Thursday, April 17, 2014

A Study in Contrasts


Stir-fried mushrooms, scallions, bamboo shoots, tofu and peppery baby bok choy floating in a richly thick, hot & sour vegetable broth, flavored with chili oil, white pepper, black vinegar and soy sauce.

Want the recipe?
It’s at the bottom of this post.

Want the wine pair?
Next Thursday’s post will have all my food and wine pairing tips.

Want the beer pair?
It’ll be following the wine pair post, so be sure to check back.

Our world – it’s a study in contrasts.

A beam of sunshine breaking through leaden clouds.
A cool breeze after hours of oppressive heat.
A sprig of green pushing up through the concrete.

Our world’s chocked full of contrasts, and ironically, one can’t exist without the other. 

For without cool, there’s no spicy. 
Without sweetness, no sour. 
No bland without salty and without saucy, just no fun.

And if you've ever heard the expression, "opposites attract," you might well be talking about Thai cuisine.  It's a joyous celebration of kaleidoscopic contrasts: hot and sour, cool and spicy, pungent and fragrant, bitter and sweet.  And it's all bundled up into harmonious treats.

So open your mouth, for there's tasting to be done and plenty of flavor games just waiting to be played.  Consider this - a spicy soup served, not steaming hot, but stone cold.  Or, a sweet confection filled with a tangy, sour core of cream.  It's a cuisine that’s intended to challenge most every expectation, creating breathless surprises again and again. 

So, if you're under the weather, try a bowl of surprises. 

Maybe Hot and Sour Soup would be a great place to start.  Called “Tom Yum” in Thailand, “tom” means boiling, while “yum” might mean “flavorful” both to you and to me, but it actually refers to a Thai salad, both sour and spicy.  So, with this melding of contrasts, a distinctive flavor combination is created, full of fragrant herbs mixed with steaming broth.  Lemongrass, lime juice, kaffir lime leaves and fish sauce, with crushed chili peppers and a splash of vinegar to lend its sour tang.

Or, if you'd like to try something a tad less adventurous, but still be rewarded with a hot and sour kick, my Vegetarian Hot and Sour Soup might just be the answer.  It's rich and it's bold, with a velvety consistency, that's both calming and refreshing, and all at the very same time. 

It’s the ultimate study in contrasts, chocked full of complexities, and just perfect when you'd like to turn your blues into oranges, reds and greens.

Serves 4 – 6

18 ounces extra firm tofu
4 ounces white mushrooms (cut in 3rds lengthwise)
4 ounces crimini mushrooms (cut in 3rds lengthwise)
4 scallions (tops thinly biased sliced, bottoms 2-inch pieces)
1 baby bok choy (cut crosswise into 6ths)
12 ounces bamboo shoots (drained, cut into bite-size pieces)
vegetable or canola oil

3 cans (14½ ounce each) vegetable broth
1 teaspoon white pepper
2 teaspoons chili oil
5 tablespoons black vinegar
3 tablespoons soy sauce

3 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons water
1 large beaten egg
1 fresh lime (cut into wedges)

In order to extract excess water from the tofu, place the tofu in a casserole or pie plate, then cover with a plate weighted with a heavy pot.  Set aside for about 20 minutes.

In the meantime, combine the sliced mushrooms and place them together in a bowl.

Place the following prepared ingredients in 5 additional bowls: scallion tops (white), scallion bottoms, bok choy tops (leafy green portion), bok choy bottoms and bamboo shoots.

In a small cup, create a slurry of the cornstarch and water and set aside.
And lastly, combine the white pepper, chili oil, black vinegar and soy sauce in a separate bowl.

Drain the liquid from the tofu, cut it into bite-size cubes and set aside.

To begin cooking the soup, add 2 teaspoons of oil to a large pot set over medium high heat.
When oil is hot (surface ripples), add half the mushrooms & stir-fry until cooked, then transfer to a clean, large bowl.  Repeat this process (stir-frying in small batches) with remainder of vegetables in order to prevent steaming, transferring each to the large bowl when finished.

Once the vegetables are done, add the broth to the now empty pot, then increase the heat and bring to a boil.  When broth is boiling, give a quick stir to the cornstarch slurry, before adding it to the boiling broth.

Stir until broth thickens, then slowly stir soup while adding the beaten egg in a thin stream.
Pour in the black vinegar and soy sauce mixture, before adding the tofu & stir-fried vegetables.

Ladle into bowls and squeeze a fresh wedge of lime into each portion.
Serve immediately, accompanied by additional lime wedges.
Now, here’s a peek at what’s coming up next –

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