I've had some great bowls of vegetarian ramen in my time -- ones that pack just as big of an umami punch as its pork-y counterparts. The key is hitting that perfect balance of sweet and savory by throwing in all the tongue-tingling ingredients you have in your arsenal, then letting the whole thing get friendly on the stove for a couple hours. A generous portion of springy, chewy noodles doesn't hurt, either. —Catherine Lamb
4 generous servings
For the broth:
dried mushrooms, preferably shiittake
carrots, cut into thirds
onion, cut in half (you can leave the skin on)
stalks celery, cut into thirds
6 to 8
garlic cloves, smashed
2-inch section of ginger, smashed
stalks lemongrass, cut into thirds and smashed (optional)
sheet kombu, wiped with a damp cloth
bonito flakes (technically not vegetarian, but recommended for fish eaters)
shoyu (Japanese soy sauce)
1 to 2
squirts sriracha, or pinch of red pepper flakes
For the ramen bowl:
extra-firm tofu, pressed of its moisture
oil with high smoke point, like peanut
Add 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 kombu and bonito flakes, if using. Simmer stock for 2 to 3 hours.
Pour stock into a bowl through a fine mesh strainer. (I recommend reserving the mushy, cooked carrots for snacking.) Return stock to the pot.
Add in soy sauce, mirin, brown sugar, and Sriracha. Stir. Taste for seasoning: Add more soy sauce if you want it saltier, more Sriracha for spice, more brown sugar for sweetness. If the flavor is too strong, add in more water to dilute. Play around until you have a flavorful, balanced broth. Turn down the heat to keep it warm while you prepare your other ingredients.
For the ramen bowl:
Boil a large pot of water with a pinch of salt. Cook eggs to desired doneness -- I like mine cooked for 6 minutes so the yolk is nice and gooey in the middle. Remove eggs from water, keeping it simmering for ramen noodles. Cool eggs, peel, and drop gently into the broth while you prep the rest of your ingredients.
Slice drained tofu thinly. Heat oil in a wok or non-stick skillet until smoking, then layer in the tofu, making sure none are overlapping. Cook for a minute or two until brown on the underside, then flip and cook for another two minutes. Drain tofu on paper towels.
Drop noodles into boiling salted water and cook according to package directions. Drain.
Divide broth between four bowls, then divvy up noodles, eggs (I cut them in half before serving), and fried tofu into broth. Garnish with Thai basil, green onions, and squeezes of lime. Slurp away.
If you want an even heartier bowl of vegetarian ramen, consider adding roasted vegetables like sweet potatoes, eggplant, or tomatoes. Cube them, then roast in a 425° F oven with salt and pepper until wrinkled, soft, and caramelized, then add to broth.