Lately, I’ve become curious about Asia cuisine in particular Thai food. Needless to say the intersection of this new study with that of having to cook a vegan dish presented a challenge. Just about every dish has that essential ingredient fish sauce or nam pla. Truly this is the single most important flavoring for authentic Thai. An adequate substitute can be found in soy sauce although not in equal parts due to its strength.
So although this soup recipe from Real Vegetarian Thai, by Nancie McDermott in her own words, veers “away from the framework of authenticity” she is a realist. Thailand, McDermott writes, “lacks a strong indigenous vegetarian tradition.” There are religious practices such as Terawada Buddhism and Sino-Thais (Thais of Chinese descent) that have long traditions of traditions of vegan fasts and cuisines. It’s interesting to note that the Thai concept of veganism is stricter than Western interpretations in that many stimulating spices, onions, garlic and alcohol are excluded from the vegan diet. These items are said to inflame passions.
In Phuket there is a 9-day Vegetarian Festival in early autumn where the center of town becomes a showcase for Thai-style Chinese vegetarian cooking.
This version of a popular soup, Tom Yum is a spicy lemongrass soup with mushrooms and tofu. More commonly found is tom yum goong, which contains shrimp. Nahm prik pao, roasted chili paste fortifies the broth. Lemongrass permeates the broth and offers a delicate and ethereal note to the taste. A more rustic, northeastern Thai version of this soup uses pieces of fish such as catfish or salmon. After making this soup and serving this soup and telling my dinner guests that it was vegan S and W replied with a well we thought it “rocked the house.” So really this dish convinced me that good tasting food, regardless of a vegan classification is just that, food that rocks the house and comforts the soul.
Final Dinner Menu (Semi-VeganTom Yum (V) Organic Greens with Spicy Thai Citrus Dressing(V) Chicken Satay (Not V) Satay Peanut Sauce (V)
Spicy Lemon Grass Soup with Mushrooms and Tofu
Serves 4 –6
4 Cups Vegetable Stock
3 large stalks fresh lemongrass
12 wild lime leaves (optional)
2 ½ tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
3 slender green onions, cut crosswise into 1" lengths
1 fresh green jalapeno chili
8 ounces firm tofu, cut into 1” cubes
1 cup well-drained, whole canned straw mushrooms
2 tablespoons roasted chili paste
2 teaspoons sugar
½ teaspoon soy sauce
½ teaspoon salt
In a large saucepan bring the stock to a boil over medium heat. Meanwhile, trim 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, including any dried brown leaf portions; you should have handsome stalks about 6” long, including the bulbous base. Using the blunt edge of a clever blade or heavy knife or the side of an unopened can, bruise each stalk, whacking it firmly at 2” intervals and rolling it over to bruise on all sides.
When the stock is boiling, add the bruised lemongrass stalks and half of the lime leaves 9if using), and reduce the heat to maintain a simmer. Cook until the stock is fragrant and the lemongrass has faded from bright green to a dull khaki, about 5 minutes.
While the soup simmers, combine the lime juice, the remaining lime leaves (if using), and the green onions in a serving bowl large enough to accommodate the soup. Remove the stem from the jalapeno and cut the chili crosswise into thick rounds; add 2 or more of the rounds to the serving bowl; the amount depends on you love of chili heat. Reserve any leftover chili for another use and set aside.
Scoop out the lemongrass form the stock and discard it.
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, remove it from the heat and quickly pour it into the serving bowl. Stir to combine the lime juice and herbs with the soup and serve at once.
Note: Adjust taste with more lime juice, chili paste desired. Serve at once.