Kenji’s Vegan Ramen, a Kitchen Conclusion (and a spice blend for you)

I’m a huge fan of Serious Eats.  Besides referring to it for general cooking questions I might have, I really adore their series “The Vegan Experience” (and I’m not vegan… heck, I’m not even vegetarian).

One of the vegan recipes that I bookmarked but was intimidated by the number of ingredients and steps was Kenji Lopez-Alt’s Ultimate Rich and Creamy Vegan Ramen With Roasted Vegetables and Miso Broth.  What does one do when they are not sure they can pull off a recipe on their own?  In my case, it was finding a friend who said “So when you want to cook together? I want to do something new and crazy.  Just something fun, y’know?”

New?  Check.  Crazy?  Check.

Let’s do this thing!

Our observations:

The ingredient list isn’t all that bad.  It would have been nice if there had been a condensed shopping list.  It’s essentially this:

fresh shiitake
fresh maitake
dried porcini
dried shiitake*
napa cabbage
sweet potato
shichimi togarashi*
soy sauce*

Everything with an asterisk were things already in my pantry.  Well, except for the shichimi togarashi but we’ll get to that later.  And for the ramen noodles, Jared and I decided to be extra experimental and try the pasta with baking soda trick.  Several times, we asked each other if we had forgotten something because our shopping cart seemed like it didn’t have nearly enough ingredients waiting to be paid for.

One hurdle done.

But the doing?… ah, this was the real challenge.

And half the challenge was matching the ingredient list with the ramen component we were working on.  We both really wanted to reformat the whole recipe for easier reading in the kitchen.

On my own, I had read the recipe through a couple of times but I wish I had studied the photos in the blog post more.  We didn’t notice that the sweet potatoes and the maitake were not mixed on the baking sheet.  It made for a slight inconvenience to pick out sweet potato chunks for the blender.

For the soy-tare, I would leave the ginger and scallions in large identifiable pieces because you have to separate it from the quartered shiitake caps when done.

We also recommend upping the eggplant from 1 small to 2 small.  We had very little eggplant compared to the number of servings when all was said and done.  Also, you don’t get a lot of cooked liquid from 1 small eggplant.  Spinning out said liquid felt fiddly.

But more importantly, how did it taste?

The components of the ramen are their own were good but nothing I felt impressed by.  The baking soda noodles were really interesting!  The baking soda made the noodles a bit chewier, and taste very eggy.  The sweet potatoes baked in the spice blend gave a nice heat that quick dissipated.  But, altogether, the dish was very lovely and satisfying.  Jared’s wife got a gluten free version for health reasons.  We replaced the soy sauce with GF tamari in the recipe, and made a separate pot of rice noodles just for her.  Her reaction was “This is amazing!”  We also fed a friend of theirs who is vegetarian and planning to go mostly vegan.  The friend thought it was one of the best things she had had in a very long time.  In short, those with dietary restrictions are probably going to enjoy it best.

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Making flavored oil

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I can definitely see myself making parts of the recipe for other noodle and soup recipes.  I’m not sure if I’ll ever make the whole recipe on my own (but if I do, I think I would spread it over two days).  Jared and I may make it again, but not for at least 6 months and we’ve had time to recover from the amount of steps this ramen involved.

I will definitely make the sweet potatoes again.  I never thought to bake them with shichimi togarashi before, and I like the idea blending some of it to give the broth more body.  True story, I’ve never cared for shichimi togarashi before.  So I didn’t have it in my pantry, nor did I see the point in buying it for just this recipe.  So I made it with ingredients I did have in my pantry.  The spice blend is supposed to be a blend of seven spices.  (Shichi means seven.)  I used five, so I’m going to start calling my blend “five-mi togarashi.”  It is not traditional but I was quite happy with it.  (I suppose I could also call it go-mi togarashi since go is five in Japanese).


1 tablespoon mandarin orange dust
4 teaspoons gochugaru
2 teaspoons toasted sesame seed
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper

Mix altogether, and store in a tightly fitted lidded jar.

Reference Links

Flavor Bombs by Adam Fleischman, a cookbook review

Sometimes I don’t know how to review a book.  You might be thinking “that’s stupid” or “you write reviews often, most of the time positive reviews, so just say something positive.”  There is truth to that last statement, but the reality is that I try to review books that I feel fairly certain I am going to instantly like.  

