Healthy Asian Ramen Salad
If you visit the Midwest, I challenge you to find a single potluck, family reunion, church picnic, or holiday meal that’s doesn’t involve some version of today’s Asian Ramen Salad. It is ubiquitous. It is my childhood. It is perhaps the best, most addictive salad ever created.
How do I explain this salad to those of you who didn’t grow up in the Midwest and therefore have no idea why anyone with the faintest trace of culinary intelligence would crumble a ramen noodle packet (yes, I’m talking about the ones that helped you survived college) over a bag of coleslaw on purpose? How can I articulate why canned mandarin oranges are mandatory? The reason that, before the German potato salad and the gooey green bean casserole and Aunt Bettie’s banana cream pie, THIS mess of a dish will be the one inhaled by the hungry hoards?
Honestly, I’m not entirely sure. All I know is that, as soon as I spy the Asian Ramen Salad on the buffet line, I barrel down upon it with the enthusiasm of an African lioness descending upon a wildebeest. This is the moment: seize it before it’s gone (and before Uncle Frank cuts in front of you).
Like many traditional Midwestern “salads”—the fluff salad, the strawberry pretzel salad, the macaroni salad, the Jell-O salad in its endless iterations—the classic recipe for Asian Ramen Salad isn’t so much a pile of greens as a collection of less-than-virtuous ingredients. The version in my St. Agnes Parish cookbook calls for a waterfall of vegetable oil, three packets of ramen noodles, and the mysterious seasoning packets that come with the ramen noodles. I won’t lie—the original version is pretty darn addictive—but I wanted to see if I could come up with a healthy adaptation using real ingredients that would be as irresistible as the original Church lady version.
The final report: GLOWING. Today’s healthy Asian Ramen Salad is just as obsessively good as the original but better for you. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if the lionless ditched the wildebeest and went after this instead.
To make a healthier version of Asian Ramen Salad, I supplemented the coleslaw mix with edamame, green onions, and extra shredded carrots. The mandarin oranges I felt needed to stay for the nostalgia-factor, but feel free to swap fresh orange slices for the canned if you prefer.
For the max “health” factor, I thought about dropping the ramen noodles all together but…it just felt wrong. I still wanted the addictive Asian Ramen Salad flavor and crunch that I adore and, no surprise, ramen noodles are an essential component. Instead, I cut the usual amount in half, then toasted it in the oven with an equal amount of almonds and sesame seeds. The toasting is an extra step, but an easy one, and completely worth the deeper flavor and texture it provides.
The final step is to stir together a simple dressing. The classic Asian Ramen Salad dressing recipe is a heavy mix of vegetable oil and sugar. I updated it to a lighter blend of olive oil and honey, along with a bit of soy sauce and rice vinegar for bite. It’s sweet, tangy, and satisfying.
Asian Ramen Salad can last up to three days in the refrigerator and tastes great at room temperature too, making it the ideal make-ahead party or potluck dish. Looking for an easy crowd pleaser for Memorial Day? You’ve found it right here.
Just promise me that if a lioness asks to cut in front of you in the buffet line, you’ll let her. Sorry Uncle Frank—you still need to wait your turn.
Healthy Asian Ramen Salad
A healthy version of the classic crunchy Asian Ramen Salad that everyone loves, made with real ingredients.
Yield: Serves 6
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 15 minutes
For the Salad
- 1, 3-ounce package of ramen noodles
- 2/3 cup sliced almonds
- 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
- 1, 16-ounce bag coleslaw mix
- 1 1/2 cups shelled frozen edamame, thawed
- 1 cup shredded carrots
- 4 scallions, thinly sliced (both white and green parts)
- 1/2 cup canned mandarin orange segments in light syrup, rinsed and drained
For the Dressing
- 1/4 cup rice vinegar
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons honey (substitute agave if vegan)
- 1 tablespoon low sodium soy sauce
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- Place a rack in the center of your oven and preheat to 425 degrees F. Crumble the ramen noodles onto a baking sheet, then spread them in a single layer, along with the almonds. Bake for 5 minutes, remove from the oven, add the sesame seeds and toss, then bake for 1 to 3 additional minutes until fragrant and golden. Watch closely so that the mixture does not burn. Set aside.
- In a small bowl, briskly stir together all of the dressing ingredients: rice vinegar, olive oil soy sauce, salt, and pepper. (Alternatively, you can shake them together in a mason jar with a tight-fitting lid.)
- In a serving bowl, toss together the coleslaw, edamame, scallions, and toasted ramen and almonds, drizzle the dressing over the top, then toss again to combine. Sprinkle the oranges over the top, then refrigerate until ready to serve.
Leftover Asian Ramen Salad will last in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
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