I don't ever find myself with a craving for meat in and of itself. The things I catch myself wanting - something protein dense, something with a firm chewy bite- these are very easily satisfied with some beans or tofu or seitan. Once in a while, though, I'm a little bit sad just thinking about a bowlful of noodles in a silky, rich broth that heretofore I thought could only be derived from beef or pork. Vegetable stock is great! I use it for everything, but historically I've always been disappointed in ramen made with it.
So! With this in mind, I tried to focus on the two things meat broths have that are usually lacking in vegetable broths: umami and fat. The umami gives you richness & depth, and the fat gives you the silkiness. In trying to replicate that experience, I went with a mix of oils, and a long, slow, simmered mushroom broth. Fresh mushrooms, in this instance, will disappoint. You need to find yourself some dried ones - these are the ones I used. THESE ARE NOT ACTUALLY PORCINI! They're in the same genus, commonly known as the "slippery jack" or "sticky buns" and are way cheaper than Boletus edulis. If you can get over the phrase "viscid cap," you can have yourself an incredibly rich and fragrant broth in a couple of hours.1
Before starting, soak 2 large handfulls of the mushrooms in a bowl of hot water for 30 minutes. After they've soaked, be sure to strain the liquid through a coffee filter and give your soaked mushrooms a quick rinse in fresh water. Dried mushrooms can hold a lot of grit; if you don't believe me, try this once, look at all the dirt you've filtered out of your soup, and then make your own informed decision. I know this sounds like a lot of work, but 1) it is totally worth it and 2) you're making a pretty big batch, so you can freeze a few quarts for those days when you're like, "Man, I want something delicious but I just cannot handle real cooking right now."
4 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp sesame oil
3 onions, quartered
4 carrots, peeled and chopped
18 cups of water
4 inches ginger, peeled and quartered
8-12 cloves of garlic, peeled
2 star anise
2 large handfulls of presoaked & rinsed dried mushrooms, plus filtered mushroom liquid.
dash of peanut oil (for finishing)(optional if you have allergies, but I would recommend it heartily if you do not)
In a large stock pot, sweat the onions and carrots in the oil over medium heat. Once the onions are appropriately fragrant, add in your water, your ginger, your garlic, your mushrooms and mushroom liquid. Bring to a boil, and then simmer for two hours until your broth has been reduced by half. Because I am a weenie about anise and anise-flavored things, I add that in for the last hour only, but you could probably put it in with the garlic and ginger if you wanted.
Once you've reduced your broth down, give it a taste. Is it a tiny bit watery? That's ok. Add some soy sauce and some salt. Taste it again. You want it to be just under-salted. Add a dash of peanut oil to taste. You don't want this to overpower any of your ingrediants. When you're satisfied, strain the liquid. To serve, bring it back to a boil and then pour over a bowlful of tasty ramen fixings. I like noodles with teriyaki seitan and pea shoots but the world is your metaphorical oyster! You can do anything you want.
This is by nature pretty flexible; I had some simmering broth leftover from a batch of seitan that I threw in at the last minute, myself. Just go by taste. You will not be sorry.
1Slippery jack also has a high concentration of sugar alcohol. You know what happens when you eat a large amount of artificially sweetened things? Yeah. Apparently that can happen if you consume a lot of slippery jack. I have never experienced this. However, if you make this broth and then experience some distress in your fanny region. . . well. There you go. Stay hydrated! If you fear the slippery jack, I would go with porcini or shiitake, even though they are super expensive and I would probably never use two large handfuls for one recipe, for I am not made of money.