Vegetarian Tom Yum Soup
THEME: #207 HERBALICIOUS
What are herbs?
Herbs are plants with seeds, flowers and leaves where the leaves and green parts are used for flavoring, as part of food, as medicine and also used in some perfumes to enhance the aroma. In cooking, usually the leafy greens of herbs are used not as a main dish but as a part of a dish. So you may say that we use spinach, fresh fenugreek, fresh mustard leaves too and they too are leafy greens so why are they considered vegetables and not herbs? Well, for one these leafy greens are usually prepared on its own or with other vegetables as a curry or used in salads in big quantities. Usually herbs are used in small quantities. So you may also wonder what is the difference between herbs and spices. Herbs are where you use the leafy green and other green parts like stalks. Spices are where other parts of the plant are used like cinnamon is the bark of a tree, cardamom is a seed pod, peppers are berries etc.
All herbs are aromatic, fragrant and impart a specific taste. Usually they are added at the end of the dish to enhance the flavour and gives any dish a refreshing look. Some are added when cooking like oregano, basil, rosemary are added when the pasta sauce is simmering. Every part of the world has its own indigenous herb that they use. Take for example curry leaves, which goes by the botanical name murraya koenigii, are used in so many dishes all over India. Its adds a distinct flavour to the dish and also has a very distinct aroma. My personal belief is that no kadhi is complete without curry leaves (limdi, kari patta). Or take Swaty’s Sabudana Khichdi, it would not taste the same without the distinct flavour of curry leaves.
Nowadays with everyone sampling and enjoying cuisines from different parts of the world, availability of some fresh herbs is pretty easy. Its common to find fresh oregano on the shelves in Mombasa, fresh basil in the markets of Mumbai, lemongrass in US, curry leaves in UK etc. Whenever fresh herbs are not available, dried ones either as whole or powdered are used and they too impart a strong flavour. However, if the dried herbs are left on the shelf for too long, they loose their flavour and aroma.
How to make your own dried herbs at home?
Its so simple, usually the leaves and or stalks are washed, dried on a kitchen towel and left out to dry in a cool area. Once dry they are packed into a jar. Another way is to spread the leaves out on a plate. Put it in the microwave oven and let it dry out at a low setting and for 30 to 40 seconds. When cool, store in a jar. The timing will depend on the type of herb.
Swaty’s blog Food Trails has many recipes where different herbs are used. She suggested the theme herbalicious and her request was not to use the common ones like coriander and curry leaves. I knew immediately which herbs I wanted to use. For my recipe that follows, I used fresh lemongrass, basil and dried kaffir lime leaf powder.
A vegetarian version of the famous Thai Tom Yum soup (hot and sour soup) was on my list since my visit to the beautiful country. I was not able to sample the soup as fish sauce was added to it. Usually there are two versions of this soup, one where the soup is in a broth and the other where coconut milk or evaporated milk is added to it. With added milk it is called Tom Khaa.
The main flavors for Tom Yum comes from lemongrass, galangal and kaffir lime leaves and of course not forgetting the hot fiery red bird eye chili. Its one of the easiest soups, a one pot meal kind of soup which can be served as a light meal option. As the broth boils keep on adding all the veggies, fish, meat, etc to your heart’s content.
So lets get to the recipe for a veggie version of Tom Yum Soup.
VEGETARIAN TOM YUM SOUP – VEG
6-7 cups of water or vegetable stock
2-3 stalks of lemongrass, smash the bottom white part a bit and chop
½ tsp dried kaffir lime leaf powder
1″ galangal, finely chopped or grated
6-8 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1-2 fresh red chilis, finely chopped
1 large onion chopped
3 tomatoes, finely chopped
3 bunches pak choy (bok choy), leave whole or cut into chunks
1 large zucchini, cut into thick slices
200g crab mushrooms or any other mushrooms
2 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tsp brown sugar or coconut sugar
1- 1½ tsp salt
½ tsp cumin powder
½ tsp coriander powder
8-10 basil leaves ( I had to use Italian basil as I didn’t get Thai basil)
handful of cherry tomatoes or 1 chopped tomato
- Add the water or stock to a large pan. Put the pan on medium heat.
- Add chopped lemongrass, galangal, garlic, red chilis, kaffir lime leaf powder and chopped tomatoes.
- Let the mixture simmer for 10 minutes over low heat. This allows the flavors of the herbs to infuse and also softens the tomatoes.
- Mash the tomatoes with the back of the cooking spoon.
- Add salt, pepper, cumin, coriander powders, basil, onion, sugar and soy sauce. Let the mixture simmer for 3 -4 minutes.
- Add the pok chop, mushrooms and zucchini. Let it simmer for 3 -4 minutes.
- Add sliced or cubed tofu, lime juice and cherry tomatoes and serve immediately.
- Add vegetables of your choice like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, bell pepper, etc.
- Use jalapeño or normal fresh chilis if you don’t like the soup too hot. Or omit it and serve with chopped chilis on the side.
- If you have fresh kaffir lime leaves then remove the middle stalk using a sharp knife and add about 10 leaves.
- If you don’t have either dried or fresh kaffir lime leaves, then add lime zest to the simmering water. Add also a bit of your favorite vinegar.
- Add fresh coriander instead of basil.
- You can use ready made Thai red curry paste if you wish.
- Next time I make the soup, I’ll let the broth after completing step one, rest for a couple of hours to allow the flavors to infuse.
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You may want to check out some other recipes where I’ve used fresh herbs:
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