I have expanded my kitchen horizons so much in the past year that I can’t even believe it. If you told me last year I’d be cooking with coconut milk, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, and fish sauce I would have laughed in your face. Especially since pescetarianism/vegetarianism coincided with learning to cook for myself post-college, for years I had tended to stick with the simple and easy – pasta with sauce from a jar. Noodle packets. Steamed broccoli and brown rice. The occasional casserole. Buying strange ingredients inspired a fear in me – probably a fear of failure – that prevented me from trying new dishes and especially trying new or “ethnic” cuisines.
Now, partly in thanks to Pinterest, partly because of my bored taste buds, and partly because of living with N and being friends with E, I have expanded my cooking horizons to…Thailand!
Thai cuisine takes some getting used to if you haven’t tried it before. This Tom Kha soup is a pretty good introduction, and a great standby if you’re already loving Thai food. It’s a soup with subtle flavor, mostly of coconut, that can be amped up with spices (see the chili paste ingredient in the list below). And you can add whatever your heart desires – shrimp, chicken, tofu, greens, mushrooms, you name it. I like to serve it over brown rice to make it a more well-rounded meal but it would make a great first course served simply in a small portion.
I made this version of Tom Kha (usually referred to as Tom Kha Gai) on Saturday night to rave reviews. It came together in about an hour but I wasn’t being very efficient, so you could probably do it faster. The pictures are from the leftovers that I had last night. It still great the next day, though I was wishing for more fresh citrus to brighten it up again. I need to follow E’s example and always keep lemons on hand…
Tom Kha (Thai Coconut Soup)
1.5 cans of coconut milk (you can substitute light coconut milk)
1 cup vegetable broth
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp grated fresh ginger (use fresh, it really makes a difference)
1 tsp fish sauce
1 tbsp chili paste (add more to taste depending on how spicy you like it)
1 stalk lemongrass (I used the dried kind but use fresh if you can find it)
1-2 kaffir lime leaves (if you can’t find these, just add a little more lime juice)
zest and juice of 3 limes
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional: firm cubed tofu
Optional: soba noodles
1. Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over low/medium heat. Add the garlic, ginger, and lime and lemon zest. Saute until fragrant.
2. Add the coconut milk, vegetable broth, fish sauce, and chili paste. Add the lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves. Simmer for 10 minutes to let the flavors combine.
3. Add your optional ingredients as desired. I like to sear my tofu (and if I have time, press it and marinate it) in a separate pan with salt and pepper before adding to the soup. I also like to add fresh spinach and sliced white mushrooms at the very end. You could add shrimp or chicken, whatever your taste preference.
4. Add the juice of the lemon and limes and turn off the heat. Remove the kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass, discard.
5. Serve hot over brown rice or noodles.
Makes 4 servings.