Falling for Fall

While I don’t love rain, snow, and the coming cold weather, I do love fall. I love the crispy feel in the air, the leaves turning shades of orange, red and yellow, wearing cuddly sweaters, open windows, and the holidays! I also love fall cooking! All summer, I am forced to eat cold foods because I run hot, and if my food isn’t cold, I have to sweat through my meals. But when fall hits, my thermometer resets, and my body is ready for soups, stews, chilis, and roasted veggies!

There is nothing like a steamy bowl of soup to brighten a chilly day! And there are so many options… squash & apple, 15-bean, and my recent favorite, the whole food plant-based (WFPB) version of Hot & Sour Soup. I wish I hadn’t just typed that because now I’m not going to be able to get that last one out of my head until I make it.

I started making this soup back in January. It was a particularly raw, chilly day, and I went with a group of friends to an outdoor event. After several hours we were all popsicles, and we were talking about what we wanted to eat when we got home. Hot and sour soup popped into my head and stayed there.

A couple of days later, I found a vegan version of the soup and tweaked it into a WFPB version. I chopped and sautéed, measured and mixed, and WAITED while the full-to-the-brim pot bubbled and steamed. WOW! Was it worth it!—the perfect combination of heat and acid, savory and a touch of sweet, veggies, ‘shrooms, tofu, and of course, mounds of fresh bean sprouts.

Sometimes it’s near to impossible to create a WFPB version of a favorite, pre-conversion dish. But not with this soup. And the funny thing is, I had never made hot and sour soup at home. I’d always had it in a restaurant or by take-out. But there is virtually no way to find a WFPB version of this soup anywhere but in one’s own kitchen.

Which brings me to what started me writing this article. I often find myself trying foods other people either don’t eat or aren’t willing to try. The Standard American Diet is missing many foods common in other parts of the world. Sure, our country has plenty of restaurants that specialize in a variety of cuisines—Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Ethiopian, Jamaican—just to name a few. But many are Americanized versions of the homeland cuisine, and often when they are true to their roots, they aren’t easy to find in small cities or rural areas.

One thing that has happened for me since I went WFPB is a renewed interest in hunting down uncommon fruits, veggies, grains, and seasonings, and cooking new dishes with them. Yes, that does take time, but it is soooo exciting! And once you experiment with something new and work with it a few times, it becomes old hat, and your toolbox of cooking options expands. I found that I didn’t miss my old standards—fish, eggs, cheese (I was a pescatarian before adopting a WFPB diet) because I discovered a huge world of tasty treats I’d never eaten before.

I am an adventurous WFPB eater. I shop in international grocery stores and look for things I’ve never eaten. I look for recipes that combine old ingredients with new flavors. I experiment with new foods with my favorite seasonings. If I’m feeling particularly adventurous, I’ll even try a recipe where everything is new! Last year, I explored Indian cuisine; this year, I’ve been getting into Ethiopian and Eritrean dishes. If you don’t have a local international grocery store, you can order many ingredients and spices online.

Here are some of my favorite new things:

If you are wondering about the Lotus Root, let me clue you in:

Lotus root is the part of the beautiful lotus plant that is way underneath the water in the mud. You can find it for sale in Asian markets (www.hmart.comhttps://assiplaza.net/niles.php). It looks like a potato until you slice it open to find the delicate floral pattern it’s famous for. If you are lucky enough to have one, just peel off the outer surface as you would the skin of a potato, and slice the flesh into ¼ inch or thinner rounds. Then bring the slices to a boil in a pot of cold water splashed with any type of vinegar (not balsamic), and simmer for just a few minutes. You can eat it just like this or use it in the soup recipe. You can learn more about how to cook with it here: https://thewoksoflife.com/lotus-root-recipe-stir-fry/. Lotus root tastes a bit like a water chestnut, but to me, so much better!

And since I mentioned the Hot & Sour Soup, I’ll leave you with the recipe immediately below.

Vegan Hot and Sour Soup with Bok Choy

Original recipe: https://www.connoisseurusveg.com/hot-and-sour-soup-with-bok-choy/

(Note that several tweaks were made by M. Thall, and are included below) Photo is of the original recipe.

Ingredients

  • 6 scallions, white and green parts chopped separately
  • 4 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced (divided in 2)
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
  • 4-5 garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ t salt
  • 1 t Umami seasoning blend (Trader Joe’s)
  • 8 cups vegetable broth
  • 8 ounce can bamboo shoots, sliced (I used pre-cooked Lotus root)
  • 1 – 14 ounce block of firm tofu, drained, pressed, and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 1 medium bunch bok choy, green parts only, sliced into strips (or napa cabbage)
  • ¼ cup rice vinegar
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1 tablespoon Asian chili paste, or to taste
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce (I used lite)
  • 1 tablespoon date sugar (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch (or Kudzu root) mixed with 1/4 cup cold water
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped
  • 2 cups fresh bean sprouts
  • Toasted sesame seeds for topping, optional

Instructions

  1. Add the white part of scallions, ½ the mushrooms, ginger, garlic, salt & Umami seasoning blend to a large pot and sauté over medium/low heat for a few minutes, until the mushrooms have released their liquid.
  2. Add broth, raise the heat, and bring to boil.
  3. Lower heat and add remaining mushrooms and bamboo shoots (or lotus root), and simmer for about ten minutes.
  4. If you like, you can roast tofu in a 400-degree oven on parchment for 10-20 minutes, stirring once until it begins to brown. I didn’t find this necessary.
  5. Once the broth has simmered for ten minutes, stir in the bok choy, vinegar, lime, chili paste, soy sauce, and sugar. Simmer an additional ten minutes. Taste test the broth and adjust the seasonings to your liking.
  6. Add tofu and cornstarch mixture to the pot, stir well, and simmer for 10 minutes.
  7. Stir in the green part of scallions and cilantro.
  8. Ladle the soup into bowls and top with bean sprouts and a few sesame seeds.


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