When Fukuryu Ramen first opened in a laneway off Chinatown at the start of 2014, vegetarian options were not a focus. But due to popular demand the kitchen developed a vegetarian ramen that mimics a typical, meat-based noodle soup with a rich broth. The secret: umami.
"A lot of times what's missing in vegetarian food are depth and richness. In Japan we call it umami, so in order to build more of that we release a different dimension of flavour. That's what gives it the body. Otherwise it would just be a sweet onion soup," explains chef Atsumi Kondo.
Vegetables are roasted until dark, miso paste is prepared and shiitake mushrooms and kombu accent the flavour. The resulting broth is vegan, but the Fukuryu team recommends forestalling when it comes to choosing toppings (try fried salmon instead of the pumpkin).
This recipe relies on putting in the effort to get the results, but there are shortcuts if you're in a rush. For example, Kondo says that using miso paste from a store instead of making your own is acceptable, but you'll be missing out on bold flavours and complexity. "The stuff you buy is often mixed white and red miso paste. It's kind of plain, it's not deep and exciting, it's just there. What we're doing with this recipe is elevating it to where people feel like they've achieved something," she said. "If friends are over and you want to impress, definitely take the time to put it all together. It will make a big difference."
1 x 400-450g wedge of kabocha (Japanese) pumpkin, skin on
750g cooked ramen noodles (about 400g dried)
1 cup finely sliced leek, white part only, washed thoroughly
1½ cups corn kernels
60g enoki mushrooms
3 soy-soaked eggs, halved (6-minute boiled eggs covered with soy sauce and marinated for 1-3 hours, depending on preference)
½ cup toasted pumpkin seeds
2 spring onions, finely sliced
3-4 x 15cm (370g) green leek tops, washed thoroughly
2 large (270g) brown onions
2 (8g) dried shiitake mushrooms
6 (25g) garlic cloves
5cm square kombu (edible kelp)
Makes about 450g
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 (85g) small brown onion, finely chopped
5 (20g) garlic cloves, minced
1 bird's eye chill, finely chopped
2½ tablespoons sake
2½ tablespoons mirin
260g red miso paste
2 tablespoons soy sauce
Preheat the barbecue grill on high, or heat a large frying pan or griddle pan over medium-high heat.
For the broth, brush the sleek tops and onions with a little oil to help conduct the heat better (using too much oil will result in an oily soup) and char on the grill until very dark brown, almost black, for about 10-15 minutes.
Add the charred leek and onions, shiitake, garlic and 4 litres of water to a large saucepan and bring to the boil over high heat. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer and cook for 1½ hours until reduced to just over 2 litres - you will need 2.1 litres for six portions (350ml each).
Add the kombu to the reduced broth and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and strain. The broth can be made in advance and refrigerated for up to 3 days.
For the miso paste, heat a deep-sided frying pan over medium heat. Add the oil, followed by the onion, garlic and chill. Cook until the onion is translucent, about 5-7 minutes. Add the sake and mirin and reduce for 1 minute. Add the miso paste, mix well and cook for 3 minutes. Add the soy sauce, remove from the heat and mix well. Leftover miso paste can be refrigerated in an airtight container for 10 days or stored in the freezer for up to 3 months.
Cook the pumpkin in simmering salted water until tender, about 10 minutes. Cool and cut into small 5mm-thick pieces, including the skin, allowing for five pieces per bowl. Grill the pumpkin on the barbecue or in a griddle pan for added flavour, if desired.
Heat the broth in a medium saucepan and add 3½ tablespoons of miso paste per 350ml of broth. Bring to the boil and whisk until combined.
Add the miso soup to the bowls, followed by the noodles. Add five slices of pumpkin to each bowl, top with equal quantities of the remaining ingredients and serve.
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