Hot-Sweet-Sour Soup with Tofu and Pineapple

From   The Heart of the Plate: Vegetarian Recipes for a New Generation

4 - 5 servings

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Hot, slightly sweet, slightly sour, this is about as refreshing as a hot soup can be. It’s a good last-minute-ish dish that can be made in less than an hour, requiring very little simmering beyond the initial sweating of the onion, garlic, and chili paste.

• For the chili paste, I use Lee Kum Kee Chili Black Bean Sauce.  You can use any Chinese type; there are many to choose from.

• The fresh pineapple needs to be cut ahead of time so it can express its wonderful juices (all of which will become part of the soup). One medium pineapple should yield the 2 cups you’ll need for this recipe. Be sure to remove all the skin, so there will be nothing sharp remaining on the fruit . In a pinch, you could just open a can of pineapple chunks (packed in juice, not syrup). No need to drain – just dump in the entire contents.

• Don’t cook the vegetables all-the-way soft.  Retaining a slight crunch makes all the difference.

• Thai basil is ideal, but regular basil works just fine. Since bunches of Thai basil tend to be smaller than those of regular basil, you can increase to two bunches if using Thai.

1 tablespoon grapeseed, canola, or peanut oil

2 cups chopped onion (1/2-inch pieces; 1 large onion)

2 tablespoons chili paste or black bean chili paste (possibly more, to taste)

1 large carrot, sliced or in bite-sized chunks

1 stalk celery, sliced on the diagonal

1 tablespoon minced or crushed garlic

1 teaspoon salt (possibly a little more)

½ a medium red, yellow, or orange bell pepper, cut into 1-inch chunks

About 10 ripe cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered

2 cups fresh pineapple pieces (1/2-inch pieces)

6 medium-sized very tight, fresh white mushrooms – cleaned, stemmed, and quartered

1 medium bunch fresh basil (Thai or regular) (can be more, if using Thai)

1 quart water or low-sodium vegetable stock

½ pound very firm tofu, cut into  ¾-inch cubes

2 tablespoons light brown sugar

1 teaspoon soy sauce

Optional Enhancements:

- Squeezable lemon wedges (a few drops in each bowl = delicious!)

- Sliced water chestnuts (fresh ones, if you’re lucky – but canned just fine)

- Very crisp, fresh mung bean sprouts (added to each bowlful upon serving)

- Orange sections and/or strands of orange zest stirred in right before serving

    1. Place a soup pot, large saucepan, or Dutch oven over medium heat for about a minute, then add the oil, swirl to coat the pan. Add the onion and cook over medium-high heat for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the onion is shiny and beginning to soften. Stir in the chili paste, cook for another minute or so, and then add the carrot, celery, garlic, and ½ teaspoon of the salt. Stir to combine, then turn the heat to medium, and continue to cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until the vegetables are shiny and coated.  Turn the heat to low, cover the pan, and let it cook for 5 minutes. The vegetables should be tender but not soft.
    2. Stir in the bell pepper, tomatoes, pineapple, and mushrooms, and remaining ½ teaspoon salt. Cover again and cook for another 5 minutes.
    3. Meanwhile, pull off about 25 to 30 basil leaves from the stems. Tear them in half, if they’re large.
    4. Add the water or stock, basil leaves, and tofu, to the vegetables. Bring to a boil, lower the heat to a simmer, then cover and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in the sugar and soy sauce, taste, and adjust the salt and chili paste if needed.
    5.   The soup is now ready to serve.  Garnish with a few additional fresh basil leaves (torn, if huge) in each bowl, and serve.
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