A Really Useful Asian Broth with Awesome Add-Ins

really useful asian broth
Admission time. For a semi-professional cook (if we use the term loosely) I’m not the most brilliant stock maker. Sure, I can make a decent enough chicken stock, or even fish stock if called for, but vegetable stock? Not really. Oh the shame.

really useful asian broth
Perhaps I am spoiled by the delicious and exceedingly versatile stuff from Marigold Swiss Vegetable Bouillon, a stock powder so like the real thing that I suspect many UK chefs use it at home. And it comes in vegan, low-salt, and miso versions.  I am all for homemade – obviously – but when there is a product that saves time, effort and beats one’s own ministrations at the hob, well why the heck not? Its virtuosity has made me lazy. But it can’t cover all bases on its own.

So, for this recipe, after tinkering with a completely from-scratch broth, and giving up in a bout of self-loathing, I combine this genius product with some classic, but regionally disparate, Asian flavours. You can of course use your own best bought stuff, or indeed stock made by your own hand – grrr: whatever gives the deepest, most rounded flavour. Once made – and it does take a couple of hours to pull the flavour out of the stock vegetables and spices – it is a lovely, useful  broth to pour over all manner of things: thinly sliced vegetables of any kind, cooked noodles or rice, thinly sliced beef or plump prawns that will cook in the broth’s heat, and handfuls of complementing herbs. With today’s version I offer around tiny tamarind and shallot meatballs for the omnivores (ie, most of the men in my life) and yuba – tofu skin – for the omnis and the veggies. We like to have this broth with both. If you are cutting back for January then the all-vegetable option is there for you.asian broth add ins - yubamarigold swiss veg bouillon powderyuba

Yuba is interesting. I have encountered it numerous times but didn’t know what it was other than a type of tofu, and a weird looking one at that – I’m really selling this, aren’t’ I?. But when I was in Thai@Haymarket (a small supermarket) in Edinburgh’s Dalry Road, I spotted a clear cellophane pack of strange shiny sticks, nestled up with the dried noodles, and was surprised when I read it was tofu and not noodles. But the interesting thing about yuba, other than it is made from the nutritious leftovers of soy milk-making (recycling – yay!), is that it makes a protein-rich substitute for not only meat (it’s chewy and proteiny), but also noodles (strandy and chewy). And it keeps forever. One can stuff them, steam them, braise and stir fry them. I love shape-shifting foods (quinoa is another one) so I knew this pack would come in handy. I had originally wanted to top this broth with tiny baked ‘croutons’ of tofu, but I used the yuba here and it was brill. Next time I will soak it overnight, but even with an hour’s soak in soy-laced vegetable stock it was very nice. Using either baked tofu cubes (I’ll tell you how below) or the soaked and snipped yuba is fine. I still have loads more of these crispy beancurd lances and I am seriously wanting to try ALL of these yuba recipes from Chichi Wang on the Serious Eats blog.

You will see that the recipe instructions are capital L, long. If you aren’t completely put off by this warning you may see that it is not in the least bit complicated, just some easy steps and some time. And I have put instructions and options for things you might not even want, in the name of choice. So that makes it look longer than it really is.

The broth itself can be done in the slow cooker, while the meatballs are super easy but can be done ahead to save a step or two when you just want to get on with eating the darn thing. Whatever way you approach it, crack a bottle of something nice, crank up the radio and get stuck in. Maybe have some help with the chopping. Good things come to those who wait…

I thought this herb-topped recipe might fit in with Karen of Lavender and Lovage’s Herbs On Saturday Recipe Challenge hosted this month by Vanesther at Bangers and Mash. Go on over and see what’s already there, and maybe put something in yourself.

