Dinner With My Family #14: Kung Pao Shrimp Skillet Meal

Each week, I’ll present a low-cost meal (or a meal that demonstrates a lot of options for cutting costs) that my family eats for dinner and enjoys. Many of the recipes will be vegan or vegetarian, with options to add other ingredients for non-vegetarians.

When I was a college student, one of the meals I consistently ate was ramen noodles. I could often pick up twelve packages of it for $1. I would take it home, boil it up, add the seasoning packet, and enjoy.

Over time, my taste buds became a bit more discerning – and I became a bit more health conscious, too. I began to realize how unhealthy the seasoning packets were, full of sodium and MSG and other things I’d rather not think about.

Still, the price was alluring. I could often find packages of ramen on sale for $0.10. I’d still eat them for lunch on occasion.

Eventually, though, I started experimenting with the noodles. What can be done with them that’s flavorful and interesting? I tried using them as ingredients in other dishes without the seasoning packet, eventually to much success.

I eventually reached a point where I found great success making skillet meals out of Americanized versions of Eastern cuisine – kung pao shrimp, for example. By cooking these meals in a skillet and adding ramen, I had a simple and low-cost way to make a very hearty and flavorful family meal.

Kung Pao Shrimp Skillet Meal

Note: I’m using shrimp in this example. While I’m on a mostly vegan diet, my diet does include a weekly dose of either fish or seafood in order to get some omega-3 fatty acids into my body, so this is how I got it in this week.

What You Need
This recipe is similar to the “Kung Pao Style Shrimp with Ramen” recipe found in The Best 30-Minute Recipe.

Ingredients

You’ll need:

4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 pounds medium or large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 red bell pepper, sliced thin and cleaned
1 cup roasted unsalted peanuts (lightly salted will work if you can’t find unsalted)
5 minced garlic cloves
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
2 tablespoons red pepper flakes
5 cups vegetable stock (you could also use chicken stock if you have it or water if you have no stock)
6 3 ounce packages of ramen noodles, discarding those seasoning packets
3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame oil (optional)
4 sliced scallions or one small sliced onion

The total cost of ingredients for us was about $11, but it made enough for nine meals, dropping the cost per meal down to nearly $1.

Note how this recipe again uses our simple homemade stock recipe. This stuff is so easy to make and contributes flavor to everything.

The Night Before (or Early That Day)
The biggest thing you can do in advance is to cut up the bell pepper and the scallions. You can also mince the garlic and grate the ginger if you wish, but these are perhaps best if you do them right before adding them to the dish. You’ll have time to do this while cooking.

Preparing the Meal
You can easily prepare this meal in a large pot. I used a 5.5 quart enameled cast iron pot to cook this entire meal without any difficulty.

To start, add a teaspoon of the oil to the pot and heat it over high heat until the oil seems to shimmer. Add half the shrimp, let it cook for about a minute, then toss the shrimp. Let it cook for about a minute and a half more, then remove all the shrimp to a separate bowl. Repeat this entire procedure, oil and all, with the other half of the shrimp.

Sauteeing the onions

Drop the heat down to medium-high, then add the remaining oil. When it’s shimmering, add the sliced peppers and peanuts. Cook these while tossing them for about three minutes or until the peppers are fairly soft, then remove the peanuts and peppers to the bowl with the shrimp.

Add the garlic, ginger, and red pepper flakes and stir them continuously for about thirty seconds (your kitchen will begin to smell tremendous at this point). Slowly add the stock, then start adding the ramen noodles. Break the ramen noodle bricks up as you add them to the liquid.

Freshly added noodles

Bring this mixture up to a simmer, then stir this entire mixture with tongs for about two and a half minutes. You should be slowly breaking the pieces of ramen apart into distinct noodles with the tongs.

Add the remaining ingredients (hoisin sauce, rice vinegar, optional sesame oil, and scallions) and let it continue to simmer for about a minute and a half more, then serve.

Finished!

My family loved this stuff. All of the leftovers were happily consumed.

Optional Ingredients
The biggest change you might make is that you could substitute all sorts of things for the protein in this meal. Chicken works, as would beef or even tofu. I would suggest pre-cooking the chicken or beef in a separate container, then adding water to the hot pan once you’ve removed the meat. Save that water, as it’ll make a great liquid to use in this recipe.

