It’s officially hot pot season! If you’re looking for a homemade soup base, look no further than this tomato hot pot base recipe. It’s mild yet flavorful (for those who aren’t into spicy hot pots), light (for those who’d rather not have too much oil in their hot pot), and easy to whip up while you gather all your favorite hot pot ingredients.
A Festive Cold Weather Meal
Many of you already know that a Chinese hot pot meal involves a bubbling pot of soup in the center of the table, with various ingredients to cook in it, from vegetables and mushrooms, to rice cakes, noodles and dumplings, to meats and seafood.
But if you’ve never hosted a hot pot dinner or party, it’s a great way to enjoy a meal with friends and family. Especially during the fall and winter months!
All you have to do is gather the ingredients and do some light preparation (washing/slicing vegetables, etc.). All the cooking is done at the table. Each person makes their own dipping sauce and cooks their own dinner, making it an interactive, fun, and personalized dining experience.
It also makes for a rather low maintenance entertaining option. Just have your friends bring drinks or perhaps a dessert, and you have an instant party.
In terms of equipment, all you theoretically need is a shallow, wide pot with a heat source. You can use a portable induction cooktop, a gas cooktop with a butane canister, or any other portable electric hot plate. You can also get a purpose-built hot pot set, which generally comes with a heating coil, pot, and lid.
To set up the meal, you would put out all your ingredients for cooking, a bunch of sauces, chopped garlic, scallions, and cilantro, so that each person can mix their own dipping sauce, as well as small bowls for rice, chopsticks, and small plates for eating (dessert plates work well). You can also get mini strainers, which will help your diners fish items out of the bubbling pot!
Read more about setting up a Chinese hot pot meal at home, including what ingredients are good for hot pot and suggested dipping sauce ingredients.
The Hot Pot Soup Base Dilemma
Now for the final element—which many of you have had questions about over the years. What should the soup in the middle of the table be?
You can actually purchase pre-made hot pot soup base packets, which you just add water to. But what about making a hot pot base yourself at home?
In theory, you could just use plain boiling water! But there are many types of soup bases out there. Some of the most common include: plain chicken broth, broths with Chinese herbs, a spicy Sichuan hot pot base, mushroom bases, and what we’re making today—a tomato hot pot base.
For us, a tomato hot pot is actually one of the best options for a homemade soup base, due to a few key attributes:
- Flavorful: Tomatoes are a natural source of glutamic acid, the source of umami, or the savory fifth taste. You can use water instead of stock for this soup base, making it easy and affordable. Remember that the hot pot broth isn’t necessarily meant to be drunk as a soup. It is simply a cooking medium. It’s not necessary to use high quality homemade stocks or broths here.
- Mild/crowd-pleasing: While spicy hot pot bases have grown in popularity in recent years, there are many folks out there who either don’t like spicy food or find the mala (spicy numbing) flavors of Sichuan hot pot too overpowering or “one-note.” This tomato hot pot is mild enough to not imbue all the ingredients with the same strong flavors.
- Healthy: Some hot pot bases can be quite oil-heavy, using either oil or in many cases, beef tallow. While we have nothing against animal fat, this soup base is much lighter and perhaps easier on your stomach and better for digestion!
- Fast: All you have to do is pre-soak some dried shiitake mushrooms, and this hot pot base comes together in 20 minutes. (About the same amount of time it takes to set up all your other hot pot elements.) Sometimes we choose hot pot as a last minute dinner idea when we’re not up to cooking or not sure what else to make. This tomato hot pot soup base is easy enough to whip up whenever the hot pot mood strikes.
Note that while some tomato hot pot soups are very thick and almost gravy-like, this one isn’t. It’s brothy and light!
Ok, let’s talk about how to make it.
Soak the shiitake mushrooms in hot water for 2 hours, or until mostly reconstituted. Rinse them well.
Heat a wok or pot over medium heat. Add the oil, bay leaf, ginger, and the white parts of the scallions. Fry until fragrant, about 1 minute.
Then add the garlic. Cook for another 30 seconds, and stir in the tomato paste, sugar, and salt. Cook until the oil has a deep red color, about 5 minutes.
Then add the broth or water (including any mushroom soaking liquid, being careful to avoid any grit from the mushrooms) along with the soaked shiitake mushrooms.
Bring to a simmer, cover, and let the soup simmer for 10 minutes. Add the scallion greens. You’re now ready for hot pot!
Tomato Hot Pot Soup Base
- 3 dried shiitake mushrooms
- 2 tablespoons oil (any neutral oil)
- 1 large bay leaf
- 2 slices ginger
- 2 scallions (white parts halved lengthwise and cut into 2-inch/5cm pieces and green parts cut into 2-inch/5cm pieces)
- 3 cloves garlic (smashed)
- 1/4 cup tomato paste
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 8 cups water (or chicken, mushroom, or vegetable broth)
- Soak the shiitake mushrooms in hot water for 2 hours, or until mostly reconstituted. Rinse them well.
- Heat a wok or pot over medium heat. Add the oil, bay leaf, ginger, and the white parts of the scallions. Fry until fragrant, about 1 minute.
- Then add the garlic. Cook for another 30 seconds, and stir in the tomato paste, sugar, and salt. Cook until the oil has a deep red color, about 5 minutes.
- Then add the broth or water (including any mushroom soaking liquid, being careful to avoid any grit from the mushrooms) along with the soaked shiitake mushrooms.
- Bring to a simmer, cover, and let the soup simmer for 10 minutes. Add the scallion greens. You’re now ready for hot pot!