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How to Make Vegetarian Ramen at Home

January  6, 2015

Every week, a DIY expert spares us a trip to the grocery store and shows us how to make small batches of great foods at home.

Today, Food52 alumni Catherine Lamb teaches you how to make a batch of flavorful, umami-rich ramen from start to finish -- no pork belly required.

Vegetarian Ramen

As any ramen expert will tell you, truly good ramen is "all about the broth." Well, that's where vegetarians are often S.O.L. How can boiling a bunch of vegetatable scraps compare to the pure, carnal appeal of eating a milky-white, uber-fatty broth of slowly simmered pork and beef bones? 

More: Everything you ever wanted to know about ramen -- and then some -- from a true expert. 

Yes, making a truly delicious vegetarian ramen broth is slightly more challenging than making a delicious, meaty one -- but it's definitely not impossible. I've had some great bowls of vegetarian ramen in my time that pack just as big of an umami punch as their pork-y counterparts. Plus, they leave you happy-full, instead of holding-your-stomach-and-gasping-for-breath-full. 

When I set out to make my perfect bowl of vegetarian ramen, I decided to attack the problem head-on. I threw together all of the tongue-tingling (vegetarian) ingredients in my flavor arsenal, covered them in water, and then let the whole thing get friendly on the stove for a couple hours. Then I kept adjusting until I had something I wanted to sip by the ladleful. I threw in a generous portion of springy, chewy noodles, a hefty dose of greens, and a soft egg, and lo and behold: I had found my ramen nirvana. And you can too. Here's how:

Vegetarian Ramen from Scratch

Vegetarian Ramen

Makes 4 generous servings

For the broth:

1 cup dried mushrooms, preferably shiitake
2 carrots, cut into thirds
1 onion, cut in half (you can leave the skin on)
2 stalks celery, cut into thirds
6 to 8 garlic cloves, smashed
One 2-inch section of ginger, smashed
2 stalks lemongrass, cut into thirds and smashed (optional)
1 sheet kombu, wiped with a damp cloth
2 tablespoons bonito flakes (not vegetarian, see Note)
1/2 cup mirin
1 cup shoyu (Japanese soy sauce)
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 to 2 squirts of Sriracha, or a pinch of red pepper flakes

For the ramen bowl:

4 eggs
1 package of extra-firm tofu, pressed to extract excess moisture
1 tablespoon oil with a high smoke point, like peanut or grapeseed
4 packages ramen or udon noodles, preferably fresh
Thai basil
Lime wedges
Green onion, sliced

NOTE: Bonito flakes are made from tuna, and are therefore NOT vegetarian. If you are a pescetarian (as I am) and are okay with adding them, do so! They contribute a nice, funky flavor. However, if not, the broth will still be excellent. You can also try adding more dried mushrooms, upping the soy sauce levels a bit, or pre-roasting your vegetables if you want to really increase the umami depth of your broth.

Vegetarian Ramen from Scratch

It all starts with the broth. Add the mushrooms, carrots, onion, celery, garlic, ginger, and lemongrass (if using) into a large stock pot along with 8 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer. Add in the kombu and bonito flakes, if using. Simmer stock for 2 to 3 hours. 

Pour the stock through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl. (You can discard the vegetables and kombu, but I do recommend reserving the mushy, cooked carrots for snacking.) Return the stock to the pot, then add soy sauce, mirin, brown sugar, and Sriracha. Stir, then taste for seasoning: Add soy sauce for more salt, Sriracha for more spice, brown sugar for more sweetness. If the flavor is too strong, add some more water to dilute it. Play around until you have a flavorful, balanced broth. Turn down the heat to keep the stock warm while you prepare your other ingredients.

 

Vegetarian Ramen from Scratch

Boil a large pot of water with a pinch of salt and cook the eggs (I like to make one per bowl) to desired doneness -- I like mine cooked for 6 minutes so the yolk is nice and gooey in the middle. Remove the eggs from the pot (reserving the water for cooking your ramen noodles and bok choy) and place them in a bowl under cool, running water. Once cool, peel your eggs and drop them gently in the broth while you prepare the rest of your ingredients. 

 

Vegetarian Ramen at Home Vegetarian Ramen at Home

Next, thinly slice your drained tofu. Heat your oil in a wok or non-stick skillet until smoking, then layer in the tofu, making sure no pieces are overlapping. Cook for a minute or two until brown on the underside (be patient!), then flip and cook for another two minutes. Drain tofu on paper towels. 

 

Vegetarian Ramen

Blanch bok choy for a minute or two in the same water you used to cook your egg. When it's a bright, vibrant green, remove it with a slotted spoon and reserve for later. Next, drop the noodles into the same water and cook according to package directions. Drain. 

Now, assembly time. Divide the broth between four bowls, then divvy up the noodles, eggs (I cut them in half before serving), and fried tofu. Garnish with Thai basil, green onions, and squeezes of lime. Slurp away. 

