If you visit the Midwest, I challenge you to find a single potluck, family reunion, church picnic, or holiday meal that doesn’t involve some version of today’s crunchy Asian Ramen Salad. It is ubiquitous. It is my childhood. It is perhaps the best, most-addictive side dish ever created.
How do I explain this oriental ramen noodle salad to those of you who didn’t grow up in the Midwest?
If you’ve never eaten crunchy ramen salad, my hunch is that you might be skeptical of crumbling an uncooked ramen noodle packet (yes, I do mean the same ramen noodle packet that helped you survive college) over a bowl of bagged cabbage coleslaw.
You might not believe me when I tell you that canned mandarin oranges are mandatory.
Make ramen salad for your next potluck and you’ll see I speak truth.
I can’t specifically pinpoint the one single item that makes this salad so enduringly popular and outrageously addictive.
I suspect it lies somewhere between the crispness of the coleslaw, the toastiness of the almonds, the sweetness of the dressing, and the fact that crumbling uncooked ramen noodles over a dish and then declaring it a salad feels like a bit of a win.
I do know that as soon as I spy the Asian ramen salad (or this Asian Cabbage Salad) on the buffet line, I barrel down upon it. This is the moment: seize it before it’s gone.
Asian Ramen Salad—Lightening Up a Classic
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 childhood 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 decided to see if I could come up with a healthy adaptation of cabbage ramen salad using real ingredients that would be as irresistible as the original church-lady version.
The final report: GLOWING. Today’s healthy salad is just as obsessively good as the original but better for you. It contains:
- Coleslaw Mix. You can also shred your own cabbage or use broccoli slaw to make a broccoli ramen salad.
- Shredded Carrots. To boost the vegetable content.
- Edamame. Not at all traditional but perfect in every way here. They make the salad buttery and more satisfying.
- Green Onions. For a bit of zip.
- Mandarin Oranges. For the nostalgia factor and sweetness, I couldn’t part with them in this recipe. Be sure to drain away the syrup first.
This healthy ramen salad also contains its namesake:
- Ramen Noodles.
For the max “health” factor, I considered dropping the ramen noodles all together but…it just felt wrong. I still wanted the addictive Asian salad flavor and crunch that I adore, and no surprise, ramen noodles are an essential component.
Instead, I cut the recipe down to just one packet, then toasted it in the oven with an equal amount of two more bonus ingredients: almonds and sesame seeds.
The toasting is an extra step but an easy one, and it’s completely worth the deeper flavor and texture it provides.
A Quick Ramen Dressing
The other big opportunity to slim down this crunch ramen salad was the dressing.
- Instead of canola oil, granulated sugar, and the ramen seasoning packets, I used a moderate amount of heart-healthy olive oil, rice vinegar, soy sauce, and honey.
The revamped dressing is addictively sweet and salty, well balanced, and loads better for you than the original.
Make This Ramen Salad Ahead
Another reason ramen salad is a long-standing potluck side is that it can be made in advance.
- Fully assembled, this recipe can be made 3 hours in advance. In fact, I think it tastes better once the flavors have had a chance to marry.
- If you wait to add the ramen noodles, nuts, and sesame seeds, you can make it 1 full day in advance. (The ramen noodles soften as the salad sits, so add them last.)
- Enjoy leftovers for up to 3 days.
- Cabbage ramen salad tastes fabulous cold or at room temperature, so you can let it hang out at the potluck without having to rush it back into the fridge to keep it chilly.
Looking for an easy crowd pleaser for your next potluck, a stellar summer side, or a taste of the Midwest? You’ve found it right here.
For the Salad:
- 1 package ramen noodles (3 ounces)
- 2/3 cup sliced almonds
- 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
- 1 bag coleslaw mix (16 ounces)
- 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 the oven to 425 degrees F. Crumble the ramen noodles onto a baking sheet and 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, honey, 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, carrots, 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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