A couple weeks ago we went out and had extremely hot spicy soup at a new hotpot place in San Mateo. Ok, so apparently it's only new here, and has hundreds of restaurants already in China, but I can deal with that. A chain restaurant from China is almost certainly going to have more authentic Chinese food than a lot of US establishments.
So, hotpot: spicy broth served in a big pot on a heat source you control. Then you get lots of things to dunk into the pot, cook in the broth, fish out with chopsticks, and eat as hot as possible, while also drinking copious cups of tea and broth out of tiny drinky bowls.
It was pretty exciting because of the sheer amount of stuff we got to throw into the pot. Gigantic mixed mushroom platter! Slabs of cubed tofu! Huge daikon slices! Bok choy arranged artfully in a vase!
I think this was partially what inspired the avalanche of mushroom around here. Afterward, I spent several trips to the store looking ruminatively at the enoki and porcini that have all suddenly showed up since it's become appreciable fall.
Then one day I went for it.
Since we have no hotplate equipment and have to do everything at the stove, dunking at the table wasn't practical at home. That was fine; I did everything at the stove.
1. Make broth
2. Make/prep whatever you want to add
3. Strain broth
This was kind of a lot of work, but it was worth it.
a hot pepper or two
hot pepper sauce
Things we added:
Things I made separately and only added to mine:
First, make the broth. Put a bunch of water in a pot and bring it to a boil. Add a bunch of peeled garlic cloves; you can smash them or leave them whole. Splinter some lemongrass by whacking it with the flat of a knife and twisting it up, then add it as well. Get a knob of ginger, peel it with a spoon, chop it roughly, and add it as well. Halve a hot pepper or two and add it also in addition as well too. Then add a squirt of sriracha or other hot pepper sauce if you want. You could also add things like soy sauce at this point. Bring everything to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer while you're doing everything else.
Get out and chop up any vegetables or tofu you want in the finished product. I separated the leaves off a small head of bok choy, sliced up a big handful of mushrooms, and chopped half a block of tofu into maybe inch-long squares. Tofu selection: use something soft that will go well in soup. My extra firm tofu was really not the best choice for this at all. If you want to add other things, feel free; all the thick cabbagy greens are especially good for this.
Set those all aside while you let the soup simmer. After about a half hour, strain out and chuck all the added bits. You can either use a wire mesh sieve or a slotted spoon for this. If you want to eat any of the bits, such as the delicious, delicious garlic, go ahead and leave them in. Then add the tofu and bring things back up to a simmer. Cook until tofu is mostly done, add mushrooms, and leave another five minutes or so to finish. Bok choy you can either add at the last minute to wilt in the broth, or steam over the pot beforehand. I steamed it and added it to bowls instead of the whole pot.
If you stop at this point, your soup is delicious and vegan. If you want meatballs, the second half of the simmer is the time to make them.
a piece of bacon
and I think also more ginger (it can't hurt)
First, stick your ground meat into a big mixing bowl. You can really use whatever kind of meat sounds good to you; I used half a pound of ground turkey.
Get out a piece of bacon and chop it into tiny pieces. Stick a particularly fatty bit into a sauté pan and put it over medium heat to render some fat for the meatballs to cook in. This is especially useful if you're using a dry meat like turkey.
Throw the rest of the bacon into your bowl of meat.
Remove the hard outer layers of lemongrass, chop the soft inner bits finely, and throw them into the meat. Mince some garlic finely and throw it into the meat. If you want ginger, hot pepper, or anything else, mince it finely and throw it into the meat. You have the power!
Mix everything together with your hands, then start making meatballs. I try to make my meatballs as small as possible, so they'll cook faster and get a high proportion of crispy outer bits to soft inner bits. If you can stand to make them the circumference of a quarter, that's pretty good. Of course you can also make them as big as you want, or even say screw it and make them into highly spiced burgers instead.
I got about twelve or fourteen little meatballs out of my mix. This was way too much for me, so I stuck half of them in the freezer. This means that if I feel like it, I can have meatballs tonight as well! Ha ha ha!
Toss the rendered bacon rind out of the pan, turn the heat up to medium-high, and throw in the meatballs. Press them down with a spatula to flatten them a little. Now let them cook for five minutes or so without moving them. When their bottoms are brown, flip them all over and do the same to the other side. When you think they look done, break a big one apart and look at its middle. Is it done? All right then.
Serve. Each little bowl gets some bok choy, some tasty soup, and some meatballs if you want. Eat the vegetables and other bits with chopsticks and drink the soup directly out of the bowl.