Depending on the flavor you’re seeking (and what you have on hand), you could also easily substitute soy sauce for the hoisin sauce.

If you enjoyed reading this, sign up for free updates!

Loading Disqus Comments ...
Loading Facebook Comments ...
  1. Michelle says:

    I’m surre a lot of folks will jump in with some sort of criticism, but this looks mighty tasty! I’ll have to give it a try, we love this kind of stuff in my family.

  2. con says:

    Sounds good to me, too. I don’t like recipes with tons of ingredients and I am vegan (so I can get by without the meat stuff), but I can see where I can whittle it down and make a nice meal.

  3. Rebecca says:

    I’m sure its tasty, but ramen is fried before it is packaged and has ton of fat in it. Not on my kids diet. They prefer whole wheat soba or brown rice noodles.

  4. Tatiana says:

    Ramen noodles are delicious, but that’s partly because they’re deep-fried before packaging! So you’re not avoiding all the nutritional pitfalls by discarding the seasoning packet.

  5. Shannon says:

    Trent, sorry if this is hurtful, but looking at your diet through these posts make it apparent why you and your wife are struggling with weight issues.

  6. Nick says:

    Why would you use ramen noodles when you can get real rice noodles or soba noodles for maybe an extra 50 cents?

    Don’t get me wrong, ramen is fine on it’s own as a cheap (unhealthy) meal. I’m not really sure what the advantage of using it here is though.

    Rice noodles are dirt cheap and hold up a lot better in dishes like this.

  7. Interested Reader says:

    Soba noodles or whole wheat noodles would do so much better for you health wise. And why not add way more veggies like celery, carrots, mushrooms, green peas, etc. It would really boost the nutrition.

  8. marta says:

    I third the soba noodles suggestion. Seems to be kind of a waste to buy ramen packages just to throw the seasoning away, no matter how cheap they are.

    I would also suggest adding other stuff if only for extra colour. Maybe it’s just me but most of the meals here look too monochromatic and dull. But I confess I eat with my eyes, so presentation matters to me.

  9. Gretchen says:

    The photos in the food series leave much to be desired.

  10. Tom says:

    The food blog Serious Eats had a great “What to do with Ramen” post recently. I’d post a link but I fear being stuck in moderation. Just google Ramen Hacks Serious Eats.

    Never had soba noodles (that I know of) but it would cut a lot of calories out of this dish.

  11. Fiona says:

    Tom-Thanks for the info…those look delicious! Going on my meal plan this week for sure!

  12. valleycat1 says:

    I’m guessing you mean you got nine servings, not nine meals – & that the kids eat less than the parents. According to the web, based on the # of packages of noodles you used this should be 12 servings (1/2 block = 1 serving).

    I ditto the others about using regular noodles. And a higher veggie/noodle ratio. In addition to the edibility & health factor, for the packaging waste. [As an aside, my FIL thinks an acceptable meal is a block of plain uncooked ramen noodles with tomato paste from the can. He does at least toss the seasoning packet.]

  13. Bill says:

    It has been said above but those are fried, and it was probably not a vegan oil. I’ve never heard of these soba noodles so I will look forward to tracking them down and trying them. However it is so easy just to make them from scratch why bother. You can can ever deep fry them in tallow before you eat them if you are so inclined.

  14. Jane says:

    Wow, tough crowd. i think this looks pretty good, but then again I have a soft spot for Ramen, especially when I’m sick.

  15. Interested Reader says:

    @Bill soba noodles are Japanese noodles made from buckwheat flour. You should be able to find them in the ethnic aisle at the grocery store. Whole wheat noodles would be a good substitute.

  16. Carole says:

    I am a Celiac (gluten intolerant) so I usually have to modify recipes. It’s interesting how the “food experts” tear into any recipe that Trent offers. I know that will happen no matter what. I must admit the many suggestions for improvement are usually good, but I would hate to cook for this crowd.

  17. anna says:

    Not to “tear into” Trent’s recipe, but ramen IS deep-fried… No doubt about it! It’s Asian fast food, nice to have once in a while. So I agree with the other noodle suggestions. But also give Trent credit for his creativity and enthusiasm!

