High Class No Class.Posted: October 1, 2012
Do you remember back when you were a kid and you would look at those colorful bricks of ramen noodles in the store? What did you think about that? Did you think “OOOoooooOOOOOOhhh! Ippudo! Slice me some pork belly on that son!”? Or, like me, did you think “Ew, poor people food. Lets hope nobody sees this in the basket.”
If you thought the latter, you’re clearly not a millennial. Pre-Ippudo when I was in college I was no stranger to the mysterious Oriental seasoning packet. Begrudgingly I slurped up slightly slimy noodles for meals at a time, oftentimes garnished with (shudder) frozen vegetables. It filled my stomach, I’m not proud. It was the mid-nineties, long before ramen became something of a cult.
As the years went on and my income ever still tentative, I put away the noodle bricks of my youth until a couple of years ago. Somewhere along the line I had missed the boat, but ramen had become cool again. Suddenly people were exalting the bricks on high like they had reached a new level of soup consciousness. Much like my grudge against the taco being “edgy”, I couldn’t see why people were so nutty over a bowl of noodle soup. I had to investigate.
And investigate I did over the course of a time. Fortunately for me, I live pretty close to ground zero of ramen (the East Village) and in an American market, so I had a myriad of places to inspect with hopes of a vegetarian friendly option. Most of the time I was sorely disappointed, having discovered that apparently what makes ramen so mythical, so amazing, so tear jerking is the broth. Pork broth. None other will do if you’re going to get serious about ramen. There must be no poor vegetarian college students in Japan.
Anyways, time after time I was slightly disappointed in my choice of dinner. I had waitresses snottily inform me that ramen soup base is always pork. If I was lucky I was able to find something to eat at the very bottom of the menu. With melancholy more than once I ate flat bowls of miso based soup with canned corn on top at Minca. One time, I had to send back an entire bowl and pay for it because the vegetarian version just meant no meat on top, but the soup was… yeah. (PS, still mad at you Menkui Tei.) I finally made my peace with Setagaya, deciding that the vegetarian broth in the bowl was better than the paltry lack of anything else on top that my omnivorous dining companions received. I just didn’t get it, get the cult of ramen. Ramen was still lame to me.
Until I decided to take matters into my own hands.
Screw this whole porktopia noodle soup nonsense! I’m sure there had to be some vegetarian ramen that didn’t suck somewhere in Japan. I looked around everywhere I could going down internet rabbit holes willy nilly, hoping to find something that I could joyfully eat. Nope. Even my Japanese coworker kind of shrugged at me as I asked her to translate a Japanese ramen site for me, noting that most of the time it’s just pork broth. Defeat was handed to me in a steaming bowl.
So I improved upon something that wasn’t going to be an afterthought of a New York ramen place. I took my knowledge of making a good stock and simply applied it to ramen. Then I dressed it up just like all the pictures that I had seen over the years, fanning out all the ingredients just so before serving, shoving in a square of nori on the side. I road tested my creation with another vegetarian and we both agreed- this didn’t just placate us. This ramen was the type of soup that you wanted to eat.
Also, its stupidly easy because I made in a crock pot over a very long time. So up your nose with a rubber hose pork broth, I got this.
Vegetarian Ramen Soup Base
-4 quarts water
-2 ounces dried shiitake mushrooms
-1/2 cup dried wakame
-1/3 cup rice wine vinegar
-1/3 cup miso paste, packed (Use a strong variety, not a sweet one)
-2 Tablespoons sesame oil
-2 Tablespoons naturally brewed soy sauce
- 1 large onion
-1 thumb sized chunk of ginger (a big chunk)
-5 cloves of garlic, peeled
-2 whole star anise
-10 allspice berries
1. Peel the onion and chop into sixths. (i.e. Chop the onion in half lengthwise, lay the flat side on the cutting board and cut it lengthwise into three more sections.) Add this to the crock pot.
2. Chop the ginger into quarters in the same manner. You don’t have to peel the ginger first. Add this to the crock pot.
3. Add all the other ingredients to the crock pot, stir to incorporate everything (and dissolve the miso). Set the timer for at least 10 hours and walk away. You can stir it occasionally if you like.
4. When the soup hits the 10 hour mark, its ready to go- although you may want to experiment with how far you can push the flavor envelope. I would suggest seeing if you can push that envelope to the 18 hour mark, if the flavor would be so robust and concentrated that it would literally make a butcher go vegetarian. Try it, there’s no set limit. But whenever you decide that the soup base is done, cut the heat and strain the solids out of the broth.
5. Stores well in the refrigerator. Warm before serving, and add a dollop of miso to the broth as a garnish just before.