Korean Tofu Soup with Rice Cakes
Rice cakes are made from glutinous rice flour. We buy them at the Korean market. They're a great alternative to bánh phở or ordinary noodles. What I love most about this product is that they're made with no additives or preservatives. They're a favorite at our house. The texture is very nice, and works well in a simple, clear vegetable broth. If you're looking for a healthy meal, this is not your average diet cabbage soup.
Yields: 10 servings1 (17.63-ounce) package rice cakes, pre-sliced
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons canola oil (or any neutral oil)
1 tablespoon garlic, finely minced
2 shallots, sliced
2 dried red chiles
1 yellow onion
1 (2-inch) chunk ginger, sliced
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
2 Fuji apples, quartered
1 teaspoon sugar, depending on the sweetness of the apples
8 ounces mustard spinach (or Chinese cabbage)
1 (12.3-ounce) package Korean firm tofu
3 stalks celery, peeled and sliced
1 carrot, trimmed and peeled
1 daikon radish, trimmed and peeled
1 cup shiitake mushrooms, sliced
3 tablespoons green onions, finely sliced
3 tablespoons cilantro, finely chopped
Frying the garlic and shallots: Heat about 2 tablespoons of oil in a large pot. Sauté the garlic until golden. Transfer to a plate. Add the shallots and dried chiles 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 the piece of tofu into 1/2 inch slices. Using the oil from the pot, 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 cubes. Set aside on a plate.
For the shitake mushrooms: In the same pot, add the shiitake mushrooms and sauté them for about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and transfer to the same plate.
Char the onion: 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 and char all the skin of the onion. Wrap it in aluminum foil. Let cool for about 10 minutes. Wash the onion under cold running water; the blackened skin will come right off.
Prepping the rice cakes: Soak the oval rice cakes in a large bowl filled with cold water for about 45 minutes. Drain the water using a colander. Set aside until the vegetable broth is ready.
When you're ready to serve, fill a medium-sized pan with about 2 quarts of water. Bring to a boil and add the rice cakes. Wait for the water to come back to a boil (about 1-2 minutes), then immediately lower the heat to a gentle boil. Cook for about 8 minutes. Do NOT over-cook; otherwise the rice cakes will be hard. You want the rice cakes to be moist and chewy. Drain the liquid and transfer the rice cakes to a large platter. Drizzle with sesame oil to prevent the rice cakes from sticking to each other.
How to make vegetarian broth: In the pot, combine the garlic, shallots, ginger, charred onion, apples and 3-1/2 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 sliced celery, soy sauce, sugar and salt. Cook for another 15 minutes. Remove the daikon (if you like the taste) and carrot from the broth. Slice the vegetables and place them back in the broth. Add the shiitake mushrooms, 2 tablespoons of cilantro and 2 tablespoons of green onions. Adjust seasoning if necessary. Season with more salt and pepper. The vegetarian broth is ready.
For the mustard spinach: Place the long leaves of mustard spinach with stems in a spider strainer. Blanch the greens by dipping the strainer for about 2-3 minutes in the vegetable broth. Lift the strainer and immediately transfer the tender greens into an ice-cold water bath. Drain and cut into 1-1/2-inch pieces (small bite-sized pieces). Set aside until you're ready to serve.
Remove and discard the apples.
Be organized; line up your serving bowls. Place some mustard greens and the rice cakes in each bowl. Ladle the broth into the bowls with the vegetables. Top with fried tofu.
Garnish with more green onions and cilantro. Serve with chili garlic sauce (tướng ớt) on the side.
When searching for rice cakes at Asian stores (preferably Japanese and Korean markets), you want to look for the oval-shaped ones. You'll find other shapes such as rectangles and rounds but those are for different cooking applications (grilled and deep-fried).
I get large bags of dried red chiles at the Indian market. I find them to be the most fragrant.
Mustard spinach, also known as mustard greens, has a sweet and mild flavor with a zesty aroma. If you don't have any, you can use Chinese cabbage.
The soy sauce brings saltiness to the dish and a nice amber brown color to the broth. My favorite soy sauce is the Da Bo De brand. It has a very nice flavor and is not too salty. You can find this particular sauce in downtown San Jose, at Dai Thanh Asian market on 420 S 2nd St, in San Jose. It's not the prettiest store, but it has all the fresh Vietnamese produce at a very reasonable price. This is one of the best "ethnic" grocery stores in the area.
The flatter the onion is, 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.
Daikon (củ cải trắng in Vietnamese) is an Asian radish that looks like a large white carrot. I use this root a lot for making broth. I usually discard the root when the broth is ready but you can serve it if you like the taste. It's also delicious when it's pickled with carrots and is commonly used in Vietnamese bánh mì sandwiches.
When making rice cake soup, I usually use Korean tofu. I think the texture is smoother.
If you have vegetable broth left over; place the broth in containers and store in the freezer. You can keep it for up to 6 months.
For a twist on a comfort food classic, you can add pre-cooked shredded chicken to the broth for an Asian version of chicken noodle soup. If you use chicken broth, no need for apples. If you're a vegetarian, 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. They give a natural sweetness to the broth that resembles the sweetness from chicken broth.
Published By: on December 6, 2009.