I’ll be the first to admit that the name of this cookbook, This Can’t Be Tofu! by Deborah Madison, is completely inane. Literally every time I pick up the thing, I can’t help but think of the I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter ads featuring Fabio, an image I just don’t want in my mind at dinner time. Beyond that, am I the only one who actually likes tofu? I guess I’m surprised that so many people have to be tricked into eating it. And does a noted vegetarian chef need to pander to that population? Well silly title and perhaps undeserved snarkiness aside, this is the cookbook to go to for tofu-based dishes, especially those with an Asian flair.
I actually tend not to use it that often, partly because I haven’t the slightest glimmer of a clue about cooking Asian-inspired food and thus don’t have many of the staples that I’d need for said dishes. The other factor is that I tend to use tofu in such a way that no recipe is needed, just heaping it into veggie stir-fries. But when trying to figure out what to do with a box of tofu labelled both “soft” and “silken” (I thought they were two different things?) instead of my usual “firm”, I decided to turn to This Can’t Be Tofu! and came across this appealing soup that would also use up a bunch of mustard greens that I picked up at the farmer’s market last weekend.
I’ll say from the start that you will believe this is tofu, contrary to the book’s titular assertion. So if you don’t like little squares of silky, smooth tofu, then perhaps another soup is in order. For the tofu lovers among us, this is actually quite a nice little soup and surprisingly filling since it’s loaded with tofu, sweet potatoes, and mustard greens. The bitterness of the mustard greens is balanced out by the ginger and jalapeno flavors, so don’t be turned off if you’ve had bad experiences with mustard greens before. But the real star of the soup, in my mind, are the sweet potatoes. I used one pale sweet potato and one orange yam for color contrast- if you can find even more colorful varieties, by all means, use them. The bites that included a tiny cube of sweet potato were just a lovely contrast of flavors and I would even consider putting more in next time.
The one issue I had with the soup was my choice of broths. I am not yet a broth maker and usually run to Trader Joe’s for their cartons of fat-free chicken broth. But this time I thought that perhaps their Asian-inspired soy ginger broth would be the way to go and used 4 cups of that plus 2 cups of water. Were I to do it again, I would definitely use less of the broth and more water, or perhaps a less flavorful broth altogether…the delicate, enticing scents that had emerged from the aromatics (garlic, ginger, cilantro stems) were largely lost under the stronger flavor of the broth, unfortunately.
Deborah Madison’s Clear soup with sweet potatoes, silken tofu, and mustard greens (serves 4)
2 tssp vegetable oil
2 tsp dark sesame oil
1 heaping tbsp coarsely chopped garlic
1 heaping tbsp chopped ginger
1 large jalapeno chile, diced, seeds left in if you want more heat
6 cups chicken stock, water, or vegetable stock
pinch of five-spice powder
1 tsp salt
about 12 oz sweet potatoes, peeled and diced into 1/2 chunks(2 cups)
3 cups mustard greens, stems discarded, leaves cut into ribbons
1 box silken tofu, cubed, or 1 carton soft tofu, drained and cubed
2 scallions, including the greens, sliced diagonally about 1/4 inch wide
few drops soy or mushroom soy sauce per bowl, if needed
1. Heat the vegetable oil and half of the sesame oil in a soup pot. When hot, add ginger, garlic, chile, cilantro, and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Add the stock, five-spice powder, and salt. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat, and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes. Strain and return to the pan, or simply lift out the chopped flavorings with a small skimmer. Press out as much liquid as you can, then discard.
2. Add the sweet potatoes to the pot and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes or until tender when pierced with a knife.
3. Add the greens and tofu. Cook gently, uncovered, until the greens are bright green and tender and the tofu is hot, about 5 minutes. Add the scallions. Taste for salt and add the remaining sesame oil. Add the soy sauce, by drops, to taste, if the dish seems to need a little extra punch. Ladle the soup into bowls and serve.