It’s been cool and rainy this last week, somewhat unexpected in mid-July, when we are usually hankering for salads, watermelon, and ice cream to keep us cool, particularly in the evening. So I am thinking warming food, like a nice hot bowl of soup.
I met friends at a Vietnamese restaurant this last week for lunch, which was fun. My meal was not inspiring (I did a bit of blind ordering rather than knowing what I was getting) as it was a sauteed chicken breast and a fried egg over sticky rice, with a bit of pickled veg and a rather nice mirin sauce on the side. What they had – especially the beef and noodle soup – looked much prettier, so I will go back and try it again. Dragging the First Reader along. For a man who has eaten his way around the world, he’s remarkably patient with me feeding him strange and exotic meals.
One of the first things I ever cooked for him was my favorite soup, Thom Kha Gai. I’d learned to make Thai food during my marriage, as my ex is from San Diego and loved Mexican food, and Thai. The first time he ever took me to a Thai restaurant I fell in love with the food, even as the tears streamed down my face from the spiciness. I don’t do it now as often as I’d like, because it’s time-consuming. But I have a hankering for summer rolls… and no longer have the bamboo steamers, drat.
The soup on the other hand, requires some ingredients, but no special equipment.
Thom Kha Gai
- 6-8 slices of fresh ginger
- 5-6 stalks of lemon grass, cut into 2-3″ lengths, crushed lightly with flat of knife
- 8 whole peppercorns
- 2 cans coconut milk (about 5 cups)
- zest of a lime
- 2 lbs boneless chicken cut into spoon-size pieces
- sliced mushrooms (optional)
- Juice of 1 lime
- 3 tbsps Nam Pla (fish sauce)
- 1 tsp brown sugar
- 3-4 fresh red chili pepper, or Sriracha sauce to taste
- 1 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
Put the ginger, lemon grass, pepper corns, coconut milk, and lime zest into a large soup pot. Bring to a boil over medium heat, and allow to simmer for a few minutes to bring the flavors out. Remove the flavoring elements with a spider, or if you prefer, you can have them in a cheesecloth bag to remove at the end (I’ve also used a brewing ball, a giant mesh teaball). They are not edible, and traditionally they are just set on the edge of the bowl while eating, but that’s messy. To your flavored coconut milk, add the chicken and mushrooms. I’ll also use shrimp here, instead of or with the chicken. Simmer for 15 min (but not if you’re using shrimp! that should go in just 2-3 min before the soup comes off the heat) until chicken is cooked through. Turn the heat off and add the lime juice, nam pla, sugar, cilantro, and sriracha, tasting as you do. This soup should be a nice balance of tart/sweet, rich/salty and should not be too sweet. As a note, I usually didn’t use the chili peppers, which ought to go in at the beginning, because my kids don’t care for spicy. By using the sriracha, the individual could control their spice level.
So that’s my version of chicken soup. I usually serve it with rice, and if I have time, spring or summer rolls. Makes a meal that is wonderfully complex in flavors without a lot of effort.