Friday 3 October 2008

NCR: 'Chinese' Soup

To look at my blog, you might think I dislike Chinese food. Very little of my recipes have any Chinese influence and I don’t tend to go to Chinese restaurants often. Unfortunately my experience of Chinese restaurants is not great. The last one I went to I ordered a plate of vegies because I didn’t want any of the heavy sauces. It came covered in grey goo. But I do love a good stir fry.

When I lived in student households I made stir fries all the time with guidance from The Enchanted Broccoli Forest. They were great. Once I got the method worked out and did it regularly I did it well. Then I moved to a new kitchen and had to learn to do stir fries all over again. It has happened with a few instances of moving house that I have lost my stir fry mojo. In the kitchen I now use I don’t think I have come to grips with making them. Maybe one day.

Meanwhile I have found evidence that I really don’t do stir fries that often. I made a stir fry about a week ago partly because I discovered that I had a packet of hokkien noodles which were getting worryingly past the use by date. I picked up my bottle of sweet chilli sauce that I love in a stir fry and found it was over two years past the use by date. I threw it out and made the stir fry without. It was rubbish.

I was so disheartened that it will be a while before I try a stir fry again. Although I like Kathryn’s idea of her stir fry without a wok and might try that soon. It suits me as I have lost my wok along the way and am loathe to find space to store one in this kitchen.

So in my mission to use up noodles and get the stir fry vibe, I decided to try a noodle soup. I love noodle soups but rarely have the pleasure. When I eat out they are often made with meat or fish stock so I usually avoid them. Then if I make them at home E dislikes the thin watery soup. He also is not keen on my beloved miso soup (probably one reason I haven’t posted one here yet). I don't get too frustrated because when I met him he was not a fan of soup, so I think it is a fine compromise for him to eat as much of my soups as he does.

But every now and then I need to satisfy the whim despite E’s preferences. So the night after my disastrous stir fry I made a lovely Chinese-style tofu and vegetable soup. (I had specially planned to do this on a night when I made a dessert for E.) I am not overly confident with this sort of cooking, so I checked some recipes on the web and was most taken with one for a spinach noodle soup.

My mum had dropped off some silverbeet from her garden which I wanted to use. When I opened the bag she had given me I found it had wonderfully coloured red and yellow stalks. I often don’t eat the stalks of silverbeet but I was so delighted with the colours that I had hesitation in adding them to the soup. I think elsewhere this might be called rainbow chard. I also had quite a few of the vegies I had bought at the supermarket the previous night for the stir fry. One thing I learnt when making stir fries in the past is to prepare the vegetables before cooking. This was a useful lesson for this soup which also cooked quickly.

By the time I had finished, the recipe didn’t look at all like the one I started with. I am not even sure how accurate it is to claim it is Chinese. But it tasted very good. It had just the right combination of subtle spicy and sour flavours. The tofu was baked in a marinade so it was quite firm and tasty, as well as giving the soup more substance. And there were lots of lovely fresh vegetables. E was not overly impressed but I found it incredibly pleasing.

Holler and Lisa are asking for Hearty Vegetable Soups for their No Croutons Required event this month (entries due by 20 October). Hearty soups! I am craving lighter meals as we go into Spring. However, when I looked at the request for a bowl of soup that would be filling and satisfying enough to serve as a meal in itself, I decided this soup would be perfect in any season (with some tweaking of ingredients to allow for season). It certainly needs no accompaniment - just a good appetite and a love of soup!