COVER_Flavor Bombs

My current conundrum is “Flavor Bombs: The Umami Ingredients That Make Taste Explode” by Adam Fleischman, with Tien Nguyen.  The premise of the book is to build up an “umami pantry” and cook delicious recipes with those ingredients. The book is broken down into these chapters:

  • The Basic Pantry
  • The Umami Pantry
  • Umami Sidekicks
  • Umami Master Recipes
  • Basics and Condiments
  • Apps and Little Meals
  • Soups and Salads
  • Mains
  • Sides
  • Drinks and Desserts

The good?  The chart with umami ingredients is useful.  I hadn’t realized that umami was broken down to glutamate, inosinate, and guanylate.  I thought it was just glutamate (hence, monosodium glutamate aka MSG).  And I like that the recipes themselves are varied.  Here are the recipes that I would love to eat:

  • Roasted fingerling potatoes stuffed with smoked trout mousse
  • Nontraditional umami-spiked chowder
  • Five minute pork-conquered salad
  • Koji-porcini resting sauce
  • Chicken confit with dirty farro
  • Puerto Rican mofongo
  • Fancy make-ahead restaurant sauce
  • Sweet and savory brisket
  • Umami’d fregola sarda
  • Matcha magic cake

The bad for me (but not necessarily for you)?  A lot of these recipe require making the master recipes ahead of time.  There are just three master recipes: umami master dust, umami master sauce, and umami ketchup.  But that does mean that I’m either doing some planning or doing a weekend project. I meal prep my meals on the weekend so I am less inclined to throw in a weekend cooking project on top of my regular meal prepping.  The other minor gripe I have is sourcing the ingredients, specifically powdered soy sauce, truffles, and truffle honey. I’d probably look for substitutions or skip altogether, which will change the flavor of the end product some.

(Oh, one last issue but this one is purely from an aesthetic standpoint.  The pages have a black background. It’s going to look grimy quickly if your hands are not dry and clean.  I’ve had this book for less than a week, and I can see fingerprints on a number of pages already. lol!)

As for recipe testing, I settled on making the midnight garlic noodles.  I felt that the recipe was a good representation of the book without feeling overwhelming.  The two items that needed prep ahead were fairly hands off: burnt miso and garlic confit. Otherwise, it was pretty easy to put together requiring noodles or pasta, shio koji (which I am weird enough to have), butter, black pepper, and Parmigiano-Reggiano if you have it (which I am weird enough to not have).

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Garlic confit in progress

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How did it taste?  It was good.

Was it good enough to make the recipe as is again?  Eh, no, not really. I think if I make it again, I’ll take the lazy way out with regular ol’ miso and roasted garlic.  Or if I insist on the burnt miso, I can pop in a garlic head in the oven at the same time to make roasted garlic without using more effort or resources.  The burnt miso smelled fantastic as it baked, so I’m not hating it. (But I do feel bad for the parts of miso that burned as it’s not useable.  It seems like such a waste.)  And garlic confit can be used for other applications, so I am not necessarily hating on it either.  But as I said earlier, I’m mostly cooking to feed myself properly. I’m generally inclined prefer recipes that taste good without too much effort.  (P.S. I also served the sauce with some rotisserie chicken and plain asparagus on another night.  I think that was more interesting than serving it on noodles/pasta.)

So, in the end, if you’re more of a functional cook like me, you may not want this book.  If you’re a cooking enthusiast, I can recommend this book, and I think you’ll find it to be fun and adventurous.  

Disclaimer – I received this book from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for this review.  I’m not getting paid for this post. The views and opinions expressed are purely my own.

fig pizza

It’s probably a good thing for this blog that I’m friends with Tammy. Since the original co-conspirators of this blog have moved onto different places and hobbies, I think it got a bit lonely around here without people to talk to about cooking. Plus, she takes lovely food photos.

Anyway, I was at Tammy’s house on Friday and I made three pizzas from scratch for us and some friends. They were roasted garlic pizza with garlic sauce, bell pepper/monterey jack cheese pizza with red sauce, and fig pizza with garlic sauce.

Tammy took a lovely photo of the fig pizza, so that’s the recipe that you’ll get today.

I always make my own pizza dough now. So far, my favorite pizza dough recipe comes from Sarah Moulton. For Friday, I had modified it to suit my mood, but it’s a pretty solid recipe regardless.

