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This smoky eggplant instantly improves any ramen kit. [Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

With the number of excellent ramen kits readily available these days (check out the kits from Sun Noodles and from Myojo Chukazanmai, for instance), I end up eating far more ramen at home than I used to back when I had to make my own whenever I wanted a high-quality fix.

The only problem with those kits? The toppings. Sliced scallions and marinated eggs are all well and good, but sometimes I just want something a little more. I spend an awful lot of time experimenting with ramen toppings.

Some are successful (see: crisped up carnitas, confit turkey or chicken, Spanish chorizo) others, not so much (see: sliced hot dogs, breakfast sausage, or watery grilled zucchini). I don't normally bother writing about these, because they're not the kind of things that are tasty enough to share.

But this smoky eggplant topping? That's something different. This is the one. This is the ramen topping that you want to take home with you at the end of the night. In fact, this is the ramen topping that you'll want to bring home with you well before last call just to make sure nobody else swoops in on it before you get a chance to make your move.

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The first time I made it was when I had a few smoky grilled eggplants leftover during my days of testing baba ganoush recipes. I took that smoky, tender eggplant meat, mixed it up with a few Japanese ingredients—bonito flakes, soy sauce, and mirin—and boom. Best. Ramen. Topping. Ever.

The eggplant ends up with an intensely rich, smoky aroma (moist, sponge-like eggplant is great at picking up other flavors) that gets distributed around the bowl as you eat. It's all the intensity of a meatier topping with a lighter texture.

As with the baba ganoush, I found that it works almost as well under a broiler as it does on a grill. Similarly, after cooking the eggplant, draining the excess liquid off in a salad spinner makes for richer flavor and better texture. But instead of discarding that liquid, I use it as the start of my seasoning mixture, simmering a piece of kombu and bonito flakes in it before adding soy sauce and mirin and reducing it down. I then add that concentrated liquid back to the chopped eggplant and stir it all together with toasted sesame seeds.

Nothing thrown away = no flavor lost.

Combine it with this burnt garlic chili oil and you've got a bowl to reckon with, whether you're going 100% home-made or gussying up ramen that's store-bought.

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