Pork-free Ramen Soup

Like most starving students, there was a time in my life during which I practically lived off instant ramen. Ten packs for $1? You can’t beat that with a (chop)stick! Then one day I happened to look at the nutritional label more carefully than my usual cursory glance to make sure no animal ingredients had made their way into the Oriental flavor and was flabbergasted to discover it had about 800 grams of fat in it. Okay, I may be exaggerating, but I realized how really, really, really bad those things are for you – I don’t think I had realized before then that those noodles are fried before packaging – and that was the end of my ramen-eating era.

But ramen is fun, fast, and tasty, so I quickly found another way to guiltlessly enjoy it, and the good news is it takes barely any more time to prepare than those cheap packages. The bad news it costs about ten times as much, but when you’re talking about ten times ten cents, it’s not really that big of a deal. Plus I have many more options than just the one vegetarian but mysterious “Oriental” flavor.

I usually make kimchee ramen and I suppose one day I will give you a recipe for that. However, after seeing a photo of some ramen in New York on Slashfood yesterday, I did things a little differently tonight.

Here are most of the ingredients I used:

The essential part is chuka soba, which is unfried ramen-style noodles, which I get for $1.99 (two servings) at my Asian grocery store or Whole Foods. The fat content per serving is listed as 0.5 grams. The other “weird” ingredients here are vegan ‘beef’ bouillon and Soy Curls. Oh, and I suppose the Shaoxing wine might strike some people as weird, but it’s also optional, as are the Soy Curls.

I usually put a few cubes of tofu in my kimchee ramen, but a) I don’t have any tofu right now and b) I was going for a different ramen tonight and thought the Soy Curls might stand in for the traditional pork. Soy Curls are a neat product consisting of nothing but the entire soy bean. You soak them in hot water for a few minutes and they magically take on a nice, chewy, “meaty” texture that works very well when you want a less-processed, tasty meat substitute. I got them from Vegan Essentials. If you don’t have any Soy Curls, you could use cubed tofu, or just omit it.

Also, I pretty much consider it a sin to not have several heads of garlic in the house, and in fact, I’d normally put a lot more vegetables in this sort of soup, but my husband and I are leaving early Saturday morning for a week-long vacation and I’ve been trying not to leave myself with a lot of perishables. I used the last of the garlic last night, so I had to use garlic powder tonight. If I’d had them on hand as usual, I’d also have grated some carrot and chopped some cabbage and put them in to cook a couple of minutes before the ramen. I also tend to keep dehydrated vegetable flakes on hand for making this soup nearly-instant, however. I often make ramen soup for lunch when I’m working from home because it’s a nice hot lunch but it doesn’t take me any longer to prepare than heating up leftovers (which is what I usually do for lunch in the office).

Finally, as with most of my recipes, most of the measurements below are approximate. I hadn’t even planned on writing this one up when I began, so I wasn’t paying much attention to what I was doing and am just guessing after the fact. Just add stuff and taste it as you go along and see if you like it – that’s what I do!

Pork-Free Ramen Soup

4 cups water
2 tsp Better Than Bouillon vegan ‘beef’ (this is half the strength recommended for that amount of water) or other vegan soup flavoring (diluted if it’s salty)
3 Tbsp tomato paste
3 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp shaoxing wine (Chinese rice cooking wine) or sake (optional)
2 tsp sesame oil
1-3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed or 1 tsp garlic powder
2 Tbsp dried vegetable flakes (for soup, such as these) (optional)
2″ piece of fresh ginger, grated
1-3 tsp chili garlic sauce or sambel olek, depending on hotness of sauce and your tolerance
1/4 cup shredded daikon (grated carrots and/or chopped cabbage would also be good additions)
1/2 cup Soy Curls, reconstituted and shredded (or chopped tofu)
1 package chuka soba (two servings)
2 scallions, chopped

Bring water to boil and whisk in bouillon, tomato paste, soy sauce, wine or sake if using, sesame oil, garlic or garlic powder, vegetable flakes, and ginger. Add the chili sauce to taste – we like ours quite hot – and then the Soy Curls or tofu and any non-dehydrated veggies. Bring to a boil and add the chuka soba, breaking it up into pieces if you like. Cook for three minutes. Break up clumps of noodles by sticking a chopstick into them and stirring to loosen. Stir in half of the scallions. Place noodles and broth into two bowls, top with remaining scallions. Enjoy!

Cheap, easy, fast, and delicious!

And a parting photo of Tigger being inquisitive, because I know you miss him when he’s not in every picture:

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