Monday, February 27, 2012

Asian Veggie and Rice Soup

So I was paging through a cooking magazine earlier this week and came across a recipe for an Asian-inspired chicken and rice soup that included beaten, cooked egg as part of the base...kind of like an egg drop soup with a bunch of other crap thrown in there with the broth.  So my ninja-instincts started kicking in and I asked myself - "Is there a way I could re-create this recipe with a substitution for the egg?"  I decided to give pureed, spiced tofu a whirl as a substitute for the egg, add some extra flavors, veggies, and other goodies to vastly improve the rest of the recipe, and see what would result.  The outcome wasn't exactly what I intended - I used soft, pureed tofu cooked until semi-set, but apparently it wasn't cooked long enough because most of it broke apart and assimilated itself into the broth instead of remaining in larger, egg-like chunks.  I may attempt this recipe again using extra firm tofu, and mashing it together with the spices instead of pureeing in order to get a more cooked-egg kind of consistency.  However, the pureed tofu formed a lovely golden-hued, creamy backdrop to all of the warm Asian-y spices and the end result was delicious nonetheless.  Sometimes "mistakes" in the kitchen can be just as yummy as recipes that turn our perfectly.

Also, for all of you who "like" Vegan Fur Ninja on Facebook, you know that I posted a few weeks ago that I've started round two of Weight Watchers (was on it last year and had to cancel due to monetary issues but I'm baaaaaaack!) and so will be posting WW points for all of my recipes from now on.  This ninja has lost 10 lbs and a whole clothing size since the beginning of 2012, and is feeling more sexy and ninja-esque by the day.  *strikes sexy ninja pose*  10 lbs down....20 more to go!  This soup is GREAT for anyone trying to drop some pounds, because it's chock full of protein (which keeps ninja bellies fuller, longer!), whole grains, and it is VERY nutrient dense with lots of leafy greens, sea veggies, and miso.  Most importantly, it is delicious and will keep you full for hours for only a handful of WW points.  Okay, okay, that's enough from me - onto the recipe!

Asian Veggie and Rice Soup 

Makes approximately 9, 1-cup servings.  Each serving is 5 WW points.


14 oz block of soft tofu, drained
1 teaspoon salt
several grinds fresh black pepper
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 Tablespoons nutritional yeast
2 Tablespoons peanut oil
1" cube peeled fresh ginger, minced finely or pureed in a coffee grinder
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 lb fresh shiitake mushrooms, sliced thinly (about 1 cup)
2 large tomatoes, diced 
4 cups vegetable broth
2 1/4 cups water
1 bunch (6-7) sliced scallions, green parts only
1 Tablespoon sesame oil (preferably toasted)
2 teaspoons soy sauce
15 oz. can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
4 cups chopped leafy greens such as kale, collard greens, or chard
1/2 cup uncooked brown rice
1 6-8" piece wakame
2 Tablespoons brown rice miso

Crumble the drained tofu into a food processor along with the salt, pepper, onion powder, turmeric, and nutritional yeast.  Puree until smooth.  Meanwhile, heat the peanut oil in a large wok or stockpot over medium-high heat.  Add the garlic and ginger and cook 1 minute, until fragrant.  Add the mushrooms and cook until softened, about 3 minutes.  Pour the pureed tofu into the pan and allow to spread over the mushrooms, through the oil to the edges of the pan.  Cook 5 minutes or until partially set and browned on the bottom, being careful not to burn.  If the tofu is still soft on top, don't worry about it - it will just make the broth of the soup thicker.  Add the tomatoes to the pan and gently stir to break up the tofu.  Cook for 3 minutes until the tomatoes are slightly softened.  Add the vegetable broth, water, scallions, sesame oil, soy sauce, chickpeas, greens, and rice, and stir everything around.  Turn the heat down, partially cover, and simmer for 40 minutes or until the rice is tender.  
Meanwhile, place the wakame in a bowl and add enough boiling water to cover.  Cover the bowl with a plate and allow to sit 10 minutes until the wakame is very soft and falling apart.  Strain out the wakame and chop coarsely.
Once the rice is cooked, remove from heat and give everything a good stir.  The broth should be a creamy, golden color with small threads of tofu floating about in it.  Take about 1 1/2 cups of the broth and place in a bowl with the miso.  Stir until the miso is totally dissolved.  Add back into the soup with the chopped wakame and stir everything around again.  Taste for salt and pepper and allow to sit for 10 minutes to allow the flavors to meld.  Enjoy!

