For years ramen has topped our list food we miss most since ditching meat. Finding a good ramen joint can feel like tracking down a needle in a haystack. But finding one that serves plant-based broth? Ha. Cue the waterworks. So as I’m sure you already suspect, we’re here to tell you that homemade is the way to go. And better yet, you’re less than an hour from the vegan ramen of your dreams!
One of the first “fancy” dishes I made when Anguel turned vegetarian was Kenji’s ramen. The dude is a genius, so as expected, it tasted great. On the downside, it turned out to be a very late dinner: thanks to 3 hours of cooking, 25 ingredients, and the borderline insane number of components. So for practical reasons I’ve yet to make it again. But years later, we still have ramen on our mind, so it was time to roll-up my sleeves and develop a simpler version that's still loaded with plenty of flavor. And after many rounds of testing, it’s finally ready to share. This Creamy Vegan Ramen has a rich, sumptuous texture and delicious umami flavor. And you won’t need to spend all day in the kitchen making it.
When it comes to ramen, the broth is really the most important part, no matter what anyone tells you. After much tinkering, I can’t help but feel like a kitchen ninja making this broth, and I hope you do too. While using store-bought vegetable broth might seem like a good idea, I promise you it won’t result in the flavor that ramen shops have on tap. Your best bet is to make your own; and this version is a lot easier than you might think. In this recipe there are three key steps to drawing out maximum flavor in the minimum amount of time. Let’s get started.
The first step is broiling the aromatics for the soup base. A quick trip to the oven starts caramelizing the vegetables, helping to add deeper flavor to the broth. You’ll want to keep the onion and garlic skins on, because surprise, they have a lot of flavor too! Then comes step two: the mushrooms. My early versions included boiling dried mushrooms and then straining them out of the broth at the end - you know, standard stuff. But then I got this crazy idea to grind the dried mushrooms into powder. BOOM, it was a game changing move. The homemade mushroom powder seamlessly mixes into the broth so there’s no need to strain out the mushrooms at the end. And, because the mushrooms are still technically in the soup, their flavor is more pronounced - even after minimal cook time on the stove. I never thought I’d get so excited about pulverized mushrooms, but I guess there’s a first time for everything. The third step is blending the hot soup broth with the cooked garlic and toasted sesame seeds. The garlic adds a luscious flavor to the broth and a couple spoonfuls of sesame seeds mimic the traditional Asian sesame paste that’s often added to ramen. It’s also a healthy source of fat, and together they create the luscious mouthfeel we love in a good ramen (without the meat and bones, of course).
In developing this recipe, I wanted to minimize the need to track down tricky ingredients. Most standard grocers stock dried shiitake mushrooms. If not, you’ll definitely find them (for cheap) at an Asian grocery store. We tested many different types of mushrooms in the broth and shiitake was by far our favorite. For ramen noodles, you can either buy the fresh kind or dried. The dried noodles may be sold on their own, or with little flavor packets (which you can throw straight in the trash because they’re usually loaded with junk). For a gluten-free option, you can use something like these dried ramen noodles. Our local Costco used to stock them - and the short and simple ingredients list gets our thumbs up. And lastly, we think ramen is best served with a small scoop of chili garlic oil on top. It also happens to double as an easy flavoring for the baked tofu. You can buy this from an Asian grocery store, but we find this 5 minute homemade version to be much more convenient and delicious (plus, it means one less jar to clutter the fridge).