 

Vegetarian Ramen Vegetarian Ramen

Note: If you want an even heartier bowl of vegetarian ramen, consider adding roasted vegetables like sweet potatoes, eggplant, or tomatoes. Cube the vegetables and roast in a 425° F oven with salt and pepper until wrinkled, soft, and caramelized, then add them to the broth.

 

Vegetarian Ramen

See the whole recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by Catherine Lamb

What's your favorite part of a bowl of ramen? The broth? The noodles? The condiments? Tell us in the comments!

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15 Comments

Amanda M. January 7, 2015
I do something similar, but since I don't eat any meat, I add a few drops of liquid smoke. It balances out the flavours and adds more to the umami profile :) I also rough chop my onion and carrots and leave them in. I am lazy so instead of letting it simmer forever I just make more than I need and leave the leftover broth to add to my bowl the next time I make it. Ha.
 
Author Comment
Catherine L. January 8, 2015
SUCH a cool idea!
 
Marina R. January 7, 2015
I noticed that in the recipe it shows boiling baby bok choy, but there is no mention if it in the recipe. Am I just not seeing it?
 
Author Comment
Catherine L. January 8, 2015
Good point! I just quickly blanched my bok choi in the same water I used to make the to cook the noodles before adding it to my ramen bowl. Will add that instruction in!
 
Susan W. January 7, 2015
I make dashi all the time. I am not a vegetarian, but I do sometimes run out of bonito. When I do, I make it with kombu and dried shiitake both of which I soak overnight. Leaving 2 TBS of bonito out of a dashi type stock is nothing like leaving chicken bones out of a chicken stock. <br /><br />I can't wait to try this. It looks fabulous.
 
Author Comment
Catherine L. January 7, 2015
Hi kimcam and Jodi,<br /><br />First of all, you're completely right. I should have made it more clear that the ramen in the photo is pescetarian, NOT vegetarian. However, I have made the above ramen without the 2 tablespoons of bonito flakes, with equally great results. A few suggestions for ways to add more umami depth, while omitting the bonito:<br /><br />a) adding more dried mushrooms, or several different types of mushrooms<br />b) adding a few tablespoons more soy sauce<br />c) adding a sheet or two more of nori<br />d) roasting all of the vegetables before adding them to the pot.<br /><br />If anyone else has any suggestions, I'd love to hear them!
 
Jodi B. January 7, 2015
Thanks Catherine. I appreciate the response and the suggestions. I hope I didn't come across as overly critical - I was just very excited to read your article about a great vegetarian ramen that would rival those made with meat. When I got to the part about the bonito, I got the sense that the broth would be fine without it but would be even better with it and felt disappointed that it wasn't really a great "vegetarian" recipe, after all. Nevertheless, thanks again for your follow up - the recipe sounds great and I'm happy to hear it was just as good without them!<br /><br />
 
Author Comment
Catherine L. January 8, 2015
Not at all! It was something I hadn't given just consideration to, thanks for bringing it up!
 
Jodi B. January 7, 2015
I agree with kimcam. A recipe that lists animal protein as a "highly recommended" ingredient should not be labeled as vegetarian. At the very least you should call it pescetarian and then provide a suggestion for what to use in place of the bonito to make it vegetarian. As it stands now, making this and just leaving out the bonito would be like following a recipe for chicken stock and just leaving out the chicken. Not quite the same.
 
kimcam January 6, 2015
A "vegetarian ramen" article that has bonito listed as a main ingredient comes across as misleading. I came here out of curiosity as *good* vegetarian dashi is pretty difficult compared to the normal type for maximum umami flavor, and I was reassured at first based on the author's comments about doing lots of experimentation to make it perfect. Then I got to the bonito line, which even says 'technically not vegetarian' - well, yes....? Why is that in this recipe as a main ingredient then? Even if it's removed and made optional, that's going to change the flavor profile. <br /><br />I'd understand if instead a note had been added at the end saying 'if you're not vegetarian you can add bonito, but adjust A and B if so', but right now this seems equivalent to posting a recipe titled "vegetarian lasagna" and then including beef as a line item.
 
Allyn January 6, 2015
I just made Lady and Pups vampire slayer ramen the other day (https://girlnamedallyn.wordpress.com/2015/01/01/vampire-slayer-ramen/) and she blends soy milk into her broth for extra creaminess and richness. I bet it could help a vegetarian broth have more of the comforting mouth feel that I always think of with ramen.
 
Author Comment
Catherine L. January 6, 2015
that's a really cool idea! my only worry would be that the soy milk would add too much flavor itself, but if the broth has enough zing on its own it should balance out!
 
jstew52 January 6, 2015
Shiitake
 
Author Comment
Catherine L. January 6, 2015
good eye!
 
Kenzi W. January 6, 2015
This is so beautiful! On my list.