Chinese-style Tofu, Vegetable and Noodle Soup
Serves 2-3

375g tofu, chopped
1 tbsp tamari (or soy sauce)
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tsp vegetable oil
Juice of 1 small lemon

1 tsp vegetable oil
½ brown onion, cut in thin wedges
1 clove garlic, crushed
½ tsp finely grated ginger
½ medium carrot, cut into matchsticks
4 leaves silverbeet (or chard), finely sliced
4 stalks silverbeet (or chard), finely chopped
1 litre of water
1½ tbsp tamari (or soy sauce)
½ tsp honey (or agave nectar)
1 tsp stock powder
1 tbsp rice vinegar
3 stalks asparagus, trimmed and chopped
Handful of sugar snap peas, trimmed and halved
½ red capsicum, sliced thinly
4 mushrooms, sliced
220g hokkien noodles
Few drops sesame oil, to serve
Few drops Tabasco sauce, to serve

Toss tofu with tamari, garlic, oil and lemon juice in a roasting dish. Bake at 180 C for about 30 minutes or til starting to firm up but not too crispy. While tofu is baking, prepare the vegetables so when you start cooking the soup, the vegetables are ready and the tofu has come out of the oven.

Heat vegetable oil in a large saucepan over medium heat and fry onion for about 3 minutes. Add garlic, ginger, carrot and silverbeet leaves and stalks. Fry about 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add remaining ingredients (including baked tofu) and bring to the boil (this took me about 10 minutes). Add a few drops of sesame oil and Tabasco sauce. Serve hot.

On the stereo:
Young Gifted and Black: 50 classic reggae hits: Various Artists


  1. This does sound hearty, and also light enough for you to enjoy in your spring/early summer (can't believe how quickly it's back again for you--and gone for us) :(

    And I think you're right--rainbow chard over here has those gorgeous colors. And tastes pretty good, too! How nice of your mum to drop some off. :)

  2. Ah, we're thinking the same this week - Asian soups! This sounds very good indeed.

  3. What a lovely entry Johanna. Indeed, this would be perfect anytime of year. I don't see an email in our inbox though about your submission. No matter, it has been noted.

    I too rarely make stir fry, preferring instead soups. I also rarely visit Chinese restaurants, as the vegetarian options are usually not terribly appealing. I have enjoyed a few Chinese recipes that I have made though and should explore Chinese cuisine more.

  4. During The Great Gas Crisis in Victoria as the last century came to an end (oh those bucket showers on cool autumn mornings!) I cooked everything in an electric fry pan for the duration. The stir fries were amazingly good and the teflon pan easy to clean. I reckon they rivaled the wok cooked ones I make.

    I admit to using chilli sauce 2 years past use by. I keep most opened sauces in the fridge so that extends shelf life. Tasted the same, no one died and no one knew except me! :)

  5. thanks Ricki - I think rainbow chard tastes better than plain old silverbeet because of its colours - probably all in my head!

    thanks Wendy - yes Asian soups always seem so healthy and comforting

    thanks Lisa - an email will come your way (internet connection and energy permitting) - this soup has made me think I should try a few more Chinese recipes at home - and I always feel more like Asian food when the weather is warmer!

  6. thanks AOF - luckily I was overseas during the Great Gas Crisis! I have a large frypan I use when I need a wok which gets me by. And I do use out of date food - esp the spicy type - but it was a shock when I hadn't used the sweet chilli sauce for ages to see just how long it had been hanging about - I used to go through this stuff a lot lot faster!

  7. I love noodle soup! I'm glad you found such a good version to make up for the stir fry issues. Did E enjoy it too?

  8. Noodle soup is one of those things I've missed the most - laksas are always made from prawns and things, and clear broth is always made from chicken. It was such comfort food for me as a kid. I make a very simple clear noodle soup, which I am going to link just in case you are interested ;o) here

  9. thanks Lysy - E had some but he wasn't that keen, but it did beat my stir fry!

    Thanks AVAT - I know what you mean about noodle soup being a comfort (even though I didn't have it as a child) - thanks for the link - will keep it filed away!

  10. What a lovely soup Johanna. Hearty and filling but I'm also imagining it could be quite light.

    I like the idea of a soup as an alternative non-wok dish.

  11. thanks Kathryn - I think this is a summertime sort of hearty but would be still lovely in winter - and yes it is much easier than a stir fry

  12. Gorgeous looking soup Johanna! Another gorgeous soup for our line-up. Thank you for entering it!



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