker By Nature a whirl. The broth is similar in flavor to the noodle pot above, but the tomato gives the broth a bit of body, while the sesame oil gives the dish depth. You can top it with an egg, as the recipe suggests, but it also takes well to add-ins like roast chicken.
Don’t be afraid to experiment! Noodles are an exceptional base for all sorts of accompaniments. Slurping up a big tangle of noodles is so comforting, and in hard times, it’s nice to indulge without blowing your budget.