Quick Pizza Dough
-Sara Moulton (via FoodNetwork)

* 2 to 2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (this time around I had used a quarter bread flour, a quarter white whole wheat, and half AP flour)
* 2 to 2 1/4 tsp of SAF instant yeast
* 1/2 teaspoon sugar
* 2 tablespoons olive oil
* 1/2 teaspoon salt

In a large bowl whisk together 3/4 cup of flour, yeast, sugar, and 2/3 cup hot water (this is about 130 degrees F according to Sarah – I just used hot water from the tap but I recommend taking the temperature of your hot water from the tap so that you can file it for future reference – you can go below 130F without any harm but don’t go over 130F or you risk killing your yeast). Stir in the oil, 1 1/4 cups of the remaining flour, and the salt and blend the mixture until it forms a dough. Knead the dough on a floured surface, incorporating as much of the remaining 1/4 cup flour as necessary to prevent the dough from sticking, for 5 to 10 minutes, or until it is smooth and elastic.

The dough may be used immediately, but for better flavor it is best to let it rise once. Put the dough in an oiled bowl and turn it to coat it with the oil. Let the dough rise, covered with plastic wrap, in a warm place for 30 minutes, or until it is double in bulk, and punch it down. (I was letting my dough rise over night, so I cut down my yeast by half.)

For the white garlic sauce, I tried my hand at an Emeril Lagasse recipe.

  • 1 cup whole milk (I used 2% milk with no problems)
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 to 2 heads of roasted garlic

Pre-heat your oven to 350F.  Chop off the top of the garlic head to expose the top of the garlic cloves.  Rub with cut side with some oil, and put the garlic head on a pan with the cut side down.  Bake it in the oven for about an hour.  Then, take it out and let it cool enough for you to handle.  Remove the garlic cloves, and set aside.

Gently heat your milk until barely simmering, and set aside.  (Or if you’re me, stick a small sauce pan of milk in the oven after the garlic is done and let the remaining heat warm up the milk while you go about your business.)

In a separate saucepan, melt the butter. When foam subsides, add flour and stir until smooth. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring. Do not allow flour to color. Gradually add the warm milk, whisking to combine. Add the salt and cayenne and increase the heat to medium. Cook the mixture, whisking continuously, until the sauce comes to a boil and is thickened. Remove from heat and add your roasted garlic cloves.  Whip out your favorite immersion blender and go to town.  (For a garlic sauce, one head of roast garlic is enough.  But for this pizza, I kind of wish I had used two heads of garlic.)

Transfer to a small bowl and cool slightly, placing a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface to prevent a skin from forming.

Now, onto the pizza!  You will need slice figs (green or black), some gorgonzola cheese, some mozzarella cheese, and some white truffle oil (if you have it).  Heat your oven to 425F, or use 450F if you can.

Roll/stretch out you pizza dough, and over with a layer of garlic sauce.  Layer some gorgonzola down, as much or as little as you like (I am not a gorgonzola fan so I used as little as possible), put some mozzarella down, top with figs, and drizzle with a little bit of the truffle oil.

I don’t have a pizza stone.  I don’t think it’s necessary.  I like to either put down parchment paper on a cookie sheet, or use a well-oiled cookie sheet.  Feel free to put some cornmeal on the pan if you have it, to keep the dough from sticking.

Put the pan with the pizza on the bottom of your oven for 5 minutes to get a nice toasted bottom, and then move it to the middle of the oven to finish cooking.  If at 450F, it’ll probably only take another 5 minutes to cook.  If at 425F, I think it’s about an additional 10 minutes?  I don’t know.  Tammy and I just kept checking the pizza after what felt like an appropriate amount of time, instead of actually timing anything.  At home by myself, I’m better about putting a timer on but that’s because I usually wander off to check my email.

Overall result?  Quite yummy.  Having said that, I was a little disappointed.  I’m sure if Tammy hears me say that, she’ll think I’ve gone crazy.  To be honest, I was trying to re-create a pizza I had a couple of months ago at Za, a gourmet pizza and salad restaurant in East Arlington, MA.  I forgot to add caramelized onions and fresh parsley to my pizza on Friday; I accidentally mixed up the jack cheese with the mozzarella; and I think I could have gotten away with a second garlic head in the sauce.  But that’s just me nitpicking.  Everyone was quite happy with their pizza dinner.  ^_^

~ Mikan

Photo below from Tammy Raabe Rao.