What do you make that takes time but is worth the effort? Do you have shortcuts, or do you enjoy the longer, more langorous approach? What’s the secret to a good vegetable stock? 

a useful asian broth
A Really Useful Asian Broth with Add-Ins

Last Year: Butternut Squash & Almond Dip with Homemade Pitta Chips + A piece on healthy snacking
 

Miss R’s Track of the Week: Vietnamese Pop Music – Awakening. That is actually the name of the group. I don’t know what they are singing but it’s techno dancey to the max. A bit of sci-fi acting stuff at the beginning then at 1:14 it starts with the music. Quite catchy! 

This broth takes some time for the vegetables and aromatics to impart their rounded and heady flavour, but I hope you think it worth the time and preparation. It really is just some chopping and searing to get it going, and then the flame or slow cooker takes over.  If you want to take a shortcut you may skip the first two steps and just pop everything in the pot as per a ‘normal’ stock. Regardless, once made and strained this pho-like broth can be used immediately or refrigerated and later made into a fabulous meal or two. It can also be frozen. How elaborate or simple you take this is up to you. I have some suggestions below, but really whatever takes your fancy and what’s in season will work. Just keep everything thinly sliced. The residual heat of the broth will lightly blanch the vegetables, retaining all the nutrients and keeping everything light and dare I say, springlike.
 
That said, if you are not vegetarian I wholeheartedly recommend the tiny tamarind meatballs. I had a pot of tamarind still on the worktop from another recipe play session and thought it might be nice to mix in some with a small amount of beef mince. Along with some chopped spring onion, seasoning and some bought crispy shallots, the tamarind made for the most gloriously sticky, flavoursome meatballs. Cook these in a little oil and pop 4-5 in each bowl with the vegetables, herbs and the soaked rice noodles. Slurp-tastic.asian broth
 
The Broth
6 whole star anise
1  4 cm cinnamon stick (ignore the extra one in the photo)
1 tsp fennel seeds
3 green cardamom pods, lightly squashed
1 tsp coriander seeds
2 tsp peppercornsasian broth

1) Lightly roast these in a medium-hot skillet or pan until starting to release their aroma –about 1 minute. Pop these into a slow cooker or large soup pot. Add the following to the hot skillet:

150g shallots, peeled and halved – or an onion, peeled and sliced into thick rings
40g gingerroot, peeled and thickly sliced
4 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly squashedsearing veg for asian broth

2) Sear these until lightly browned in places. This will provide the characteristic backbone of Asian-type broths like pho. When seared tip them into the pot, along with:

4 litres of light vegetable stock – I use Marigold Swiss Vegetable Vegan Bouillon powder
2 carrots & 2 leeks, cleaned and thickly sliced
3 lemongrass stalks, lightly squashed and halved lengthways
200g shitake mushrooms OR 5 dried shiitake mushrooms (latter gives more flavour)  - optional but adds depth and umami often missing in vegetable stocks
2 tsp salt (have more for adjusting flavour later)asian broth
3) Bring all to the boil and then turn down to a simmer. Cover the pot and leave to simmer gently for between one and two hours. If you do this in the slow cooker use just-boiled water & stock powder/cubes and set the cooker on High for 6-8 hours. 4)  At the end of the simmering time strain through a muslin cloth or very fine mesh sieve, discarding the veg and spices. Pour the filtered broth into a clean pot and check the flavour before more simmering. At this point you will probably want to add more salt – as grains, or as soy sauce or fish sauce – and perhaps a heaped tablespoon of miso for depth (white or brown as is your preference) and one of tamarind to add some sourness. Some of you may want to add in some brown sugar. It really is personal preference once the basic stock is made, but remembering that the add-ins will contribute a lot of flavour, and you don’t want the broth to overwhelm. At this point you could also cool and store the broth in the fridge or freezer for another time.asian broth
The Add-Ins

Use as many of these as you like and can stuff into a bowl.