Tips and Tricks:

1. Wok on!  I highly recommend a wok for this recipe.  I just bought myself a new one so this was a brilliant time to try it out.  If you don't have a wok, you can make it in a large stockpot, but your tofu may not cook properly without burning.  The great thing about a wok is that you can cook things at high heat without as much of a risk of burning/sticking as there is with more "traditional" cookware.  Woks really aren't expensive either - head to a good Asian market and you can find large, high-quality all stainless-steel woks there for around ten dollars.  Mine isn't stainless, but it is a metal-utensil-safe anodized non-stick metal that I absolutely adore for durability and ease of cooking.  This type will run you a bit more money - mine was around 30 bucks.  Beware of common non-stick woks.  I don't recommend Teflon-type non-stick surfaces for ANY cookware because it can flake off into your food and it is toxic when heated (which seems pretty stupidly counter-intuitive for something you COOK WITH but hey, that's just this ninja's opinion).  Those of you with feathered friend companion animals should never use it in your kitchen ever because the fumes are especially toxic to small birds.  Your best bet is to go with stainless steel if you can't afford the non-stick anodized metal stuff.  Stainless steel woks do need to be dried thoroughly after washing and should be stored with a thin coating of oil on the inside.  If you wash with warm water only and refrain from scrubbing the inside, it will eventually form a non-stick-ish coating of its own, similar to a well-seasoned cast-iron pan.  Happy wok-ing!

2. Yummy, yummy leafy greens - I used rainbow chard when I made this recipe, and I chopped the leaves down about half-way through the stems.  The soup simmers for enough time to soften the tough stems, and I wanted the lovely yellow, white, red, and orange colors to add to the prettiness of the whole thing.  If you don't want stems in there, just tear the leaves off and discard the stems.  Be sure to use a rather tough leafy green, because it's going to be swimming around in the broth for quite a while and you don't want it disintegrating.  If you're going to use something softer like spinach, I'd recommend waiting to add the greens until the last 5 minutes or so of cooking.

3. Miso - it's awesome.  Upon opening the package, I found this under the lid:

Plus it's nom-tastic.  Yay for miso!

4. The rice - it's actually purely optional here.  I try to have a good balance of veggies, protein, and complex carbohydrates at every meal, so I added some, but there's really not a lot in the recipe to begin with and it doesn't add that much to the end result.  If you'd like to lower the points value of this recipe slightly, you can omit the rice.  This will also make your soup more broth-y, so you may want to decrease or omit the extra water added with the vegetable broth.  Remember though - ninjas don't sacrifice good nutrition for weight loss, so make sure you get those good carbs somewhere!

5. What the HELL is wakame???  It's a sea vegetable.  It comes dried in pouches in long chunks about the length of your palm.  You can find it in gourmet markets or Asian groceries, usually in the same aisle as the nori and whatnot for sushi.  It adds a delicious flavor to the soup and is chock full of all kinds of vitamins, minerals, and anti-oxidants, especially iodine, which is essential for thyroid function.  However, like all good things, sea vegetables should not be consumed excessively, due to their high sodium content and the fact that too much iodine can actually interfere with thyroid function.  All things in moderation!

That's it for new recipes for now, my dear ninjas.  Other exciting news from the home-front - I am finally getting my oven fixed after not having it operational (I've only had the use of the stove-top) for 10 months.  This presents somewhat of a conundrum, as an oven will make me want to bake all kinds of decadent treats like cookies, pies, cakes, muffins, etc. and as I tend to "graze" (ok, let's be serious - if there's a plate of cookies, I'll eat one every time I walk by it) and I can see that de-railing my so-far-successful weight loss.  I see my co-workers being treated to lots of ninja baked goodies in the future!  I'll also try to develop some recipes for sweet treats that don't cash in too many points as well.  So stay tuned - same ninja time; same ninja channel....or something like that.

<3 The Fur Ninja

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