Tofu Skins in Hot Pot

MAKES: 4 to 6 servings

TIME: About 1 hour

A tropical combo of hot, sweet, sour, and salty flavors makes this Vietnamese-inspired hot pot work perfectly even in warm weather, especially when you factor in the featured ingredient: tofu skins. Also known as tofu wrappers, yuba, or bean curd skins (see Tofu Skins), these are sold fresh or, more commonly, dried, at natural foods and Asian food stores and even some supermarkets. (If you can’t find them, make this recipe with cubed or sliced tofu instead.) You must soak dried skins briefly to make them pliable for use; briefly frying them, as I do here, brings out their nutty flavor and returns some of the body they lose during soaking.

It is nice to serve this in traditional hot pot style, where the seasoned broth is poured into a special clay pot or a fondue pan and kept hot in the center of the table, along with small bowls of the vegetables and tofu. Then it’s up to everyone to finish cooking and serving the soup themselves. But it’s more than acceptable to simply follow the recipe here and assemble the soup in the kitchen.

1/2 ounce dried shiitake, straw, or black mushrooms

6 ounces dried tofu skins (usually 1 package)

1/4 cup peanut or neutral oil like grapeseed or corn, plus a little more if needed

2 tablespoons dark sesame oil Salt and freshly ground black pepper

8 small fresh chiles, preferably Thai or serrano

One (1-inch) piece ginger, peeled and cut crosswise into thin coins

2 tablespoons minced garlic

1 stalk lemongrass, trimmed and minced (see Specialty Herbs for Enthusiasts)

3/4 cup chopped scallion

2 quarts vegetable stock, or water

2 medium sweet potatoes (about 1 pound), peeled and cut crosswise into quarters

2 ears fresh corn, cut crosswise into quarters

2 large ripe tomatoes, cored and quartered

1/4 medium pineapple, cored and cut into eighths

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice, or to taste

1 small bunch fresh cilantro, trimmed and chopped

1 small bunch fresh mint, trimmed and chopped

1 cup mung bean sprouts

2 limes, cut into wedges

01 Put the mushrooms in a bowl and cover with boiling water; soak for about 30 minutes, or until soft. Meanwhile, put the tofu skins in another bowl, cover with warm water, and soak until just pliable, anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes, depending on how dry they were to begin with. When ready, drain and pat dry with paper towels. Slice into noodlelike ribbons.

02 Put the peanut oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. When hot, add the tofu skins and stir to coat with oil. Cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant, browned, and slightly dry, about 5 minutes. Remove from the pan and drain on paper towels.

03 There should be about 1 tablespoon of oil left in the pan; add a little more or remove some as needed. Add 1 tablespoon of the sesame oil and return the pan to the heat. Drain the mushrooms, then trim and leave them whole or slice. Add them to the pan, sprinkle with a little salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until nicely browned, about 10 minutes. Stem, seed, and mince 2 of the chiles (thinly slice the other 6 and set aside for garnish), then stir them into the mix, along with the ginger, garlic, lemongrass, and half the scallion. Cook, stirring, until fragrant, about a minute.

04 Add the stock and the sweet potatoes, then turn the heat up and bring to a boil; adjust the heat so the mixture bubbles gently and cover the pan. Cook until the sweet potatoes are barely tender, about 10 minutes. Add the corn and tomatoes, cover again, and cook for about 5 minutes more.

05 Stir in the pineapple, along with the reserved tofu skins, remaining sesame oil, and remaining scallion. Turn the heat up so that the soup returns to a gentle bubble. Cook long enough to just heat through, another minute or two, then add lime juice to taste. Serve immediately, passing the sliced chiles, herbs, bean sprouts, and lime at the table.