Tiny Tamarind Meatballs – see below
Baked tofu pieces – see below
Yuba strips – see below

Flat rice noodles, soba noodles, rice vermicelli or other Asian noodles – prepared as per packet directions for adding into other dishes (for rice noodles you usually soak in hot water for 20 minutes)

Sliced baby pak choi
Cooked edamame (boil 2 minutes and refresh in cold water)
Blanched beansprouts – 30 seconds in boiling water then rinsed
Thinly sliced broccoli, shiitake or chestnut mushrooms, carrots, turnip, spring onions/scallions, cucumber
Thai or Italian basil, coriander/cilantro, mint leaves – sliced or whole

Lime wedges – essential!

Thai chillies or other chillies, sliced
Sriracha or other chilli sauce for more heat
Hoisin sauce, for some sweetness
Fish sauce or soy sauce, for more salty

tamarind meatballsTiny Tamarind Meatballs

250g best lean beef mince (or use turkey or pork)
1 finely chopped spring onion/scallion
2 garlic cloves, minced finely
2 tbsp crispy shallots or onions
1 tsp tamarind paste (or lime juice and a good pinch of sugar)

Salt and white pepper, to taste

Mix this all up in a bowl. Take a skillet and heat a little oil. When hot, add a pinch of the meatball mixture and cook until browned. Taste for seasoning, adjusting the raw mix as necessary. This is a great way to make sure meat mixtures have the correct seasoning without guessing or – heaven forbid – tasting the raw mixture. Make up small meatballs (see image for size guidelines as I didn’t measure!) and fry until sticky and done. Set aside on kitchen paper. You can do these ahead of time and just reheat them briefly before adding to the broth.

Baked tofu pieces: Take half a pack of firm tofu and press it to rid the cake of most of the moisture, cube it then toss in a little toasted sesame or rapeseed oil and bake in a 180C/350F oven for about 8-10 minutes, or until just starting to colour and  the outside feels firm and springy. Set aside.

Yuba strips – Soak as many dried tofu sticks as you need (bearing in mind they will swell about double) in a flat wide dish of just-boiled water to which you have seasoned with soy sauce or stock powder. Cover and leave for 30 minutes to one hour, topping up with more hot water if they still seem quite firm. The ‘done’ texture should be cuttable with scissors and chewy. You will know if it’s still too hard. Snip the puffed sticks across the thinnest side (not down the way) and it will automatically make tight ribbons. Leftover soaked yuba will keep for a couple of days in the fridge. Can do this ahead.

To serve, lay out all the add-ins you wish and let each person customise their bowl, starting with the noodles on up, finishing with a few ladles of broth, the herbs and any kind of hot sauce. Enjoy!

Serves: 6 good sized bowls – perfect convivial party food with options for vegetarians and omnivores.

leftovers for lunch - asian broth

yippee – leftovers!

asian broth

doesn't this look like mr crabs from the spongebob squarepants cartoon?

doesn’t this look like mr crabs from the spongebob squarepants cartoon?

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25 thoughts on “A Really Useful Asian Broth with Awesome Add-Ins

  1. Ha! Mr. Crabs for sure. That stock is waaaay too much trouble for me. I make stock weekly (simple veggie variety) and add ginger, lemongrass, or other seasonings to it based on what it’s being used for. Mostly, my kids use it for miso soup, so the flavoring is really all in the chives, miso paste, and greens (kombu is best).

    Looks delish as usual!

    • I think because of the way I need to describe it for anyone unfamiliar with making stock that it sounds trouble but it really isn’t anymore than regular veg stock. Just the ‘pho searing’. Everything else is optional but I put EVERYTHING to give choice and ideas. I have only used kombu once and don’t remember how I found the result. Must try in this broth next time as I thin it would help with depth. THanks for commenting, Shannon.

  2. Absolutely mouth watering! The colours are literally dancing off my screen into my taste buds. We all love this kind of food so this is a defo keeper!
    Last time I made veg stock I took out the colander and drained the veg and watched the stock liquid go down the plug hole – I totally forgot I was making stock! (I went into auto-pilot and thought I was draining veg, doah….)

