It’s cold. The damp is threatening to drive the cold even deeper into your bones. You want some comfort.
You need soup. Soup that warms and nourishes you. Soup that you make yourself, for yourself, as a kind of “take that!” response to lingering winter weather.
After more than a decade cooking from Vegetable Soups from Deborah Madison’s Kitchen, I have reached the point where I think almost any soup I make has come from that book. (Yes, I am revealing that I don’t usually follow recipes for soup anymore.) I improvise based on several models that I learned from Madison, a renowned cook most famous for her vegetarian recipes. I’m not a vegetarian, but this soup book has been so practical, so reliable, that it’s the only soup book I have at home.
The recipe that follows features a couple of ingredients I am not terribly fond of having in soups, mushrooms and tofu. But they work wonderfully in this concoction, picking up the aromatic flavors of a remarkably simple broth. Of course you can leave them out and add noodles, strips of ham, slices of edible pod peas, leftover chicken, or whatever else strikes your fancy.
If you’re not an improviser yet, this soup’s a terrific place to begin. You can follow the recipe and, while it cooks for the last 8-10 minutes, prepare a few add-ins to try once you’ve ladled up a bowl for yourself. At the table, you can stir in pea shoots or bacon or whatever strikes your fancy, and see what you think. If your inspiration doesn’t bear repeating, you’ll still have a lovely pot of soup on the stove to return to.
Green Coriander and Ginger Broth from Vegetable Soups from Deborah Madison’s Kitchen
6 dried shiitake mushrooms
1 ½ teaspoons roasted peanut oil, plus extra roasted peanut oil or roasted sesame oil to finish
2 slices fresh ginger, about 1 ½ inches wide, smashed
2 teaspoons finely diced jalapeño chile
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/3 cup cilantro stems, chopped
2 bunches of scallions, including 2-3 inches of the greens, finely chopped
1 cup finely diced celery or thinly sliced Chinese celery
½ carton (8 to 10 ounces) soft tofu packed in water, drained and cut into small dice, or 1 aseptic box of tofu, diced
½ cup chopped cilantro leaves
1 teaspoon soy sauce, or to taste, for seasoning
1. Cover the mushrooms with 5 cups boiling water and set aside while you dice and chop the vegetables
2.Heat a soup pot over medium-high heat (I use a flat-bottomed wok-shaped pot here), and add the oil. When it is hot, add the ginger and ½ teaspoon salt, give a stir, then add the chile and garlic and stir-fry for 2 minutes, adding the cilantro stems during the last 20 seconds or so. Reduce the heat to medium, add the scallions, and cook until bright green, about 3 minutes. Next add the celery, another ¼ teaspoon salt, then the soaking water from the mushrooms poured through a fine strainer, squeezing the mushrooms when you remove them from their water to get every little drop.
3. While the soup is simmering, thinly slice the mushroom caps and add them to the soup. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes. Add the tofu, give it 2 minutes to heat through, then add the chopped cilantro leaves and the soy sauce.
4. Serve the soup with a few drops of roasted peanut oil or sesame oil in each bowl and extra soy sauce for those who wish.
You can find Deborah Madison’s book here.