  18. Janis says:

    First of all, I love this series and I really appreciate how much Trent is willing to share about his personal history and thinking process for each of his recipes. That said, there’s nothing wrong with readers chiming in with our own suggestions – that is a great part of the value of this series. Trent has even encouraged it by noting in almost every recipe that we should feel free to adapt the ingredients or method to best suit our own preferences.

    This looks like a tasty dish. I am definitely in with the soba and more veggies crowd, and would make those changes were I to make this.

    One small quibble: this is at least the second time in the series that Trent has said that cooking the recipe would make my house or kitchen smell “tremendous.” In the words of the immortal Inigo Montoya: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

  19. tentaculistic says:

    #18 Janis “One small quibble: this is at least the second time in the series that Trent has said that cooking the recipe would make my house or kitchen smell “tremendous.” In the words of the immortal Inigo Montoya: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.””

    Janis, that use of the word ‘tremendous’ sounds perfectly fine to me. What do YOU think it means, that Trent is using it so wrongly? It both passes my gut-check, and the dictionary check, please see below:

    From Princeton’s dictionary:
    1) enormous: …

    2) fantastic: extraordinarily good or great ; used especially as intensifiers; “a fantastic trip to the Orient”; “the film was fantastic!”; “a howling success”; “a marvelous collection of rare books”; “had a rattling conversation about politics”; “a tremendous achievement”

    3) frightful: …

  20. almost there says:

    There is instant ramen and then there is instant ramen. After I found Myojo Chukazanmai brand I stopped traveling 75 miles (one way) to a real ramen shop. The closest I have come to the real deal. One should watch the movie Tampopo if they are into ramen.

  21. Vickie says:

    This sounds really good to me. Thanks for sharing your meal ideas. ☺

  22. Janis says:

    @tentaculistic (#19) – Heh, I did say quibble. Perhaps I’m overly literal, but – for me – the phrase conjures up a mental image of my house expanding to enormous size because of an aroma. The usage might pass your gut-check, but it didn’t pass my (ahem) smell-test. ;-)

    (And, yes, I admit that last comment was just for the bad pun and not intended to further any kind of debate. We’re all entitled to our opinions.)

  23. littlepitcher says:

    We’ll try this with mei fun noodles–more expensive, but lower in calories.
    Many an illegal worker in this area has been hospitalized for living on ramen and sending the saved grocery money south of the border, so don’t be too frugal. I used to eat them every other day, with wild onions and/or dandelion greens, while out of work.

  24. Steven says:

    You can get your omegas from sources other than fish or shrimp. Try seaweed, for example. There are also supplements that can be taken. If that is the actual reason for your eating meat once a week, there are options. If you just enjoy meat, say so.

    Also, Soba noodles take all of 4 minutes to cook, and as others have mentioned, Ramen noodles are probably not a healthy choice. Add some peas, broccoli, carrots, etc. That’d really add to this dish!

  25. Tracy says:

    As others have mentioned, this meal is really unhealthy! I’d swap the ramen out for regular rice noodles and add a TON more vegetables – right now you have 1/9th of a pepper as basically the only vegetable in there per serving. I’d double or triple the amount of peppers, add sliced carrots, maybe some greens (swiss chard would hold up nicely) snap peas, broccoli … if you had as much vegetables as noodles, it’d be extremely tasty and much healthier.

  26. Jeff says:

    Well! I am somewhat careful about my eating habits and diet and ONLY go off of a strict eating routine visa vis Bill Phillips Body for Life once a week.

    So yesterday we made this dish. I always make the recipe exactly as specified the first time to assess it. The only change was we used chicken instead of shrimp.

    The meal was great and the house did smell tremendous although one whiff of the hot peppers got to me.

    I am taking some of the advice in the comments and I will adapt the recipe for a more healthy version.

    Thanks to Trent for sharing and being willing to put up with some of the abuse sent his way!

  27. Kathryn says:

    This was DELISH!

  28. Angie says:

    #19 tentaculistic and #22 Janis (I hope you see this)… tremendous is an adjective, so Janis you are right.

    It would need to be in an adverb form followed by a verb that it is modifying to work here.

    ~Angie, the grammar queen ;)

  29. Angie says:

    Correction: Upon further review, I have come to the conclusion that tremendous is ok as used by Trent here.

    This is why: “Tremendous” is an adjective used to describe the noun “kitchen.”

    ~Angie, the grammar princess ;)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>