Cooking Chapbook

Notes from my kitchen in the D.C. area & beyond

Tag: tofu

White bean, spinach, tofu, leek soup

This winter has been Germany’s darkest in recorded history, with the fewest hours of sunshine ever. The sky is a perpetual stretch of muted gray, as blank and listless as concrete. A drifting of clouds is cause for celebration, and any sighting of the golden orb leaves me blinking like a maulwurf.

And just a few days into spring, it snowed.

So I’d like to be writing about grilling. About the first bundles of Italian white spargel (aparagus) and baskets of shiny strawberries at the market. About picnicking in a new-found park, a blanket on prickly new grass under the young sun’s rays.

But instead, I’m still in soup season.

Bean soup

Bean soup with leeks, spinach and tofu

This soup is a quick and easy version I made up with the spinach and leeks I bought at the market. It feels enormously comforting, both because of its savory, pick-you-up taste and the plethora of good-for-you vegetables.

White bean, spinach, leek, tofu soup

  • olive oil and/or butter
  • 1 leek
  • 2-4 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 3-4 cups of broth (I used chicken broth)
  • 1 can white Northern beans, or another kind of your liking, drained and washed
  • 1 box firm or extra-firm tofu, chopped into bite-sized cubes
  • dried herbs, such as oregano, rosemary, basil (Herbes de Provence works nicely)
  • salt and pepper (optional)
  • 2-3 cups of washed, chopped fresh spinach
  • sprinkle of Worcestershire sauce (optional)

Trim the leek. I cut off the bottom tangled root bit, and the tough green leaves, although you could use them, too. That leaves a cane of white and pale green, which I wash, then slice once lengthwise, then into lots of half-moons. I wash them again in a colander, separating the curls and making sure any grit is gone. (Sometimes leeks are a tiny bit dirt-happy, sometimes they are pristine.)

Trimming the leek

Here’s where I cut off the darker, tougher leaves. You can use eat them, certainly, but you’ll need to cook them rather voraciously, I think, to mellow out their strength. Any ideas how to use them? And is this about where you trim your leeks?

Leek, trimmed

Almost a bit of art

Chopped up leek curls

Chopped up leek curls, ready to be cooked.

In a dutch oven or other pot, cook the leek curls on medium heat in a swirl (1-2 tablespoons) of olive oil and/or butter. Don’t abandon them, as they’ll need a stir every so often to prevent scalding. If the leeks are beginning to develop brown spots, the stove is too hot; turn it down to medium-low or low.

Wait until the leeks have softened, maybe 10 minutes. Try one to see if its lusciously soft enough for you. While the leeks are cooking, I made a batch of cornbread (recipe to come), but rice would have been nice, too. If you’d like a side, now’s a good time to tackle that, assuming it’s fairly simple.

Once the leeks are softened to your wishes, add the sliced garlic. Let it cook a minute or two.

Then add the beans, the tofu, and the broth. Let it come to a simmer.

Add a good sprinkle of dried herbs and pepper. Taste and adjust. It may need more herbs; it may need salt; it may need a sprinkle of Worcestershire sauce to jazz it up. A lot will depend on the intensity of the broth.

Let it simmer for a little while, maybe 5 minutes, maybe 10 minutes, depending on what else you need to do in the kitchen. Let it take its time.

You may want to sample it one more time. (One of the lovely perks of being the cook.) If you are feeling like the broth is too subtle, try red chili flakes for a kick or a bit of grated cheese on top, once you spoon the soup into bowls.

Spinach, washed and drying

Spinach, washed and drying

When all other parts of the meal are ready, add the spinach. Give it a good stir, and let the spinach cook for a minute or two. If you like the spinach simply wilted, then don’t even wait that long – you are ready to slurp the soup and warm up.

Bean soup, close up

Bean soup, close up

The Empowerment of Coconut Soup

For a new cook, any delicious spoonful created by your own hands brings with it a stunning epiphany: I have food power.

I never have to wait for that take-out place to open at 5 or the grocery store to be stocked in premade whatever or my good friend so-in-so to invite me over or the occasional trip to Texas/New Orleans/San Francisco/insert your favorite food city.

Any time I want this precise glorious taste, at 4 p.m. or 2 a.m., I can have it.

And the skies open and tea kettles sing.

I feel this same sweet emotion whenever I make something I never imagined I could, something that once tasted so exotic, I had no idea how to begin picking out the flavors.

Like Thai Coconut Soup.

On a chilly snow-slush day like today in Germany, I craved the creamy, warm, spiciness of coconut soup, filled with soft vegetables. A veritable vitamin-packed tropical escape.

Though, in all honestly, I don’t really know how Thai this concoction is. There are no kaffir lime leaves or galangal or lemongrass or ginger even. So let me work on the name. Hmm.

The basic gist is coconut milk, vegetables and spices. The right spices. Fish sauce is also key. If I had had ginger, I would have added it. Ditto on chicken or shrimp and most any vegetable – string beans, okra, zucchini all sound nice to me.

Coconut Soup with a Kick

Serves 4

  • 2 cans (around 13-15 ounces or 400 ml) of coconut milk (ideally at least 1 non-lite)
  • 2 cups of chicken broth, vegetable broth or water
  • 2 sweet peppers, sliced into strips
  • Handful of shiitake mushroom caps, cut into strips
  • 1 small eggplant, sliced thinly into rounds and then each round quartered
  • 1 box of firm tofu, cut into chunks
  • 3+ garlic cloves, minced
  • 2-3 tablespoons oil (peanut, canola or vegetable – not olive)
  • 3 tablespoons red curry paste
  • 1-2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes, more to taste
  • sprinkle of cayenne powder, more to taste
  • fresh cilantro, chopped, optional
  • rice (cook according to package instructions)

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium in a deep skillet or dutch oven. Add the minced garlic and red curry paste. Stir.

Add the eggplant, peppers and any other chopped vegetables you like. (White mushrooms would be good to add here – shiitakes are so delicate, they cook just by simmering later.)  Add the tofu. Let it all cook for a few minutes, enough so the vegetables get a head-start on cooking. Stir periodically. Add a little more oil if things start to stick.

Pour in the coconut milk and broth (or water). Stir to combine. Add the shiitake mushrooms. Let it come to a boil and then adjust the heat so it simmers.

Add the curry powder, turmeric, cayenne, red chili flakes and 1 tablespoon of fish sauce. (If you aren’t one for heat, omit the cayenne and only sprinkle a bit of the red chili flakes. You can always add more.) Let it simmer for a minute or two and then taste. Does it need more fish sauce? More heat? More curry? Add more spices and fish sauce until you hit the right spot for you. This is one of the most valuable parts of your own kitchen. Dinner is exactly to taste – your taste!

Let the soup simmer until all of the vegetables (the eggplant is usually the last to relax) are soft enough to your liking and ready to eat. It won’t hurt to keep the soup simmering a little longer while you set the table and wait for the rice to cook.

Serve with rice and topped with chopped cilantro, if you like.