Tom Yum Soup (vegetarian)

A friend, Rajesh, wanted a ‘local’ version of the Thai classic, Tom Yum soup. With no fish sauce. Purists will balk, but I venture. As mine is a vegetraian household as well, I started looking for substitutes to fish sauce. And found many others looking too! There isn’t an exact substitute, they say. Only distant ones. So be it.

This version of tom Yum doesn’t even have chicken stock (though I found a ‘vegetarian’ recipe that said to use 10 and 1/2 cups of it). And no shrimp either. The non-veg Tom Yum is for another day. Adding coconut milk to Tom Yum makes it Tom Kha apparently. You can put it in for a creamier taste or skip it for a clear soup.

I haven’t made this yet, but it can’t go wrong!

Prep time: 45 minutes

Serves: 4

You need:

  • 5 cups 7-8 cups vegetable stock (there is something called faux chicken stock but I’ve never tried it). For the vegetable stock chop potatoes, onions, carrots, beans and any other light vegetable into big chunks. Put them in about 8 cups of water and bring to a boil. Simmer for 20 minutes and drain the vegetables out, conserving the stock. Your stock is ready.
  • 2 stalks of lemongrass, smashed gently and cut into 1 inch pieces (available at some markets/Namdhari’s)
  • 3 kaffir lime leaves (now again, it’s not an exact substitute, but you can use lime zest or other lime leaves if you cannot get kaffir)
  • 1 cup soft tofu, cubed (if you’re not a tofy fan, suvbstitute with another vegetable like shallots or leave it out entirely)
  • 2 teaspoons chilli sauce or 1 tablespoon crushed red chilli
  • 1 cup button or shitake mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 cup bok choy (this is a Thai/Chinese green) chopped. Also available at Spar/Namdhari’s
  • 1 thumb sized piece of galangal, sliced into thin matchstick-like juliennes. This is from the ginger family. If you can’t get this use regular ginger, but get the most tender you can find. if not, a combination of cinnamon and mace powder ! is suggested.
  • 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup broccoli florets (optional)
  • Some chopped coriander leaves
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk, if using

The fish sauce substitute: I searched around and people seem to feel very strongly about substituting anything for fish sauce! They can only agree on the following, with reluctance:

  • 2-3 tablespoons of LIGHT soy sauce. Better if you do 2 parts soy sauce , 1 part lime juice OR
  • Vegetarian stir fry sauce which has mushrooms in it OR
  • Anchovy patse (not quite the same) I musta been thinking artichokes :). Anchovy paste is made from fish.

To make it:

  • Add the vegetable stock to a large pot. Put it on the heat and add the lemongrass, chilli paste, galangal and lime leaves to the stock.
  • Bring to a boil. Keep boiling for 5-8 minutes, until the broth is fragrant.
  • Add the mushrooms and simmer for about 10 minutes.
  • Add the cherry tomatoes, bok choy and broccoli, if using. Continue to simmer for another 5 minutes. The bok choy and broccoli can bea bit tender and crisp.
  • Reduce the heat and add the fish sauce substitute (light soy sauce), lime juice, tofu and coconut milk (if using). Stir the tofu in gently.
  • Check the taste. Add some more lime juice, chilli paste or soy if you need more sourness, heat or salt.
  • Ladle the hot soup on to bowls and garnish with chopped coriander.

Now this is comfort food!

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4 Responses to “Tom Yum Soup (vegetarian)”

  1. neeti says:

    Anu, afaik anchovy paste is not vegetarian, it is a fish paste.

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  2. Anu says:

    My bad, Neeti. I musta been thinking artichokes!

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  3. kye says:

    Where would you get kaffir lime leaves and galangal in bangalore?

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  4. Anu says:

    Kye, I’m trying to locate some Chinese grocery stores for the kaffir lime leaves. Will let you know.

    In the meantime, for galangal – try Spar. Even if they don’t have galangal, they have a very tender ginger root that is almost sweet! and tastes great in Chinese / Thai cooking.

    I found a lemongrass + galangal bottled dressing at Spar. As it has both ingredients, it could be used in recipes that need both. You would need to use a bit differently from the fresh ingredients though. If the recipe needs you to add the galangal and lemongrass right in the beginning of the cooking process, you would use the dressing a bit later as it shouldn’t overcook.

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