Even a person as enthusiastic as I am about home cooking can feel fatigue, and six going on seven weeks of this quarantine, I am feeling it. It’s not so much the cooking. It’s the eating — probably because I am doing it all day long.
Thin slices of Gouda, forkfuls of last night’s dinner from a plastic container, a pickle spear from the jar, buttered crackers or matzo with a few anchovies scattered over: These days, I am eating with a frequency that can only be described as “constantly.” Which, for the record, I am very happy with.
Come 6:30 or 7 p.m., I am definitely not full, but I’m also maybe a little exhausted by the idea of eating again. (Three meals a day starts to feel a bit like the feeding schedule at a petting zoo, and without the allure of restaurants to go to, well, a little empty.) At the risk of sounding like the least cool person you have ever met, the only thing that seems to excite me when I enter this appetite purgatory is: soup. Not just any soup, but a very specific soup, one that’s light, brothy, meat-free and noodleless. Are you excited, too?
So, yes, this soup has a highly drinkable broth that is complex enough to satisfy, yet light enough to maintain your enthusiasm to eat Another Thing Today. There are many variations of what this soup could be, but this one is my favorite: simmered with sliced or torn mushrooms (use any you can find), finished with as many green vegetables as will fit (dear God, please give me a green vegetable). Time is a flat circle, but let this soup serve as a reminder that it is technically spring, so take advantage of those asparagus spears, tender leafy greens and other springy delights. (Or, you know, use a bag of frozen peas.)
The special little something here (aka do not skip this part) is the sort of DIY yuzu kosho, a Japanese fermented hot sauce made from the rind of yuzu fruit and fresh chiles. Here, it’s made with finely grated lemon zest, finely chopped jalapeño and raw grated garlic, all salted and used to season the broth and each bowl to varying degrees of spiciness. If you can, I would recommend doubling up on this condiment alone and finding several uses for it as the week goes on.
To serve, I like to spoon a large piece of silken tofu (something I have found myself cooking more of, having become increasingly obsessed with its custardy texture) into the bowl before ladling the hot soup over. I do this for a nice temperature contrast and for aesthetic purposes — the silken tofu tends to fall apart in the simmering broth for a scrambled-egg look, which is not what I’m going for — but also for a jolt of good old fashioned nostalgia, reminding me of eating at my favorite Japanese restaurants, which I miss so badly.
Spring Tofu Soup
Makes: 4 servings
Total time: 20 minutes
3 garlic cloves, finely grated or chopped
1 jalapeño, finely grated or chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1/4 cup soy sauce
10 ounces mushrooms, such as enoki, white button, cremini or oyster
1 bunch asparagus, ends trimmed, thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups peas (fresh or frozen)
1 (12- to 14-ounce) package soft tofu, drained, or use firm tofu, cut in bite-size pieces
Olive oil, for drizzling
4 scallions, very thinly sliced, for serving
1. Combine garlic and jalapeño in a small bowl. Finely zest the lemons, and add zest to the bowl with the jalapeño mixture. (Reserve the lemons for juicing.) Season heavily with salt and pepper. Set aside.
2. In a large pot, bring broth and soy sauce to a simmer, and season with salt and pepper.
3. Add mushrooms and simmer until they’re just tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Add asparagus, peas and half the jalapeño mixture, and season the broth again with salt and pepper. Cook vegetables until they’re bright green and starting to float, 2 to 4 minutes.
4. To serve, spoon a large piece of tofu into each bowl. (Alternatively, scoop tofu into the pot, breaking it into large pieces.) Top with more of the jalapeño mixture, and ladle the broth and vegetables over.
5. Drizzle with olive oil and scatter with scallions before serving.