Monday, January 28, 2013

One month down, 11 or more to go?

My last entry for the month will deal with lighter soups.  They will primarily have an Asian feel to them, as my base soup will be with coconut milk, and whatever you do to tweak it will probably have Asian overtones (or even Caribbean).

Coconut Lemongrass Soup with Tofu

  • 4 cups of vegetable stock
  • 1 can of coconut milk
  • Canola oil
  • Lemongrass*
  • Ginger* (minced or grated)
  • Cumin
  • Garlic, Carrot, Celery**
  • Curry leaves (or Bay leaves)
  • Lime Zest
  • Lime Juice
  • 1/2 brick of extra firm tofu, drained and cubed into 1/2 inch cubes
  • Scallions
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)
Ingredient notes:  You can use fresh lemongrass, but I really prefer using the chopped up lemongrass that comes in a tube, which can be found in the produce section of your grocer.  Ginger is usually something that I can find fresh on a regular basis, but lemongrass is hard to come by at chain groceries, so the tube works well.  I think it's imperative that for this recipe you use fresh and not dried spices.  The flavor buzzword here is "bright," meaning that you want a light, refreshing flavor that can only come from using fresh spices.  Curry leaves can be found at your local Indian grocer (more on this next month).  Otherwise, use bay leaves.

  1. Drain tofu by removing from package, wrapping in paper towel, sandwich between two plates or cutting boards, and add a weight to the top.
  2. Heat up oil in a pot.
  3. Add garlic, carrot, and celery (not a lot of each) and sauté for a few minutes.
  4. Add cumin (light on the cumin), ginger (a LOT), and lemongrass (a LOT) and stir.
  5. Add stock and coconut milk.  Add zest of one lime and curry/bay leaves.  Bring to boil, reduce to simmer.
  6. Simmer for 15-30 minutes.  While simmering, remove tofu from paper towel and cube.
  8. Puree/blend.
  9. Add tofu and turn up heat to medium to heat through.
  10. Add lime juice, salt, and pepper.
  11. Serve, sprinkle with scallions.
Note that the juice of the lime was added at the end, while the zest was added during the cooking process.  While not having done random, double-blind testing with placebos, I've been told that when you put acidic juices in the mix early and let them cook, they start to get bitter and alter the flavor.  When added at the end, you don't worry about that happening.

Zestfully clean!


It might be good to invest in a zester.  There are two varieties: a grater/microplane and a ribbon zester (see photo).  They're good for finely grating things you'd rather not bite into and/or wouldn't work well in a traditional box grater.  The zest from lemons and limes would be a good example.  When you're zesting citrus, do not go all of the way through the fruit to the flesh.  The white part is bitter and should be avoided.  Just get the colored (e.g., yellow, orange, green) matter off of the fruit.  This is where the essential oils are stored.  The ribbon zester is useful if you want to make it look decorative or are planning to put it in a bag (e.g., a spice bag for cider).  Otherwise, carefully peel the rind off with a knife (or vegetable peeler?) and remove before blending.

Two ways you can change this recipe up to suit your needs:

Meats - replace tofu with meat or fish.  I think shrimp would be great with this meal.  If you're adding chicken or beef, add at the beginning and adjust the cooking time.  You may want to brown the meat with the vegetables and cook for 30 minutes (note that this may force you to alter if/how/when you puree the vegetables, and you would definitely have to grate the ginger using the microplane).  If you're adding shrimp, add the raw shrimp for the last 5-10 minutes of cooking or until their pink.  Cooked shrimp, just add a few minutes before serving to warm through.

Spices - I could see variations using curry powder/paste and red chilies to make it a little or a LOT hotter.  It would definitely tip from a greenish color to a red/orange color, which would look spectacular.

I may try to play with this in the near future.  I'll let you know how it goes.

Next month:

Stews, a relative of soups, and lentil dishes.

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