Vietnamese Fried Bean Curd Soup (Hu Tieu Chay)
Lulu calls hủ tiếu chay (fried bean curd soup in Vietnamese) the ultimate Asian comfort food. The hearty broth is flavored with bold Asian ingredients, such as ginger, garlic and mushroom seasoning salt. There are a couple of uncommon elements; I used Fuji apples and rock sugar to add a touch of sweetness to the broth, and a Vietnamese variety of cured daikon radish (củ cải khô) that provides the signature flavor of hủ tiếu broth.
The real treat though, is the addition of fried tofu skin. It's used throughout vegetarian Vietnamese cuisine as a substitute for fried pork or chicken skin in mock meat dishes. The texture is crispy, yet chewy, and really shows off the versatility of tofu.
Yields: 10 servings3 sheets dried bean curd (Yuba), see tips
4 tablespoons canola oil (or any neutral oil)
1 (8-ounce) package dried thick tapioca noodles
1 tablespoon garlic, finely minced
2 shallots, thinly sliced
1 yellow onion
1 (2-inch) chunk ginger
1 tablespoon mushroom seasoning salt (or regular salt)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 Fuji apples, quartered
2 dried daikon radishes, sliced
1 (1-inch) chunk rock sugar (about 1 ounce), or granulated sugar), depending on the sweetness of the apples
1 (12.3-ounce) package firm tofu
10 dried shiitake mushrooms
3 stalks celery, peeled and halved
1 carrot, trimmed and peeled
1 daikon, trimmed and peeled
1 cup bean sprouts
6 sprigs Thai basil
6 sprigs Vietnamese mint
3 tablespoons cilantro
2 fresh serrano peppers, sliced
1/2 white onion (milder in flavor), thinly sliced
4 red Thai bird chiles
5 tablespoons chili garlic sauce, or Sriracha
2 green onions, finely sliced
2 tablespoons sesame oil
Charring the onion and ginger: Char the onion and ginger. Wash the whole unpeeled ginger, pat dry. Peel the whole onion without cutting the stem to make sure the onion doesn't fall apart in the broth. Place a grill on your stove, then char all the skin of the ginger and onion. Wrap them in aluminum foil. Let cool for about 10 minutes. Wash the ginger and onion under running tap water; the blackened skin will come right off. Bruise the ginger using a hammer to loosen the flesh and help release all the flavor.
Prepping the shiitake mushrooms: Soak the mushrooms in hot water for 30-40 minutes and drain. Remove and discard the stems.
For the tapioca noodles: Fill a large pot with water. Bring to a boil. Add the noodles. Wait for the water to come back to a boil (about 1-2 minutes), then lower the heat to medium-low for about 8 minutes. Drain the liquid. Rinse the noodles. Set them aside.
Frying the bean curd: Heat about 2 tablespoons of oil in a pan. Break the dried bean curd into pieces that fit in the pan. Add the bean curd and fry until bubbly, crispy and golden. Transfer to a plate.
Frying the garlic and shallots: Add 2 more tablespoons of oil to the pan. Sauté the garlic until golden. Transfer to a plate. Add the shallots to the oil, and cook, stirring frequently to prevent the shallots from burning, until the color is evenly golden brown. Transfer the shallots to the plate as well.
For the tofu: Drain the liquid from the package of the tofu. Pat the tofu dry with a paper towel. Cut into 1/2 inch slices. Using the oil from the pan, pan-fry the slices until slightly golden. Don't overcook the pieces or they'll start to get hard. The tofu should still be moist. Transfer all the tofu to a paper towel and let it cool. Once the tofu slices are cool enough to handle, cut them into long strips. Set aside on a plate.
How to make vegetarian broth: In a large pot, combine the garlic, shallots, sliced dried daikon, charred onion, ginger, apples and 4 quarts of water. Bring to a roaring boil for about 30 minutes and cook until the broth is reduced by 1/3. Regularly skim the impurities rising to the surface of the broth using a fine mesh strainer. Add the carrot and daikon and lower the heat to a bubbly simmer. Cook for about 20 more minutes. Add the celery, rock sugar and mushroom seasoning salt. Cook for another 15 minutes. Remove the daikon (if you like the taste), celery and carrot from the broth. Slice the vegetables and place them back in the broth. Check the seasoning. Season with salt and pepper. Adjust sweetness of the broth. The amount of sugar varies with the sweetness of the apples. Finish with a drizzle of sesame oil.
Cooking the shiitake mushrooms: Ladle about 2-3 cups of the vegetable broth into a separate saucepan. Slice the mushrooms and add them to the liquid. Bring the liquid to a boil and cook for about 5-8 minutes.
Line up your serving bowls. Place a little chopped white onion, some green onions, bean sprouts, mint, basil and cilantro in each bowl. Add the boiled drained tapioca noodles. Ladle the broth into the bowls with the carrots, celery and shiitake mushrooms from the other saucepan. Top with fried tofu and tofu skin (fried bean curd).
Garnish with more green onions, basil and cilantro. Serve with chili garlic sauce (tướng ớt) and fresh sliced green chiles on the side.
If you're a vegetarian, infusing apples gives a natural sweetness that resembles chicken broth. You can substitute 2 tablespoons of frozen apple juice concentrate for the fresh apples. When I make vegetable broth, I tend to use Fuji apples or Golden Delicious, which are some of the sweetest varieties.
Daikon (củ cải trắng in Vietnamese) is an Asian radish that looks like a large white carrot. I use this root a lot when making broth to add natural sweetness to it. Discard the root when the broth is ready. Some people like to eat daikon though but I don't.
Dried daikon radish (củ cải khô in Vietnamese) is cured in brine and give the charateristic sweetness of vegetarian hủ tiếu broth. You can find this product in any Asian stores.
For this recipe, I used dried shiitake mushrooms that I rehydrated in warm water for a stronger, more earthy flavor. You can find them in 1-ounce packages in Asian stores. Shiitake are perfect for a healthy diet and they're packed with iron and vitamin D.
The flatter the onion, the sweeter it is. I always try to pick flatter-shaped yellow onions at the market. I char the onion to caramelize the outer layer and enhance the sweetness of the broth. This method is very common when making phở.
Dried bean curd (also known as yuba or tofu skin, tàu hũ ki in Vietnamese) is a great meat substitute for a vegetarian diet. When deep-fried, it's used to imitate the crispiness of fried pork / chicken skin. Bean curd is made from the protein-rich layer that forms on top of heated soy milk. You can find it in Asian stores (fresh and dried) in different shapes (sheets, rolls, sticks, knots). Dried bean curd sheets are sold in 0.6-ounce packages.
You can find rock sugar in any Asian stores. You can also use granulated sugar.
I love bean sprouts; they add some crunchiness to the dish.
Mushroom seasoning salt brings a very distinct, earthy flavor to the broth. You can find it at gourmet specialty stores or in most Korean stores. I buy mine at Marina Foods -10122 Bandley Drive -Cupertino, CA 95014.
Vietnamese mint has a very different flavor from regular mint. It also has darker vein marking on the leaves. It's commonly used in Asian salads such as Vietnamese chicken salad and also in spring rolls (gỏi cuốn in Vietnamese).
Check out my recipe for chili garlic sauce, tướng ớt in Vietnamese. It's ultra easy; all you need are super fiery, spicy, deep red chiles. If you don't have any, you can find Sriracha in Asian stores.
If you have vegetable broth left over, place the broth in containers and store in the freezer. It will keep for up to 6 months.