Saturday, April 14, 2012

Cabbage-Ramen Salad Gets a Makeover - Plus a Link Party!

You're back!  Didn't you just love all the Salad Week salads from the girls?  I know; I can't decide which one I'm going to try first, either.
Now, I make it no secret that I like things in my salads that make them crunchy.  The greater the likelihood a topping is to retard a conversation because I'm only able to hear the crunching going on in my mouth, the better.  In fact, I would not be averse to putting sunflower seeds (my favorite salad topping, actually), croutons, toasted almonds, AND won ton strips on the same pile of lettuce and be perfectly happy with life.
So it's probably not a surprise that I am a Big Fan of the ubiquitous cabbage ramen salad.
If you have never come across this picnic favorite, take a minute and search for a recipe on the web.  I'll be here.
The salad has plenty of checks the in plus column going for it, including:
  • Lots of crunchy bits (first on every "plus" list for salads)
  • Ingredients are usually inexpensive and easily obtained
  • People feel good about themselves for eating cabbage
But the well-known "use a package of Top Ramen® chicken flavoring and crunch up the ramen noodles" part often concerns people.
First of all, what is in that chicken flavoring other than salt (we'll talk more about salt/sodium in a minute)?  This flavoring also means that anyone who is a vegetarian cannot and/or will not partake in it, and the mysteriousness of the other aspects of the ingredient list just makes me plain suspicious.
The ramen noodles in the college dorm staple area also are not the best option ever.  Most instant noodles (which is basically how Americans know ramen) are low in fiber and often fried before packaging, adding plenty of saturated fat to the mix, too.


So I have been thinking about how I could tweak and improve this salad for a good while.  It's one that The Husband and I can easily demolish between the two of us, even if we double the recipe and use an entire head of cabbage at a go.  But I don't want to sit there, crunching happily in silence, thinking erroneously that since we're eating a salad, we're automatically eating healthfully.
What, then, can be done to make this American favorite something that doesn't keep me up at night for the guilt?
  • Add variety to the greenery - while green cabbage, as a member of the cruciferous family, has plenty of nutrients, purple cabbage (I think it's technically called red, but in my mind it's purple) has more vitamins A and C in each bite than its pale counterpart.  Additionally, purple cabbage gets it flavor from a group of antioxidants called anthocyanins.  These bad boys are excellent for their cancer-fighting and memory-improving properties.  Plus, purple is really pretty.  Throwing in romaine or leaf lettuce (red or green) can add valuable Vitamin K as well.
  • Change up the noodles - finding a noodle that has more of the whole grain, whatever the particular grain you choose, means that there is more fiber in each bite.  Using noodles that aren't instant noodles also means that they aren't going to be fried prior to packaging, too, which means that a bunch of that nasty saturated fat is automatically erased from the end result
  • Don't add extra salt - the recipe that I used as my "model" had not only the flavoring packet but also a bunch of table salt as an ingredient.  I'm not sure why; even when using the original recipe, I didn't add it but never missed any saltiness.
  • Add plenty of health-laden toppings - the original recipe calls for toasted almonds and sesame seeds, which are both awesome, but why stop there?  Loading the salad up with more than just a couple of scallions, sunflower seeds, and even carrots, celery, or a lovely Granny Smith apple can boost the nutritional value of each bite.  Don't just stick with my additions - throw in whatever sounds tasty.  I didn't think of the apple until just now, and I have to tell you that it sounds just fantastic.
So, here we are... my upgrade on one of my family's favorites.

Updated Cabbage-Ramen Salad
  • 1/4 head purple cabbage, chopped
  • 1/4 head green cabbage, chopped
  • 2-4 leaves from either romaine, green, or red leaf lettuce, chopped
  • 1 bunch green onions, chopped (including the green parts)
  • 1/4 package buckwheat noodles, crushed
  • 4 Tbsp sesame seeds (either white or black... or a combo)
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds
  • 1/2 cup unsalted sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cube vegetable bulllion (I use Rapunzel brand, which also has a sodium-free option)***
  • 1 Tbsp rice vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar (preferably organic)
  • 1 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Heat the olive oil, bullion, vinegars, soy sauce, garlic powder, and pepper over medium-low to medium heat until the bullion cube is fully dissolved.  Allow to cool completely (I recommend making the dressing the day before, if you have time).

Using a pint jar isn't fancy, but it's great for a dressing that will need a good
shake-shake-shake before serving.
Combine the cabbages and lettuce with the scallions and noodles in a large salad bowl.  Toss the dressing (you won't need it all, so use sparingly as per your saturation preferences).
Toast the sesame seeds and almonds in the oven (or toaster oven) at a low heat (I usually go about 200°) until nicely browned.  Watch closely - you don't want to burn your nuts (snicker... giggle...).
Toss the seeds (sesame and sunflower) and almonds with the cabbage mixture and serve immediately.  Or just eat it straight from the salad bowl.  Not that I have ever done that.

