One of the tricky things about my business is coming up with a full menu. When I am cooking for my own family, I usually just plan the main course, perhaps a side of steamed broccoli (my favorite vegetable), and a simple salad. On rare occasions, it’s just a main. Or a very simple side. For example, one night this coming week we are going to have Mixed Bell Pepper Quesadillas. I will most likely make guacamole, but other than that will just probably heat up some re-fried beans and make sure there is plenty of salsa.
For my paying clients though, I need to make more of an effort. I charge them for each component of the meal, so I can’t in good conscience give them steamed broccoli. Sometimes the three courses just come to me and sometimes I have to scramble to put a menu together that works. This doesn’t mean that each course is a show-stopper – I do have time constraints – but I would like to think that each one is something that they wouldn’t necessarily make for themselves.
Before I started cooking for clients, I always thought of soup as more a main course dish. But as I saw the need to vary my menus, and to come up with interesting and innovative side dishes, I started making many more soups. If they are not a main course, I tend to keep them relatively simple. I feature one vegetable, or make them nice and light, or – as in the case with this soup – nice and brothy. I was looking for something flavorful, hot, and spicy to serve with the Red Curry last week. I remembered that I had made this soup once before and was very pleased with it. It turned out to be a great choice for a cold night.
Tom Yum Soup with Mushrooms and Tofu
Adapted from Real Vegetarian Thai
You can make this soup much more substantial by adding rice or rice noodles to individual portions.
6 cups vegetable stock
3 large stalks lemongrass
Zest and juice of 2 limes
3 green onions, thinly sliced
1 fresh jalapeno chili, diced
8 ounces extra firm tofu, cut into 1 inch chunks
8 oz. fresh mushrooms, sliced
2 tbsp. roasted chili paste
2 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. soy sauce
1/2 tsp. salt
Zest the limes and set aside the zest. Place the jalapeno and green onions in a small bowl and squeeze the juice of the limes over. Set aside.
In a large saucepan, bring the vegetable stock to a boil. Meanwhile, trip the lemongrass stalks. Cut away and discard any hard, dried root portions, leaving a smooth, flat base just below the bulb. Trim away the tops so the stalks are about 6 inches in length. Using the blunt edge of a knife, bruise each stalk, whacking it firmly at 2 inch intervals and rolling it over to bruise on all sides. Cut into 2 inch lengths.
When the stock is boiling, add the lemongrass and the lime zest and reduce the heat to medium. Cook until the stock is fragrant, about 5 minutes. Scoop out the lemongrass from the stock and discard it (it’s ok if some of the zest comes along for the ride). 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, turn the heat to low, cover the pot, and cook for another 10 minutes. Turn off the heat, remove the cover and add the green onion mixture. Taste and adjust the flavors with more lime juice, soy, or sugar as needed.