Soup is the ultimate comfort food. It warms you from head to toe, even reaching fingertips wrapped around a warm bowl or mug. It can be pleasantly light or satisfyingly filling. You can load it with your favorite ingredients and flavors, and it makes brilliant leftovers. What’s not to love about homemade soup?
Some days, the answer is, “That I have to make it.” When you’re sick, soup can make you feel better, but not if you have to get out of bed, gather and chop the ingredients, and monitor the pot. When I’ve got a bug, I crave hot and sour soup. But one of my favorite recipes, Padma Lakshmi’s Hot and Sour Tomato Broth with Shrimp from Tangy Tart Hot & Sweet, requires specialty ingredients and effort. So I’ve developed a version can be frozen as a broth base. The essential work can happen long before you want the soup. When you’re under the weather, you can simply defrost and mix it into homemade stock. On healthy days, you can fill it out to create a full meal for everyone at the table.
Hot and Sour Broth Base
2 tablespoons tamarind paste
2 tablespoons oil
1-1/2 teaspoons brown mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds (optional)
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 teaspoons ginger, minced or grated
6 cloves garlic, minced
1–2 dried chilies, crumbled
2 cups frozen cherry or larger tomatoes, defrosted
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon asafetida powder (optional)
1-1/2 tablespoons dried basil
2-1/2 tablespoons dried cilantro
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons fish sauce (optional)
Pour the stock into a small pot and bring it to a boil. Remove from the heat and stir in the tamarind paste until dissolved. In a saucepan, heat the oil over medium-low heat and add all seeds. Cook 3–4 minutes, until the mustard seeds begin to pop. Add the ginger, garlic, chilies, tomatoes, curry powder, and asafetida, if using. Cook, stirring, for 2 more minutes; add the dried herbs, and continue to cook until the tomatoes have softened. Pour in the tamarind gravy, stir in the brown sugar and fish sauce until the sugar dissolves, and then remove the saucepan from the heat. Let the broth base cool completely.
Tips & Tricks
- This time of year, I’ll make up a batch of this hot and sour base from my freezer and cupboards. But at the end of summer, my first batch is created from freshly made stock and fresh produce.
- There are a few optional specialty ingredients in this recipe; don’t stress if they’re missing from your kitchen, but grab them if you can, because they’ll boost the flavor. The one must-have is tamarind paste: you won’t get the same sour effect without it. Be sure to buy a paste without a lot of additives, or consider making your own from tamarind pulp.
- I love freezing in ice cube trays: you know you’re getting 1-ounce portions that can be dropped into anything ranging from savory to sweet. Once frozen, you can store the cubes in a zip-close freezer bag and pull out as many as you need at a time.
Twice as Tasty
The soup I make with Hot and Sour Broth Base when I’m sick doesn’t need a recipe: Add 2 frozen 1-ounce cubes and 2 cups of frozen stock to a pot, heat until hot, pour into a mug, and drink. If I’m on the recovery path, I might add some extra frozen cherry tomatoes and a handful of cellophane noodles or bean sprouts—and use a bowl and spoon.
But you can build an entire meal around the broth base. The recipe here should just get you started with ideas for additional ingredients. Like more sweet with your sour? Add some chunks of pineapple or mango. Like more tang? Add a spoonful or two of rice vinegar. Stick with shrimp for pescatarians, or go vegan with tofu. If you love “stuff,” pile on the garnishes: minced basil and mint, sliced scallions, soft-boiled egg, sesame seeds, lime wedges, and more.
Hot and Sour Soup
3 cups frozen Vegetable Stock or Shrimp Stock
2 fresh or dried shitake or other mushrooms
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic
3 ounces cellophane noodles
1/2 pound raw shrimp, peeled and deveined (optional)
fresh minced cilantro and bean sprouts for garnish (optional)
Remove the soup base cubes and stock from the freezer. If using dried mushrooms, soak them in 1 cup of hot water. Slice the shallots into thin rings, and mince or thinly slice the garlic.
Heat the olive oil in a stockpot over medium heat. Fry the shallots, gently stirring, for about 5 minutes, until golden and crisp. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Remove the mushrooms from the soaking water and add the infused liquid to the pot, along with the soup base and stock. Bring to a boil, stirring as needed until the frozen ingredients have defrosted, and then simmer for 5 minutes. Slice the fresh or rehydrated mushrooms thinly; add them to the pot, along with the noodles and shrimp, if using. Cook for about 5 minutes, just until the shrimp curl and the noodles are soft. Remove from the heat and garnish as desired with cilantro, bean sprouts, or other toppings. Serves 2.
Tips & Tricks
- As I mentioned in the intro, this soup can be as simple as a couple of frozen broth base cubes and a couple of cups of stock. I do recommend making your own stock, whether vegetable or meat based: It will be lighter in flavor and texture than the contents of a commercially packaged box or can.
- The liquid used to rehydrate vegetables, such as mushrooms, is an often-overlooked treasure that’s rich in flavor. If you measure out the amount of hot water you use for rehydration, you can use that liquid not just in soups but also when preparing sauces, rice, and beans.
- Cellophane noodles go by lots of names, including glass or crystal noodles, bean thread noodles, and Asian vermicelli. They’re gluten free, easy to use, and ideal pantry staples. Even if you buy a large bundle, they’re usually coiled or folded inside the package into manageable portions.
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