Creamy Vegan Ramen
- 2 yellow onions (whole, unpeeled)
- 2 heads garlic
- 1 bunch scallions/green onion
- 1 (3-inch/2.6 cm) knob ginger, cut into 4 pieces
- 1 tablespoon grapeseed oil (or other neutral oil)
- 1 oz dried shiitake mushrooms
- 8 cups water, divided
- 2 (6-inch/15 cm) pieces dried kombu
- 3 tablespoons white miso (see note 1)
- 3 tablespoons tamari
- 2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
Chili Garlic Tofu
- 12 oz extra-firm tofu, cubed (¾-inch/2 cm) (and patted dry)
- 3 to 5 teaspoons Homemade Chili Garlic Oil (more for garnish, see note 2)
- ⅛ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 4 servings ramen noodles (fresh or dried, see note 3)
- Mixed vegetables (such as mixed mushrooms, red cabbage, bok choy, scallions/green onions)
- Broil vegetables: Arrange an oven rack 6-inches (15 cm) from the broiler. Set oven to broil. Cut each skin-on onion in quarters. Cut off the tops of each garlic bulb. Add onion, garlic, scallions, ginger to a large baking sheet. Drizzle with grapeseed oil, toss to coat. Broil until vegetables are well charred, about 10 minutes (but keep an eye on it, broiler times vary!).
- Make mushroom base: Meanwhile, add dried shiitake to a high-speed blender. Blend into a fine powder. Let the powder settle before opening lid. Pour 4 cups of the water over powder, then blend on low speed until mixed. Transfer into a large Dutch oven or stock pot over medium heat. Add the remaining 4 cups water and kombu. Cover with a lid.
- Combine soup: As soon as vegetables are done charring, scrape everything off baking sheet and put into the pot (see note 4). Cover with the lid, increase heat to medium-high and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium, cook covered for 30 to 40 minutes for flavors to develop.
- Bake chili tofu: Reduce oven to 400°F (200°C). Scatter tofu on the baking sheet. Drizzle with homemade garlic oil (adjust amount based on how spicy you like things). Toss to coat. Sprinkle with salt. Bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes.
- Strain soup: Pour soup through a colander to strain. Reserve the 2 heads of garlic and set aside; discard remaining vegetables.
- Blend soup: Transfer half the soup to a blender. Use a spoon to remove the softened garlic flesh from the skin (careful, it'll be hot!). Add softened garlic, miso, tamari, and sesame seeds. Blend until smooth. Pour mixture back into pot, along with the other half of the soup. Whisk to mix well. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed. Cover and keep on low heat until ready to serve. (This recipe makes for a creamy-style ramen soup base, so the liquid should be fairly viscous - you can thin it with extra water or vegetable stock if you'd like, just be careful not to dilute flavor too much).
- Boil noodles (and prep toppings): Meanwhile, cook noodles separately, according to manufacturer's directions. To cook vegetables, add them to the boiling noodle water near the end. Drain and rinse with cool water.
- Assemble: Divide noodles into bowls. Ladle hot broth over noodles, then top with tofu and any additional fresh vegetable toppings you're using. Serve with extra chili garlic oil for drizzling.
- Miso: There are many different types of miso paste (white, yellow, red). For this recipe, use white miso if you can. White miso tends to be the most readily available at grocery stores; it is also the most mild in flavor. You could substitute with yellow miso, but reduce the amount because it's stronger in flavor (use two-thirds of the amount listed in the recipe). Then, taste at the end and add more if needed.
- Homemade Garlic Chili Oil: When measuring the oil, make sure the scoop contains bits of garlic and chili flakes for the best flavor. If you don't like spicy things, you could omit the chili garlic oil and use neutral oil instead (if you go this route, double the amount of salt used to season tofu before baking). If you don't already have the homemade garlic chili oil made, you can make it when the soup is simmering.
- Ramen noodles: Use your favorite brand. Cook noodles separately in water, then add them to the hot broth at the end. If needed, use gluten-free ramen noodles.
- Step 4 technique tip: After the vegetables have broiled, add everything from the baking sheet into the soup (including onion skins, whole heads garlic, etc.). This is what's going to build flavor. We'll strain large items out after simmering and before blending.
- Storage tips: If you have leftovers, store the broth separately from the cooked noodles. Ramen noodles are best enjoyed fresh, so we recommend cooking up the amount you need fresh for each meal.