Most recipes for salads won't have you pour the dressing over the greens until you are ready to serve, and usually I agree.  However, since the buckwheat noodle pieces can be kind of sharp and much crunchier than the original ramen noodle, letting the dressing mingle with the greens and noodles for a little while will soften those noodles up just a wee bit, making them delightfully crunchy instead of jarringly so.

***Now, let's talk salt.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, among other medical groups, has published extensive information about the fact that Americans have too much sodium in their diets.  Basically, people need to aim to consume way fewer than 2300 mg of sodium per day, keeping it closer to 1500 (or less) mg.  Most Americans are consuming over 3200 mg per day.  YIKES!!!!
Because this recipe uses both bullion and soy sauce, it's going to be high in sodium, so this is a recipe that you still want to use sparingly, drizzling over the greens instead of dousing them.  That's another reason to let the dressing and greens mingle for a little bit; that sitting gives everyone some time to get to know one another in the bowl, allowing less dressing to make a bigger taste impact.
That being said, this certainly isn't a dressing that I recommend using all the time.  Good thing we've had so many other fantastic salad options this week.
And speaking of other fantastic salads, it's time for you join in!  Add your favorite salad links by clicking the inLinkz link below.  Tell your friends to do the same!! Enter both the URL and your email address (not visible to anyone), and then upload a photo.  You can link your recipe through the end of April.  Once you have entered your salad link, come back here make sure you didn't miss a single amazing salad this week - I've listed them all below!

And just to give a quick recap:
Monday - Tabbouleh from Yours Truly
Tuesday - Toughie's Apple Salad from Inside NanaBread's Head
Wednesday - Parmesan Salad Cups at Climbing Grier Mountain
Thursday - Tenaciously Yours, threw a Party Salad.
Friday - Egg-Free Caesar Salad from Comfortably Domestic and chicken mole salad (olé!) from Wanna Be a Country Cleaver
Saturday (today) - a little something from all of us:
  • Kirsten prepped a gorgeous Greek quinoa salad at Comfortably Domestic.  Yes - quinoa is so good that it needed two salads this week in order to truly represent its awesomeness.
  • Megan whipped up a wannabe a waldorf salad over at Wanna Be a Country Cleaver.  But it's anything but wannabe.  You're gonna wanna eat make it yourself.
  • Meanwhile, Mads at La Petite Pancake made, despite all of her crazy grad school work, a zesty steak and arugula salad.  'cause she's a rocket woman.  Arugula's called rocket in other countries.  I thought it was a cute pun.
  • Kat over at Tenaciously Yours, went so retro you may feel like you're Marty McFly.  It's the word from the bird.
  • Jeanne with Inside NanaBread's Head gives us a creole potato salad.  Can't beat that with a stick.
  • Monica, The Grom Mom, is sending us all a taste of Hawaii with a tropical chicken salad in a papaya boat. Aloooooooooooo-HA!
  • Lauren created a spiced lentil and lamb salad while Climbing Grier Mountain.  Serious food porn alert.
  • Carrie at Bakeaholic Mama created an avocado ranch BLT salad in bacon cups.  Bacon. Cups.
  • And all our friends who post a link or two of their favorite salad recipes, too!  And hey - if you want to join our wild and crazy recipe theme weeks, just let us know - our motto is "more is more," especially when it comes to participants!


  1. Your updated ramen cabbage salad is to pretty! Love the colors and textures and the fact that you're trying to keep us healthy. My friend makes a salad similar to this, and I always look forward to it. I'll have to give yours a try. I'm a sucker for any salad with sunflower seeds. Big time. Thanks for the awesome Linky Party, too. How fun!

    1. I honestly feel like any salad can be improved with the addition of sunflower seeds. Except gumdrop salad. There is no saving that.

  2. You are beyond awesome for rehabbing this picnic favorite! When it comes to slivered cabbage in a salad More is definitely More. I will definitely be trying a nut-free version...not that Son #2 will go anywhere near this salad, but a girl can hope.

    Sunflower seeds make every salad better. Maybe even the only saving grace in gumdrop salad. ;)

    1. And that's the great thing about the sunflower seeds - you can completely forget.... er... omit the almonds, and since you have boo-coo sunflower seeds, you don't even miss 'em!
      I just think gumdrop salad is beyond saving. Even with sunflower seeds and Dots. I... I just can't get past the gumdrops.

  3. Thank you for hosting the Link-Up Allison! It is SO appreciated. :)

    I am beyond a sucker for cabbage-ramen salad arrangements. Like, if there's one at a picnic, potluck or party I'll probably eat half of a (big) plate. Spread the light, sister.

  4. I cannot be stopped around the traditional ramen salad, but I have heard horror stories about those ramen noodles. Mainly that your body doesn't ever digest them because they contain some crazy chemicals.
    I've never heard of buckwheat noodles, but this salad looks fabulous. Yum!