tofu tom yam recipe

Spring is the perfect time for Tom yam. Well if you're me, anytime is the perfect time for Tom yam....but especially now. It's warm and spicy, perfect for those slightly cooler nights before the real heat of summer kicks in, but being a lovely thin broth you won't feel heavy afterwards.
For me South East Asian food hits all the right notes. There's the heat from the chilli, sweetness from either sugar or coconut cream, sour from lime, lemon or tamarind and of course there's salty, from soy sauce, sea salt, fish sauce and shrimp paste. When all these ingredients are in their correct balance you're in for a lovely treat indeed!

As promised after posting my Thai yellow curry recipe, I have been experimenting with the use of fermented tofu in place of shrimp paste/fish sauce to create pure Vegetarian and Vegan Thai recipes. I have to say I'm pretty stoked with the results. And while it doesn't give the exact same pungent flavour, for those of you wanting to make Thai vegetarian dishes it's pretty damn close. If you are new to fermented tofu, it's a readily available pungent product of tofu, pickled in brine, sometimes with chilli added, that's found at all Asian grocery stores. It's usually sold in small glass jars, and once opened will store in the fridge for up to a year.

As with most Thai recipes this may at first seem overwhelming. Yes there are quite a few ingredients, but all should be available at your local Asian store, so you can pick them all up in one go. If you have a food processor the grilled chilli oil paste can be whipped up in 10-15 minutes. Of course you can also make in a mortar and pestle if you have strong arm muscles and a whole lot of patience!! It can then be stored in a jar in the fridge for 2-3 days or do as I do and smear it into a ice cube tray, pop in the freezer overnight, then the next day simply pop out....or kinda scrape out (as it doesn't freeze solid because of the oil) put into a zip lock bag, and back into the freezer.
Then you're only about 10 minutes away from a delicious fresh Tom yam soup at a later date!!! Mmmmmm. The chilli oil recipe will give you enough to make 6 times the Tom yam recipe below. I know there are loads of commercially made Tom yam pastes available that you can just add water to, but as with most things...Homemade is always better.

Traditionally this is served as a flavoursome broth (minus the tofu) to be spooned over jasmine rice. But most westerners know Tom yam as a sweet and sour Thai soup. I have gone for the soup route, adding cooked rice noodles, but feel free to leave these out and spoon the broth over rice.
There really are no rules when it comes to the vegetables you add. Experiment and use what's in season. The tomato and straw mushrooms are traditional, but the rest is just what I had on hand. The tofu puffs can easily be replaced with regular grilled firm tofu, or simply leave out. Okra simmered until tender is also a favourite of mine.
If you buy a bunch of kaffir lime leaves and only use a few, pop the rest into the freezer. They will keep bagged for ages and you simply use straight from the freezer. Lemongrass can also be finely diced, bagged and frozen. Living in small town New Zealand where ingredients like these are not always available you have to get creative in your preservation methods! That's why it's such a great idea to grow your own, but lemongrass does take forever to take off. We've had ours in for over 2 years and we are only now getting nice big fat stalks.
Lastly, if it were in season I would serve this soup topped with a huge handful of Thai basil. Perfect.

tofu tom yam recipe
Feel free to strain the broth, before adding the vegetables and tofu if you like. I don't mind the chunks of lemongrass, but some might? All the ingredients for this soup should be available at your local Asian grocery store. Replace tofu puffs for regular grilled firm tofu if you want.

Serves 2 as a main, or more if served as part of a meal, however the amount of grilled chilli oil will make enough for 6 times the tom yam recipe below.

grilled chilli oil

  • 5 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 5 shallots (eshallots to you Aussie's)
  • 5 long dried red chillies, de-seeded and roughly broken up
  • 4 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp raw cane sugar or grated palm sugar
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1-2 Tbsp fermented tofu (about 3 small cubes)
  • 1 1/2 tsp paprika

Place the garlic, shallots and chillies onto a tray and set under a preheated grill, turning occaionally with tongs until the skin is golden and starting to blister. Blend mixture in a food processor until a paste forms. Heat the oil in a small pan, add the paste and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add the sugar, salt, fermented tofu and paprika. Cook over a gentle heat for 5 minutes, stirring. Use straight away or store in a glass jar with a thin film of oil on top for up to 1 week, or freeze in icecube trays for later use.

tofu tom yam recipe

  • 500ml water
  • 1 Tbsp grilled chilli oil (recipe above)
  • 2 kaffir lime leaves
  • 5cm/ 2in piece of fresh tender lemongrass, finely chopped
  • 2-3 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1 Tbsp soy sauce (tamari for gluten-free)
  • 1/2 can of straw mushrooms, halved
  • 1 tomato, cut into thick wedges
  • 1/2 packet tofu puffs
  • a handful of Asian greens, trimmed. I used choy sum
  • sea salt 
  • rice noodles, cooked until tender, then drained to serve (I allow 30g uncooked noodles per person)

Bring the water to the boil in a medium saucepan. Add the grilled chilli oil. Then the kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, lemon juice, sugar, soy sauce. Bring back to the boil and simmer 2 minutes. Stir in the mushrooms, tomato, tofu puffs and Asian greens. Cook a further 2-3 minutes until the greens are cooked and the rest is hot. Taste and adjust seasoning with sea salt if needed. Serve in bowls over cooked rice noodles. Enjoy!


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  • Reply
    October 11, 2010 at 4:09 pm

    This looks wonderful. I have been on the hunt for a fish-free alternative to fish sauce and shrimp paste so will definitely look out for fermented tofu. I will also try out your recipe for tom yum paste. It is by far the most ingredient-friendly version I have come across. Thanks!

  • Reply
    October 12, 2010 at 9:06 am

    You're welcome Val ๐Ÿ™‚ Good luck finding and trying out the fermented tofu!

  • Reply
    January 23, 2014 at 1:19 pm

    This looks great, will definitely try and seek out some of this fermented tofu. I am always scared of tofu as I can never seem to get the right texture in comparison to restaurants. Will be trying this, thanks!

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