Monday, December 10, 2007

Tofu soup for the soul

Today I am home sick, and while I am somewhat chained to the computer and my trusty roll of toilet paper (aaahh-choo!), I am also happy to have another day to spend in my comfortable apartment, in the company of my dog and my boyfriend (who is also home sick, because of me).

I am also grateful for the excuse to stay home, because it is much easier to take care of my body when I have access to my own kitchen. I feel that I can usually avoid OTC meds and make myself feel much better with hot tea, honey, fruits, nuts, and a good soup. Today I made some Rooibos tea with honey, and began to put together my first experimental version of one of my favorite soups: tofu vegetable soup.

This soup is very simple; that's why I love it so much. I usually order it from Rod Dee, a wonderful Thai takeout joint with locations in Brookline and Fenway (the tofu soup is #S4 on their menu, if you're interested). As I'm now vegetarian, it's my substitute for the childhood chicken soup remedy.

Unfortunately, I could not find a good recipe for the kind of soup I had in mind, so I had to strike out on my own. I'm posting this recipe now in case someone else is looking for a tofu veg recipe to use as well (and so you can learn from my mistakes, haha).

Fortunately, I had most of the ingredients in my refrigerator, so this is what I started with:

1 half package of firm tofu, drained well and cut into small cubes
1 onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 nub of ginger, cut into matchsticks
2 stalks of celery
1 cup of broccoli, frozen
1 cup of green beans, frozen
1 cup of peas, frozen
1 cube frozen cilantro (from Trader Joe's - their frozen ingreds are a great time-saver, FYI)
1 tbs vegetable oil (I used TJ's brand, but I highly recommend Earth Balance's combo oil with flaxseed, as it has mad Omega-3s)
4 cups of water

You can (and should) also add carrot, leftover lettuce, kale and/or spinach to this soup if you have some. Add some seaweed and miso and you have a hearty miso stew.

Because this soup always tastes as though the ingredients are incredibly fresh and crispy, I didn't want to make a soup that would last for days, so I kept the portions small. My immediate goal was to create a quick, easy, flavorful and healthy meal, with lots of strong-smelling ingredients to permeate even my stuffed-up nasal passages (garlic, ginger, cilantro). This is how I went about it -

I first heated a medium-size pot, with a little bit of vegetable oil.
I diced up my garlic and ginger first, and tossed them in, sauteeing them slightly.
I then added the onion and the celery.
When all of the ingredients were softened (but not browned), I added 1 cup of water, covered the pot, and let it simmer.
After 5 minutes, I added another cup of water and the frozen tsp. of cilantro.
After another 5 minutes, I added another cup of water and the frozen peas, green beans and broccoli and brought the mix to a boil.
After another 5 minutes, I lowered the heat, added the final cup of water, and added the tofu.

I was actually quite pleased with the result of this first attempt. The broth was flavorful enough, but not overwhelming; the vegetables were all tasty (albeit soft), and this recipe actually did leave me with some leftovers, which will make my sick day easier as I won't have to worry about dinner.

I would say, however, that once I am well I will make this soup differently so that the flavors are more concentrated and the vegetables are more snap-in-half fresh. The easiest way would be to use fresh veggies and cilantro and to use less water. Also, I will plan to simmer the ginger/garlic/celery/onion broth longer, uncover the soup sooner to let some of the water boil off, and add the vegetables only at the end, about 2 min. max vs. the 5-10 this time.

Of course, I can't ever be sure that my version will match the authentic Thai soup of Rod Dee -- this has ever been the case for my amateur American re-makes of the Asian dishes I love so much -- but the point is that it doesn't have to be either/or. The experiences I have with Boston restaurants like Rod Dee are what inspire me to learn to cook better for myself -- better in every sense of the word.

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