Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Cure-all Soup (updated!)

One of the most annoying things in the world is to get sick during summer. Not a slight summer cold, mind you. Sore throat, ear infection, coughing, chills…just all around icky-ness. While everyone else was prancing around in tank tops and shorts, all I wanted to do was crawl under my heavy down comforter and hibernate. Then just when I was on the upswing, Sonny came down with it. Ugh.

It's times like these when I wished mom lived nearby (I'm sure I'll retract that statement next week) because I sure could have used a double batch of her cure-all hot and sour soup. Got a cold? Headache? Upset stomach? Nothing like a dose of hot and sour soup to make things alright.

Photo added December 2008.

Now days, you can get the bouillon at Asian markets. I have used this in the past, but it required so much doctoring, I figure I could just as well make it from scratch. If you look for recipes for tom yum soup, there are a few things they all have in common: lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, coriander roots, fish sauce, lime juice. But I will tell you the secret (or two) to make this a stellar soup; something I’ve never found in any recipe: naam prik pao. My mom taught me this and I promise you it makes a huge difference. Another thing mom taught me was to use tamarind puree as well as lime to give this soup its sourness.

One thing to keep in mind is that some people (like mom) like this soup more on the sour side, while some people (like me) like this soup more on the tangy side. There’s also a few additions, like ginger or shrimp paste, depending on whether you plan to use shrimp, tofu or chicken, but I usually just stick to the basic recipe and it all still turns out fine. You may find yourself fiddling a little with the ingredients until you find the right combination.

This recipe makes a lot of soup. Enough to feed about 10 people a small bowl. If it’s too much for your immediate use, freeze some of it for later. Once you get the flavoring right (and before adding the tomatoes or meat), transfer the amount you want to freeze to another pot or large bowl and allow it to cool a bit before freezing. Then when you feel like having some soup later, just reheat, add tomatoes and meat, and you’re ready to go.

Mom’s Cure-all Hot and Sour Soup (aka basic Tom Yum)
  • 2.5 tbs naam prik phao
  • Thai chilies, to taste (I generally use 2-3)
  • 3 coriander roots (if you can find it)
  • 1 stick lemongrass, white part only
  • 4 kaffir lime leaves
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 4 slices galangal (about the size of half dollars)
  • 8 cups chicken stock
  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup tamarind puree
  • 3 tbs fresh lime juice, more to taste
  • fish sauce, to taste
  • palm sugar, to taste (light brown sugar is okay)
  • 2 handfuls of cherry tomatoes or 2 large tomatoes sliced (or more if you like)
  • 1 block tofu, 1 lbs shrimp or ¾ lbs sliced chicken (preferably thigh meat) or mushrooms

In a mortar, pound the chilies and garlic until uniformly mashed. Add the coriander roots, galangal and lemongrass and pound just to bruise the lemongrass to release its fragrance. In a large pot add the naam prik pao, the mashed herbs, kaffir lime leaves and chicken stock. Heat until warmed. Add the tamarind puree, lime juice, fish sauce and sugar. Adjust the taste by adding more of tamarind puree (for tanginess and sour), lime juice (for sourness), sugar or fish sauce. Once you get the flavor you like, turn down the heat to get a nice simmer and add the cherry tomatoes (I like to simmer up to 30 minutes before adding the tomatoes, but it’s up to you really). After about 5 minutes, add the tofu or meat. If adding shrimp or chicken, do not stir. Simply submerse the meat and allow it to poach until done. Serve garnished with a few cilantro leaves. I sometimes like to add some rice to my bowl for a nice hot and sour rice soup. Yum!

Check out Sonny eating hot and sour soup, fishcakes and rice.

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