Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Where the F*%# is Spring or Tome Yum Soup with Mushrooms and Tofu

The last few weeks were cold, humid and rainy. I spent them wrapped in hoodies and scarves, wondering what happened to spring. Serious soup weather, if I ever saw it. That disgusting weather coincided with me getting the worse case of flu I've had in years. I spent 4 days in bed, lost my appetite for almost 2 weeks and felt generally miserable.

I had flagged a recipe in "Real Vegetarian Thai", thinking I wouldn't get to try it until the fall, but Mother Nature (and my immune system) clearly had other plans. This soup was described as the ideal meal for someone nursing a cold, so I had the perfect reason to try it ASAP. It was spicy (great, as I couldn't taste a damn thing), filling (also good, as I had to force myself to eat) and full of lemongrass, a ingredient that Thais believe to be especially helpful when one is afflicted with a cold or the flu.

I have been meaning to try making my own curry pastes for Indian and Thai food for a while, but grueling schedules always seem to kick my good intentions' ass. Being someone with a full-time job, a boyfriend and a life, I've come to rely on Patak and Thai Kitchen brands to provide the fragrant pastes, and since the results are always awesome, I saw no need to go out of my way. I still mean to give it a shot eventually, but it wasn't gonna happen while I was dragging myself around in a NyQuil haze. I was quite glad to get my hands on a jar of roasted chili paste, which was the only ingredient I was missing to put this dish together. Thank you, Thai Kitchen!

Also, about lemongrass. Some grocery stores carry them in their unprocessed form: they look kind of like bamboo shoots, and you have to remove the hard "leaves" to get to the soft yellow-green heart. If your local store doesn't have the unprocessed stalks, they often carry packaged lemongrass cores, either in a bag (look for it where they keep the fresh herbs) or jarred (usually in the "Asian" section). All those options work great for this soup.

4 cups vegetable stock
3 stalks lemongrass, hard leaves removed
12 wild lime leaves (optional)
2 limes, juiced
3 to 5 scallions, cut diagonally
1 fresh green chile, chopped
1 pound firm tofu, drained, pressed and cut into bite-sized chunks
1 package fresh button mushrooms, sliced
2 tablespoons roasted chili paste
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt

Using the blunt side of a knife, bruise the lemongrass stalk on every side, and cut into 2-inches chunks. In a large pot, bring the vegetables stock to a boil. When the stock is boiling, add the lemongrass stalks, and half the lime leaves (if using) and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook until the stock is fragrant and the lemongrass has faded from bright green to a dull khaki, 5 to 10 minutes. While the soup simmer, combine the lime juice, the remaining lime leaves, scallions and chile in a bowl. Reserve. Scoop our the lemongrass from the stock and discard. Raise the heat to high and add the tofu, mushrooms, chili paste, sugar, soy sauce and salt and stir well. When the soup boils again, pour the reserved lime juice mixture and remove from the heat. Stir to combine, adjust seasoning if necessary, and serve at once, with some jasmine rice.

In Thailand, soups function as one of the many parts of a meal, and they are either drunk straight from the bowl, or spooned over jasmine rice. I find a side of rice to complement the soup very well, especially since this makes 4 small servings.

The broth is very rich and tasty, and it was perfect to comfort me while I shivered and sneezed. Adjust the chile and roasted chili paste to taste, but if you are in the same sorry state I was in when I made this soup, go crazy and it will warm you from the inside out. It really is the perfect soup to nurse colds: filling, warming and tasty!

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