Hot n sour noodle soup

Not only does this dish look pretty, but it also throws a party for your tastebuds while giving you a nutritional kick to pick you up when you’re feeling run down… and it’s nowhere as difficult to cobble together as you might suspect. It’s a tad complex, though, and you’ll want to set aside at least an hour to prepare it all.

Here’s how to treat your senses as they deserve to be treated…

Flavour: Spicy, sour, and salty

Serves: 2 as a complete meal

Ingredients:

Broth:

  • 1 stalk lemongrass
  • 2 kaffir lime leaves, vein removed (just fold the leaves over and pull the vein out – it comes out easily)
  • knob of ginger – I use about half as much ginger as garlic, but you can adjust according to your taste)
  • 1 large clove of garlic
  • 1 shallot (or, failing that, 1 spring onion)
  • 4 bird’s eye chillies (add or subtract according to your own taste)
  • coriander – I use 2-3 leaves of Thai coriander (because it’s robust in texture and flavour, and I grow it in my garden), but you could use the roots or stems (or both) of more common variety – that’s where the flavour is most concentrated
  • 1 litre water
  • 6 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar or mirin – any kind will do
  • juice of half a lime
  • 1 tablespoon sugar – I use rapadura or palm sugar

Marinated tofu:

  • 100 grams extra-firm tofu
  • 1 teaspoon sugar – I use rapadura or palm sugar
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar or mirin – any kind will do
  • 1 tablespoon miso paste
  • 3 or 4 drops of sesame oil for marinating
  • 1 teaspoon unflavoured oil with high smoke point for frying – I use sunflower oil
  • a sprinkle of white pepper to taste

Veggies & noodles (recommendations only; ingredients and quantities are completely up to you):

  • 60 – 75 grams noodles (quantity varies according to how they’re bundled when you buy them, and, of course, according to how hungry you are) – I like to use Chinese wheat noodles, but you could use rice noodles
  • 1 cup beansprouts
  • 1 cup snow peas cut diagonally into halves
  • 1 cup shredded cabbage – try to get this quite finely shredded
  • 1 spring onion – green part only, finely sliced

Optional extras (to garnish):

  • Sprinkle of coriander leaves
  • Lime wedges
  • Finely chopped fresh chilli

Directions:

Broth:

  1. Chop lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, ginger, garlic, shallot, chillies and coriander as small as you can get them
  2. (optional step) Pulse through a blender with a splash of unflavoured oil (I use sunflower oil) to get the spices as fine as possible – a paste-like consistency is ideal
  3. Bring 500ml of your water to a slow simmer in a smallish pot, and add your spice mix – simmer this for 20-30 minutes to infuse the water with those flavours and aromas
  4. Strain the broth over a sieve into a larger pot, squeezing out as much juice as possible from the spice mix – discard the spice mix
  5. Bring broth to boil with the rest of the water, and add the rice vinegar and sugar
  6. Turn heat to low, and add the soy sauce and lime juice – leave on low heat until you’re ready to plate up

Marinated tofu (you can start on this as soon as your broth is simmering):

  1. Cut tofu into 1-inch squares, about a quarter inch thick, and dry fry (high heat, pressing on the tofu with a spatula to remove excess moisture) in a non-stick frying pan until slightly golden on both sides (this shouldn’t take more than about 5 minutes, and should result in thinner pieces with a chewy texture)
  2. Mix together the soy sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, and sesame oil in a bowl, and pop the tofu in – you should aim to marinate it for at least 15 minutes (unlike meat, tofu soaks up flavours really fast – especially once it’s dry-fried), and the longer, the better
  3. Stir the tofu in the marinade every few minutes to ensure the flavours get through each piece
  4. Heat up a non-stick frying pan to high heat, and add a splash of unflavoured oil – once the oil is hot you can gently pop your tofu in
  5. Your tofu will cook fast at high temperature, but you actually want to singe it ever so slightly to add a layer of smoky complexity to your dish, so turn it a couple of times if it’s only golden and not yet charred
  6. Add marinade mixture to pan and swish it around with the tofu (this will create a fair bit of steam – just roll with it) until the pan is almost dry
  7. Remove the tofu from the pan and set aside for plating (doesn’t matter if it cools a bit before plating)
  8. The residue in your pan should now be a bit smoky – it’ll look a bit like the bottom of a roasting dish, and that’s where a bunch of lovely flavours are going to come from, so add half a cup of water to the pan to loosen the residue, and then add it all to your broth to get some smoky saltiness in there

Putting it all together (you can start this when your broth is on the home stretch – doesn’t matter if the veggies cool before plating):

  1. Blanch your veggies in batches by type (except for the spring onions), and set each batch aside ready for plating (you could actually do some or all of these veggies raw, but I prefer slightly blanched because the texture is more palatable and it’s easier to pick up with chopsticks)
    • Tip: when blanching, do the lightest coloured veggies first, as darker colours will stain the water and possibly colour your other veggies; blanch each batch of veggies for 30-60 seconds, removing them from the water with a large slotted spoon, and repeat as desired until the veggies are as tender as you’d like them – ideally you keep them quite crisp (no need to salt the water, and I don’t bother with the follow-up ice water plunging many chefs suggest)
  2. Cook your noodles according to the instructions on the package
  3. Put a portion of noodles into each bowl, and arrange the blanched veggies and tofu around the bowl – kinda like the portions of a pie chart where the portions don’t have to be equal, but they are all clearly separate (see pic for plating suggestion)
  4. Pour the broth into the bowls (pouring onto the noodles works best), taking care to leave your plating concept intact – the veggies and noodles should be just slightly poking out from under the broth
  5. Sprinkle the spring onions in the centre, and add any other garnishes you like
  6. Serve immediately with chopsticks and spoons, and prepare to hear the satisfying sound of slurping 😀

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