Way back in 2018 (during a rare spurt of posting somewhat consistently on this blog), I posted a recipe on this blog for ramen noodles, which Emily and I started making frequently after we became obsessed with noodle soups after visiting Japan. That recipe promised that a vegetarian broth would follow shortly.
Sixteen or so months later, I’m finally making good on that promise. While making a vegetarian dashi (the basic broth at the heart of tons of Japanese favorites, including most soba and udon soups) is relatively straightforward – omit the bonito and use more kombu – coming up with an all-purpose ramen broth proved more challenging.
This is because meat – or, more specifically, animal bones – are ubiquitous ingredients in a typical ramen soup. Cloudy tonkotsu ramen is produced by boiling pork bones for days. Torigara – or stock made from chicken bones – is a more common base, often flavored further with marinated pork. Not only are both bases heavy on meat, but they’re also notoriously complicated: purists often claim that replicating the flavors at home is impossible and can only be enjoyed at a ramen counter.
Coming up with a soup that mirrored the umami complexity of bone stock seemed a quixotic task at best. Instead, I considered the vegetarian ramen stocks I’ve liked – and the ones I haven’t liked – in coming up with this recipe. A good vegetarian ramen stock should provide a nice, savory undercurrent to the other ingredients. It shouldn’t feature bold flavors that overpower the other ingredients in the bowl. And it should be versatile enough to accommodate a wide variety of fresh and cooked ingredients (surprisingly good inclusions I’ve had that don’t come to mind when you think of Japanese cuisine include a trifecta of New World foods – roasted tomato, avocado, and corn).
It took me lots of tries, but I finally managed to create a soup base that I’m satisfied with for this blog. I do still think that there is room for improvement, but this is definitely a sufficient starting point for vegetarians eager to eat a Tokyo-style ramen at home.
(For the record, the ramen bowl featured at the top of this post consists of noodles, black sesame seeds, stir-fried bok choy stems, fresh bok choy leaves, and broccoli microgreens.)
vegetarian ramen broth
1 carrot, trimmed
1 scallion, trimmed
1 clove garlic, unpeeled
1 3-inch piece ginger, unpeeled
10 cups water
1 ounce kombu
5 tablespoons white miso
4 tablespoons shoyu
3 tablespoons mirin
2 tablespoons tonkatsu sauce
3 tablespoons white sesame seeds, toasted
Salt, to taste
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place carrot, scallion, garlic, and ginger on a baking sheet and roast all ingredients for 15 minutes. Remove the scallion from the pan, turn the other ingredients, and roast for an additional 25 minutes. Remove pan from the oven and set ingredients aside to cool.
While the vegetables are roasting, in a 3-quart stockpot, combine water and kombu and heat over medium heat until bubbles begin to appear in the water. Remove from heat and let sit for 15 minutes. Remove and discard the kombu.
Once the vegetables have cooled, carefully peel the garlic and ginger. Put scallion, ginger, garlic, and carrot into the stockpot and heat on high heat until boiling. Cover and turn heat down to maintain a gentle simmer. Simmer for 1 hour.
Remove all vegetables and aromatics and discard. Add miso, shoyu, mirin, tonkatsu sauce, and sesame seeds to the stock. Cover and continue simmering for an additional 30 minutes.
Serve broth immediately or let cool before storing. The stock should last up to 5 days in the fridge or up to a month in the freezer.