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.
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.
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…
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?
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!
1) Lightly roast the above in a medium-hot skillet or pan until starting to release their aroma –about 1 minute. Pop into a slow cooker or large soup pot.
2)Add the following to the hot skillet:
150g shallots, peeled and halved – or an onion, peeled and sliced into thick rings
3) 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
Use as many of these as you like and can stuff into a bowl.
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)
Lime wedges – essential!
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!