One of the great benefits of the boom in American ramen joints is the increase in plant-based bowls. No longer do vegans and vegetarians need to avoid noodle houses just because every broth in the place is based on an animal stock. One of the hottest places in Los Angeles is Grand Central Market's Ramen Hood, where every dish is vegan.
For cooks who want to make ramen at home, Chloe Coscarelli's recipe in her new book, "Chloe Flavor," inspired by a bowl she had at Ramen Hood, uses coconut milk to add a silkiness sometimes missing from vegan versions. Before it goes in (along with vegetable broth), you quickly cook down shiitake mushrooms and baby bok choy and add a little curry and garlic for seasoning depth. The noodles can be instant ramen (without that seasoning packet, please), fresh vegan ramen noodles when you can find them, or udon or soba.
Coscarelli knows toppings go a long way toward creating a good bowl of ramen, and the tofu treatment the chef uses here is one of the best I've cooked in a long time. You pan-fry cubes until crispy, then glaze them in sticky-sweet hoisin. It's good enough to satisfy the carnivores at your table, too.
The only problem is that you might pop too many of them in your mouth before you get a chance to ladle the ramen and its broth into bowls. So try to restrain yourself.
Vegan Ramen Bowls
Yield: 6 to 8 servings (makes 12 cups)
One 14-ounce package extra-firm tofu 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, plus more for the noodle cooking water 8 to 9 ounces dried ramen noodles (may substitute udon or soba noodles) 5 tablespoons vegetable oil, or more as needed 3/4 cup hoisin sauce 8 ounces (2 1/2 cups) shiitake mushroom caps, sliced 1 bunch (about 12 ounces) baby bok choy, trimmed and sliced 2 cloves garlic, minced 1 teaspoon curry powder 4 cups no-salt-added store-bought or homemade vegetable broth One 13.5-ounce can full-fat coconut milk (may substitute light coconut milk) 3 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced on the diagonal, for garnish 1 tablespoon sesame seeds, for garnish 2 tablespoons Sriracha (optional; may substitute another hot sauce of your choice)
Wrap the tofu in several layers of paper towels, place on a plate, put another plate on top, and put a large can of tomatoes or another heavy object on the plate, and let the tofu drain for at least 20 minutes. Unwrap it, and cut it into bite-size cubes.
Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the noodles and cook them according to the package directions. Drain and rinse with cool water.
Heat 4 tablespoons of the oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Once oil shimmers, add tofu cubes and sear for about 3 minutes on each side, until golden and crisped. Add more oil as needed if much of the oil gets absorbed. Once tofu is cooked, pour out any excess oil. Reduce heat to low, add the hoisin sauce, and turn the tofu to coat and glaze it evenly.
In a large saucepan, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat. Once it shimmers, add the mushrooms and bok choy; cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are soft and the bok choy has wilted, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, curry powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt; cook until fragrant, for 1 minute. Add the broth and coconut milk; once the mixture comes to a boil, reduce the heat to low. Taste, and add salt as needed. Add the cooked noodles and stir until heated through.
Serve right away, before the noodles absorb too much broth and thicken. Ladle the broth and noodles into bowls and top each serving with scallions, sesame seeds and the glazed tofu.
Nutrition information per serving (based on 8, using 9 ounces ramen and 3 tablespoons oil): 370 calories, 9 g protein, 51 g carbohydrates, 17 g fat, 9 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 860 mg sodium, 4 g dietary fiber, 18 g sugar.
Source: Adapted from "Chloe Flavor: Saucy, Crispy, Spicy, Vegan," by Chloe Coscarelli