I am unashamedly obsessed with Japan and Japanese culture.
The country seems to offer a space for everyone in whatever their interests without judgement. From the creative to the reserved traditionalist, to the sporty and even those who would spend their entire day locked away in their home; Japan caters to everyone.
I love how the country is simultaneously a pioneer in inovation and creativity whilst always holding on to and celebrating their traditional values and history.
But what I love the most (aside from their gaming industry and sometimes odd English translations) is their cuisine.
From sushi to soba, ramen to rice balls; I love it all.
One of my absolute favourite dishes is ramen.
Given the month (Veganuary), and purely out of my own interest and passion for the cuisine, I wanted to try and create a vegan friendly ramen dish.
Ramen is atypically non-vegan, with the broth and toppings both being usually meat / fish based which made this challenge all the more interesting.
What is ramen?
Ramen (/ˈrɑːmən/) (拉麺, ラーメン) tranlates literally to "pulled noodles" and is now more popularly known as a Japanese noodle soup dish.
Thought to have originated in China (as the noodles frequently used in the recipe are Chinese wheat noodles) it made it's way to Japan in the late 1800s were it was embraced and taken on a life of it's own.
The popularity of ramen exploded upon the creation of instant noodles and has now become a cultural phenomenon on a global scale.
Named the greatest Japanese invention of the 20th century, instant ramen allowed anyone to make an approximation of this dish simply by adding boiling water.
Just a little bit of background on what's become one of our nation's favourite hangover cures!
The most popular kinds of ramen
Ramen are typically categorized according to their soup / broth base, although variations that combine the different bases are not uncommon. The main types of soup are:
Shoyu (醤油, Soy Sauce) - Shoyu ramen soup is a clear, brown broth flavored with soy sauce (shoyu). The soup is usually made of chicken broth but often contains other meats such as pork, beef or fish depending on the region. Shoyu ramen is the most common type of ramen and is usually what is served when the menu does not specify a specific type of soup.
Shio (塩, Salt) - Shio ramen soup is a light, clear broth seasoned with salt. It is typically made with chicken broth but occasionally made with pork (depending on the area).
Miso (味噌, Soybean Paste) - Miso ramen soup is flavored with miso, resulting in a thick, brown soup with a rich, complex flavor. Originating from Hokkaido, one of the coldest regions in Japan, this ramen soup was created to help locals make it through the tough Winter months.
Tonkotsu (豚骨, Pork Bone) - Tonkotsu ramen is made of pork bones which have been boiled down until they dissolve into a cloudy white broth. The thick, creamy soup is also often flavored with chicken broth and pork fat.
The most popular ramen toppings
When we think of ramen we think of; pork, beef, chicken, squid and even salted / marinated egg.
But this is hard difficulty mode and we're shooting for 100% completion rate on being a vegan here so what other toppings could we use instead whilst still retaining tradition?
Here's our top picks for vegan friendly ingredients for your vegan ramen soup;
Tofu (we love crispy tofu!)
Shiitake and other dried mushrooms
Scallion / green onions
Bean sprouts and other sprouts
Wakame, kombu or Nori (types of seaweed)
Menma (fermented bamboo shoots)
Peanut butter (trust us)
Basically any vegetable; the more adveturous the better!
Honestly, just play about with ingredients. We'd recommend sticking predominantly to those associated with asian cuisine but a few surprises here and there can make ramen all that more exciting!
On to the veggie ramen recipe!
Before we start, here's a list of the equipment and ingredients you'll need (or at least the ones we used). I'll put a more detailed breakdown of quantities in the abbreviated recipe which you can find at the bottom of the page.
A skillet or non-stick frying pan
Two small to medium sized saucepans
A baking tray
Tin foil (saves a mess)
A chopping board
A sharp chopping knife
And a biodegradable waste bin close by for the veggie prepping
For the broth
A vegetable stock cube
Tofu (which you'll need olive oil, soy sauce and black pepper to prepare)
Shiitake mushrooms (which you'll need olive oil and soy sauce to prepare)
And "priming" your dish
Garlic or chilli
Rice wine vinegar
And of course... don't forget to have dried ramen noodles on hand (although similar noodles like udon noodles or rice noodles are fine too)!
How to make vegan ramen easily
Despite what you may think it's actually not too difficult to put together a vegan ramen dish. The most difficult part of it is getting your timings right for the toppings so everything is well heated when being served!
The first step to creating your ramen is to preheat your oven to around 200°C and cover a baking tray with tin foil. This is going to be used to create your baked tofu. At the same time you also want to be filling your kettle and boiling it and heating a tablespoon of olive oil in one of your sauce pans on a medium high heat.
To make the baked tofu, all you simply have to do is cut it into slices (by it's width) and press any excess water out of it. Lay the slices on the covered baking tray before generously splashing over soy sauce (which it will now be able to suck up without that excess water). Before adding it to the oven ground black pepper over it (to taste). You can now add this to the oven.
Whilst that is in the oven, add the dry broth ingredients to your heated sauce pan and sauté these for several minutes. Whilst they are cooking, prepare your vegetable stock by adding the stock cube to a measuring jug and filling with around 400ml of water per serving.
Add the prepared stock to the sautéd ingredients and turn the heat down so that the broth can simmer away in the background whilst you focus on the remainder of your toppings.
Next we want to focus on our mushrooms; take your frying pan and warm it over a high heat. Add a tbsp of olive oil to the pan and then your mushrooms. Lightly douse the mushrooms in soy sauce to add flavour. Cooking alongside some garlic makes these taste awesome!
Our goal with the mushrooms is to char them slightly and line up the times with the tofu being complete (which usually takes around 20 - 25 minutes to bake).
At the moment you'll have;
Your broth simmering
Your tofu baking
And your mushrooms frying
Let the mushrooms fry for around 7 - 8 minutes before thinking about your noodles. The mushrooms should be starting to char so what we want to do is turn down the heat to a medium at this stage and boil our kettle again.
Dried ramen noodles are super handy to cook, they only take around two to three minutes to boil and continue to cook when you plate them up in the broth.
Over a medium to high heat take your other sauce pan, fill it full of boiling water and then add in your ramen noodles. Fresh ramen noodles will likely not take as long as dried ramen noodles so if you're a total nerd and are prepping the noodles from scratch this should be something to note.
Whilst the noodles are cooking, quickly flash fry off your snap peas and bean sprouts in the same pan as your mushrooms (seperating them of course by moving the mushrooms to one half of the pan)
After several minutes, take everything off the heat, strain your noodles (so that they have no excess water) and pull your baked tofu out of the oven. Everything should now be ready to plate up (or bowl up... not sure?)
Constructing the perfect homemade ramen bowl
Following this step by step process will leave you with not only a delicious bowl of vegan ramen noodle soup but also an aesthetically pleasing one (perfect for you instafluencers out there).
Start by "priming" the dish; add in 2 tsps of rice wine vinegar and then 1 tsp of soy sauce
Next, add in around 350ml of your broth mix
We then want to add in our noodles (give it a mix with your fork so that the noodles and broth are well combined and the noodles can begin to absorb your tasty vegetable broth)
This leaves us with a palette to play with; get creative
We added our tofu and mushrooms before playing about with the veggies to make it more aesthetic. Circle your toppings around the dish before finishing with your bean sprouts in the middle for that more authentic looking ramen bowl.
And voila! You've crafted your first vegan ramen soup!
Send us in or tag us in your pictures if you get a chance to make it (@balanceie on instagram)
And don't forget to say "itadakimasu" (ee-da-taki-MASSSS) before diving in!
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