Chinese Spinach Soup with Silken Tofu

By Charleen - October 10, 2021

This is a quick and easy soup to make, light and refreshing with emerald slivers of spinach and tiny white cubes of tofu suspended in a silky clear broth. I enjoy topping it with tiny cubes of pink Prosciutto (similar to Chinese dry cured hams) for an added punch, but it is equally enjoyable with vegan toppings such as mushrooms or chili crisp.

Spinach silken tofu soup in chicken broth with crisp prosciutto bits

My father's family hails from Jiangsu, China, famed for one of the great regional cuisines of China. While growing up, I remember him talking about Lion Head Meatballs and West Lake Beef Soup.  However, my parents thought the subtle and natural flavors highlighted in this style of cooking would not appeal to their American kids as much as the stronger flavored Sichuan dishes or richer Cantonese dim sum. 

It was not until I was older that I realized the delicious, braised red-cooked (紅燒hóngshāo; 'red braised'beef or chicken (which my mother simplified to be prepared so easily she named it "Lazy Chicken"), which we enjoyed so often, originated in the Su region before propagating out to other areas of China. 

Thanks to Grace Young's cookbook The Breath of a Wok, I even got a chance to make my own Lion Head Meatballs, and I found that I loved the lighter flavors from my Dad's home town as highlighted in Fuchsia Dunlop's Land of Fish and Rice, as much as I liked the spicy, pickled or fermented Jiangxi dishes of my Mom's. Possibly the most famous export of this region are the Chinese Soup Dumplings or pork xiao long bao (小笼包), made famous by the Taiwan-based chain Din Tai Fong 

Similar to the famous West Lake Beef soup, this gorgeous soup gets it silky mouthfeel from just the right amount of thickening of a clear broth with a cornstarch-water mixture at the end of cooking. This recipe is based on a spinach pork soup in The Land of Fish and Rice, but I found that the pork added a distracting texture without contributing to a richer flavor. 

I happened to have some fried prosciutto bits lying around from another recipe, and the meat containing version of this soup was born. Dry cured ham from Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Yunnan provinces are famed for their deep, rich flavor, but are hard to find in the US. My mother used to substitute Smithfield ham. Proscuitto is not quite as flavorful, but is similar to Jinhua ham, and adds a beautiful festive color.  

By eliminating the need to cook the pork, the preparation was even further simplified. Best of all the soup is easily made vegan depending on the topping selected. 
Vegetarian spinach silken tofu soup with vegetable stock and Sichuan Chili Crisp topping

We have enjoyed it with proscuitto bits, stirfried shiitake mushrooms, or simply a drizzle of Sichuan Chili Crisp or Sriracha sauce on top. 

Love2Chow Chinese Spinach and Silken Tofu Soup     
5-8 oz (w) of trimmed spinach, washed well
14-17 oz (w) silken tofu
1 Tbs canola oil
3-4 oz (w) prosciutto bits or mushrooms cut into 1/4 inch cubes (optional)
1/2 Tbs Shaoxing wine or dry sherry
1 quart stock (chicken or vegetable)
3 Tbs cornstarch or potato starch dissolved in 4.5 Tbs of cold water
1 Tbs rendered chicken fat (optional)
Ground white pepper

1. Line up the spinach leaves and tender stems, roll up, and slice into the thinnest possible slivers. Cut the tofu into 1/4 inch cubes

2. Heat oil in a wok, Dutch oven or soup pot until it shimmers.  Add proscuitto bits and/or mushroom cubes, if using, and allow to brown. Remove the bits to cool on a paper towel. 

3. Stir in Shaoxing wine to deglaze the pan. Then add stock and tofu, bringing everything to a gentle boil.

4. Stir in spinach and return to a boil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

5. Re-stir the starch mixture until well mixed.  Add 2-3 Tbs and stir in. The soup should quickly thicken. If necessary, add a Tbs at a time until the soup has a silky consistency and the bits of tofu and spinach are suspended.

6. Stir in chicken fat if using, and serve with prosciutto or other optional toppings. 

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