Creamy Vegan Ramen
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
SERVES 4 - VEGAN, GLUTEN FREE (OPTION)
1 bunch green onions
2 yellow onions, skin on and cut into quarters
2 heads of garlic, tops sliced off
3” knob of ginger, cut into quarters
1 tablespoon neutral oil (e.g. grapeseed)
1 oz / 28 g dried shiitake mushrooms
8 cups of water
2 (6”) strips of dried kombu
3 tablespoons white miso paste*
3 tablespoons tamari
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
Chili garlic tofu:
1 (12 oz/350 g) package extra firm tofu
1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons Homemade Chili Garlic Oil**
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 servings of ramen noodles (fresh or dried)***
Vegetables of choice (e.g. mixed mushrooms, red cabbage, bok choy, green onion)
Homemade Chili Garlic Oil, to taste
Preheat oven on broil. Place green onions, yellow onions, garlic and ginger on baking sheet. Drizzle with oil and use your hands to coat. Bake for 10 minutes, or until the vegetables have developed a good char.
Meanwhile, add dried shiitake mushrooms to a high speed blender. Blend until mushrooms are pulverized into a fine powder. Let the mushroom powder settle, before opening blender lid. Add 4 cups of water to blender, and blend on low speed until powder is incorporated. Pour mixture into a large stock pot. Add another 4 cups of water to the pot, alongside kombu strips. Cover and bring to a boil. As soon as the vegetables are done charring in the oven, add everything from the baking sheet into the pot (as is). Once stock is boiling, reduce heat and simmer (covered) for a minimum of 30 minutes.
While the soup boils, prepare tofu. Reduce oven to 400°F. If you haven’t already, spend 5 minutes making the Homemade Chili Garlic Oil. Then, pat tofu dry and cut into 3/4-1” cubes. Transfer tofu onto the now empty baking sheet. Toss in chili garlic oil, making sure there’s bits of garlic and chili flakes mixed in. Spread out the tofu, sprinkle with salt, then bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown.
Once the soup broth is done cooking, use a colander to strain. Scoop out the two heads of garlic and set aside. Discard the remaining vegetables. Transfer half the broth to a blender. Use a spoon to carefully remove the softened garlic flesh from the skin. Add softened garlic to the blender, alongside miso paste, tamari and sesame seeds. Blend until smooth. Pour mixture back into stockpot, alongside the remaining broth. Whisk to mix well and keep on low heat until ready to serve.
Boil noodles according to manufacturer's directions. To cook vegetables, simply add them to the boiling noodle water right at the end. Strain and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process. Fill bowls with noodles, ladle in hot broth, then add additional toppings (such as sliced green onion, bok choy, purple cabbage, chili garlic oil, etc.).
-*There are many different types of miso paste, with white, yellow and red being the most popular. For this recipe, white miso is preferred due to its mild taste. If you must substitute with yellow miso, reduce to 2 tablespoon at first, since it has stronger flavor. Give broth a taste and add ½ - 1 additional tablespoon if necessary.
-**When measuring the oil, make sure the scoop also contains bits of garlic and chili flakes for best flavor. If you are very sensitive to spice, you can omit and use 1 tablespoon of neutral oil for coating the tofu instead. Sprinkle with salt (potentially upping to 1/4 teaspoon) and bake tofu as instructed.
-***For best results, cook ramen noodles separately and then add them to hot broth. Ramen noodles tend to be quite starchy, so the extra starch may thicken the broth undesirably. For gluten-free options, seek out brown rice noodles like these.
-If you have extras, store the broth separately from the cooked noodles. Or simply cook the noodles just before you need them.