I’m a little dubious about the cookbook I ganked this recipe from. First of all, it’s called Noodles. Just noodles. It seems to be selling on amazon for one cent. Also, its jacket sleeve says that “Much of the inspiration for this book came from London’s bustling Chinatown.” Isn’t London’s Chinatown sort of known for…sucking? I went repeatedly to one really good Sichuan place there a few years back, only because the reviews I read said, yeah…it’s in Chinatown but it’s actually really good.

My wariness aside, the cookbook definitely wants you to garnish all your noodles with various meat products, but I was taken with this Thai soup. At heart I’m a noodle girl–or maybe a dumpling girl–and after flipping through all the glittering pictures of noodles, so many different noodles, I overcame my attitude and went out to buy some tofu.

The original recipe calls for chicken, and I wanted to replace it with this product called Tofu Lin that my mom used to stuff into sandwiches for Amber Waves. I think maybe Tofu Lin doesn’t exist anymore. In any case, it was a pressed tofu product, a little marinated, packed in vacuumed plastic rather than a tub of water. So I poked all the tofu in vacuum packs and chose the firmest, rubberiest one. I wanted to grate the tofu–stay with me–so that it was easy to pick up along with noodles and cabbage in every bite. Success–the tofu I chose, some Wildwood extra extra firm stuff–grated without much complaint, and the tofu shards dispersed themselves evenly among the soup’s other strands. They don’t stand out, but they add a little chewy textual interest in this completely satisfying and aromatic soup.

Thai Coconut Soup with Cabbage and Tofu
adapted from Noodles by Beverly Le Blanc
serves 4

4 oz. dried cellophane noodles (tiny rice noodles)
5 C stock, veggie or chicken or whatever
1 lemongrass stalk
1 cm piece of ginger, finely grated
zest of half a lime
1 T cilantro stems, finely chopped
1 red chile, seeded and thinly sliced
4 scallions, whites separated from greens, all thinly sliced
1 C savoy cabbage, thinly sliced
10 oz. extra firm, pressed, or smoked tofu
1 C mung bean sprouts
1 C coconut milk (full-fat please)
1 T lime juice
2 T thai fish sauce (optional)
lime wedges and cilantro leaves for garnish

Set the noodles to soak in a big bowl of lukewarm water. They’ll be ready by the time you need them.

Next, cut off the dry end off the lemongrass stalk. Then cut it in two and bash each piece all up and down with the flat part of your knife. In a big soup pot, bring the stock to a boil with the ginger, lime zest, cilantro stems, red chile, and the white part of the scallions. Reduce the stock to a simmer.

Meanwhile, slice up your cabbage and, using the big holes on a cheese grater, grate the tofu (if your tofu isn’t firm enough for this rough treatment, just make tofu matchsticks). Once the stock has simmered for 10 minutes or so, raise the heat to high and add the cabbage, tofu, bean sprouts, and coconut milk. Stir and bring to a simmer.

Finally, stir in the fish sauce (if you’re using it) and the lime juice. Remove the soup from the heat. The noodles should be soft by now so divide them between four bowls (you can use tongs if you’re civilized…need I say that I used my claw hands). Then using a ladle or 1-C measure, dole out the soup over the noodles. Garnish with cilantro leaves and serve with lime wedges.