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


A (mostly) white vegetable soup recipe

What do you do when you’ve got a small cabbage head and a bunch of small carrots from your CSA? Not to mention that your mother bought you half a nagaimo (Japanese mountain yam) and a couple of chayote squash for no reason?


And I must be absolutely mad to be making soup on a hot summer Sunday evening (a little humid and 90F!). It was only made possible by the lone air conditioner in my apartment which was strategically placed in the kitchen.

I was inspired by two driving forces: by the memory of the shiso-white wine-chicken recipe in “Ancient Kitchen, Modern Wisdom,” and by my belief that chayote squash doesn’t pair well with traditional herbs. (I roasted chayote squash once with dried basil, and discovered it was one of the worse pairings I could have done.  It generally tastes good with spices.)

Here’s how the (mostly) white vegetable soup went:

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Chinese Black Sesame Soup (dessert soup)

(In advance, I apologize for the lack of pictures. When I first thought about writing this post, I felt that it was too early. Now that I am ready, I do not have the soup thawed out for the task of photo-taking, but I don’t want to wait on this post any longer.)

Recently, I attended a soup swap. What’s that, you might be asking. Well, it’s a gathering of sorts involving something like a game. All of the attendees bring six quart-sized containers filled with a frozen homemade soup/stew of their choice. All of the soups are lumped together in a spot in the room. Then, attendees pick out a number, and proceed, in their numbered order, to explain what they brought in. Once this is completed, the guests then  take turns picking out a new soup container to bring home. So, you bring over six quarts of your soup, and you bring home six quarts of someone else’s soup.

This year, I decided on a Chinese dessert soup – black sesame soup (aka “hak zi ma wu”). Researching only provided me with two recipes that looked usable.

Recipe #1

Recipe #2

The first time I made this soup, I followed recipe #1 exactly. This time around, I followed recipe #1 in general measurements, but tried the methodology of recipe #2. I had hoped that recipe #2 would be a time saver, what with the rice being blended before cooking. In the end, I got a superior result to my first attempt… but it didn’t take any less time.

The long of the short of it? You must blend your ingredients before and after it is cooked. This is the only way you will hope to obtain the same thick but silky texture that you’ll find in a restaurant. (I guess I would liken the viscosity to something like honey.)

1 cup white rice (long grain or short grain)
1 cup toasted black sesame seeds
7 – 8 cups water, depending on how thick or thin you want the soup (you may even want to go down to 6.5 cups of water if you plan on freezing this as defrosting seems to affect the texture a little)
1 cup granulated sugar (the amount of sugar is up to you – my family found that the original half cup specified was not sweet enough, so I prefer using one full cup at least)

1. Soak your rice in cold water for at least an hour.
2. In a blender, crush up the sesame seeds. Add half of the rice and crush this as finely as you can. Add about a cup of water, and then blend well. Tip this out into your stockpot or large saucepan. Crush up the rest of the rice, add another cup of water, and blend well. When done, tip this out into your pot too.
3. Add the remaining cups of water into the pot. (I have found that I like the consistency of about seven total cups of water. If you want it thinner, use more water.) Bring to a boil and turn the heat down to medium. Meanwhile, make sure that you stir continuously. Until the rice is cooked, it will sink to the bottom of your pot. If you don’t mix continuously, you will run the risk of burning the bottom.
4. Add the sugar (this can be honey, or a mixture of the two… or you can be silly like me and use powdered cactus honey which was purchased some time ago on a whim). As the sugar dissolves, you will notice that the consistency of the soup has gotten thicker. After about 5-8 minutes, the sugar is completely incorporated and the cooking is done.
5. You can try using an immersion blender, but I prefer letting the soup cool a little and blending it in a normal blender. Blend the finished soup to make sure that you have a silky texture (it’ll lumpy if you don’t… perfectly edible but totally lumpy).
6. Serve the soup. I prefer this soup warm-bordering-on-hot, but my mother says you can serve it cold. (Personally, I have never seen this served cold.)  And enjoy.  ^_^