Spicy Noodle Soup

8 ounces tofu
1 pound Kabocha squash
1 t cornstarch
1 1/4 cups coconut milk
1/4 cup vegetable or peanut oil
1 cup peeled and thinly sliced shallots
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
4 green onions, thinly sliced
1 red or yellow bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and coarsely diced
2 to 3 t red curry paste
2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 cup water
2 T lime juice
1 T Thai fish sauce
2 T chopped cilantro
8 ounces fresh ribbon-cut or other rice noodles
salt to taste

Cut the tofu into 1/2-inch thick slices. Spread in a single layer on a paper-towel lined plate and top with a second layer of paper towels. Let drain for 30 minutes. Cut into 1/2-inch dice and set aside.

Cut the squash in half then slice away the peel. Cut each half in half again and scoop out the seeds. Cut into 1/2-inch cubes and set aside. Put the cornstarch into a measuring cup and whisk in the coconut milk until well blended; set aside.

In a large heavy skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Drop a small piece of shallot into the skillet to test the temperature. When it sizzles, add the remaining shallots; fry until golden and beginning to turn crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon or spatula to a paper-towel lined plate.

Put the skillet back on medium-high heat. Drop a cube of tofu into the skillet to test the temperature. When it sizzles, put the remaining tofu into the pan and cook until golden. Remove with a slotted spoon or spatula to a paper-towel lined plate.

Reheat the skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and green onions, cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Add the bell pepper to the pan and saute for about 5 minutes, until they are softened but still have a little bite. Set aside.

Put the curry paste in a 3 1/2 quart saucepan and whisk in a couple of tablespoons of the stock. Place on medium heat and stir until the paste has dissolved, then pour the remaining stock into the pan along with the coconut milk and water. Bring to a boil, add the cubes of squash and reduce the heat to medium. Simmer, stirring, 8 minutes. Stir in the bell pepper mixture and simmer 2 minutes. The squash should be very tender. Stir in the lime juice, fish sauce and cilantro. Hold on low heat.

Prepare the noodles. Most recipes tell you to drop them in boiling water for 30 seconds and then put them into the dish you are making. I have found that doesn't really work. They come in a block of ribbon cut noodles all stuck together. In order to separate them I find you have to soak them in very warm water for 5 - 10 minutes and then break them apart with your hands. A gentle squeeze works great.

Drain the noodles and add them to the soup. Add the tofu. Let blend for 5 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt or extra fish sauce. Top each serving with some of the fried shallots and serve.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Here is something you can do with the other 8 ounces of tofu and fresh rice noodles: Kimchi Stew

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