  3. As I use a lot of fresh vegetables, the makings of vegetable stock are always there and always used, altho’ I use a shorter time frame when making said stock. I do love your Asian add-ons, some of which I had not thought of. Also, I have seen a lot of substitutes for the odd time one has run out of tamarind: have’nt used lime juice + sugar, but that does ‘taste’ the best on pretend-palate – thank you!

    • Lime & a pinch of sugar is as close I could get to imitate tamarind. I know a lot of folk don’t have tamarind paste, but if you like southeast Asian cooking as I do then it is essential. And it keeps for ages, so no waste. I pop it in all kinds of things, especially if I don’t have fresh lime.

  4. You’ve really outdone yourself with this gorgeous photo-essay, Kellie! Whether or not I’ll make this stock is beside the point — this post is a total feast for the eyes! Thank you!

  5. Just my kind of soup. I would love this, especially with some Sriracha chilli sauce, my favourite! I love the marigold bouillon powders but didn’t realise they had such a wide variety. Having made vegetable stock a lot in the past I don’t find it packs in as much flavour as Marigold does,it’s almost too subtle. But I must say I am the biggest fan of home made chicken stock and Asian duck stock is also wonderful. I will be hunting out some Yuba at my local Korea food store, such an interesting ingredient :)x

    • Even though we only discovered sriracha a couple of years ago, My Miss R would have it as her desert island ingredient. She likes things even spicier than me! Not being a duck fan (except swimming in a pond) I can only imagine how tasty an Asian duck broth would be. Star anise and duck are such good partners – so I’ve heard ;-) I hope you get the yuba. It should be in your Korean store. Right now I’m excited because my very suburban corner of Edinburgh is getting an Asian supermarket (and halal butcher). I have been going past eyeing up for when the doors open!

  6. Pingback: January Herbs on Saturday blog challenge – win a copy of ‘Your Kitchen Garden’ « Bangers & Mash

  7. Oh yes! This looks like my kind of broth! Thanks so much for entering it into this month’s Herbs on Saturday challenge. A fabulous entry – my mouth is watering :)

  8. You’re giving me a yen for a big bowl of Pho. The good news is, I’ll be in SE Asia next week, and can get something authentic. The bad news is, I’ll be in SE Asia next week, and back on the road. I’ve never actually tried to replicate Pho at home, though with all the good ideas you’ve shared here, think I will give it a try next time I’m here for a few weeks – love those delicate, herbal flavours, and the idea of serving the ingredients separately and having people build their own soups.

    • Oh think will all your experience of pho eating you won’t need my help knocking up a great version of your own. I bet you’ve had some weird and wonderful toppings. Or perhaps more traditional. Let me know how you get on with your broth! I’m glad you like the DIY approach I suggest for toppings. I do think it is a best option for feeding more than one or two people – keeps everyone happy, and less waste ;-)

      • Less waste? Will just have to steal this for my blog. As for toppings I’ve had, “weird and wonderful” covers the range nicely. The weirdest I almost had was scorpion in Mongolian hot pot, though at the last minute our hosts changed the order.

  9. You know, now that I read your pho stock recipe again, it doesn’t seem that much trouble. I’m already used to doing a quick sautee for many things (dry for curries, caramelizing onions, wilting greens, etc.) before throwing into something else. It would be no different. And as I keep a gallon of veggie stock in my fridge at any given time, I can use that as my “base” for your recipe.

    We get something perhaps similar to yuba strips: soy curls. They’re made from whole soy beans, but I’m uncertain as to whether it’s after the fermenting process (crucial for soy) or not. They make a great BBQ “not-pulled pork” sammies or “not-chicken fajita” tacos. Kids love ‘em!

  10. This looks delicious. I think I’m going to try it. I’ve made very successful veg. stock before – I’d have to look at my recipe, but I know I roasted the veggies first. There were dried shiitakes involved, and a splash of soy sauce at the end. I also use the slow cooker, which I do for most stocks.

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