Saturday, September 3, 2011


Version 4.0/strained

Soup is not my favorite thing. The ratio of broth to good stuff is way too high, and quite frankly that makes me feel as though I'm getting cheated.  I've never understood why people order soup at a restaurant, since they pay top dollar for what amounts to little more than a bowl of water and salt. Besides, soup is prisoner food-- picture any movie set before the last few decades and the prisoners eat nothing but stale bread and a bowl of broth.

But then I found someone else's food blog, called "Culinary Adventures of a New Wife," and the blogger posted a recipe she adapted from a cookbook of Oprah's. Her husband loved it, and it combined two of my favorite flavors (coconut and green curry) so I figured it was worth at least one go-round. It also seemed to be loaded with good stuff, which I reasoned must lower the broth-to-stuff ratio to a non-prisoner level.

The first time I made it, a friend was in town visiting, so I followed the recipe almost exactly, leaving out only the fish sauce and chicken because a) I don't like fish sauce. And with shrimp cooked in the broth, how much more fish flavor does a soup really need? b) chicken and fish sauce are mutually exclusive; c) having both chicken and shrimp in the soup is gluttonous. I thought it turned out pretty well, and my friend claimed to like it, too, though there is the possibility that she was just being polite.

The second time I made it, I used extra-firm tofu instead of either chicken or shrimp. I pan-fried the cubes first in a little of the chili sauce that goes in the soup, so they formed a nice crust. Extra-firm tofu doesn't have that slimy-gummy texture that offends so many people, but even so, the crust was just extra insurance against gumminess. The cubes stood up really well in the soup, staying cube-like and not crumbling to bits as they could have with softer tofu. Plus, tofu absorbs flavors so nicely, so after soaking in the broth for a while, they are perfect. The other advantage to using tofu is it doesn't reek of fish the next day when you eat it for lunch.

As I ate the leftovers, though, I wanted more stuff in the soup. The noodles are one of my favorite stuffs, so I just cooked another bundle and threw them in. And now that I have re-read the recipe for the zillionth time in preparation for posting here, I realize the recipe calls for 2 bundles, which is why I didn't think there were enough noodles with just the one. Well done, me.

I didn't strain the sautéed bits from the broth the second time. I especially liked the cilantro leaves, which I left nearly whole, in the broth, though it was less aesthetically appealing that way, so strain--- or don't-- according to your preference.

I am still surprised by how much I like this soup, and how many equally good variations of it there are. It even fills me up, unlike prisoner soup.

*Note: to make this entirely vegan, substitute vegetable broth for chicken broth and replace chicken/shrimp with tofu. Omit fish sauce.

Thai Coconut-Curry Soup
adapted from "Culinary Adventures of a New Wife", who adapted it from Oprah

4 C chicken or vegetable stock
5 garlic cloves, peeled and cut into chunks
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 TBSP Thai green curry paste
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp cumin (I used about half this much)
1/2 tsp whole black peppercorns (I just threw in some ground black pepper)
3/4 C loosely packed cilantro leaves (plus more for garnish), chopped
2 rounds vermicelli glass noodles, cooked according to package directions
1 C unsweetened coconut milk (can use light coconut milk, but broth will be a little thinner)
1/2 C chopped green onion
1 C sliced or quartered mushrooms
1 chicken breast, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 lb medium shrimp, peeled and de-veined
1 package extra-firm tofu, drained and cut into 1-inch cubes
1/4-3/4 tsp chili-garlic sauce

(recipe also calls for 2 TBSP lime juice and 2 tsp brown sugar, but I used neither. So I guess I didn't follow the recipe quite as closely as I thought...)

1. In a large pot over medium-high heat, combine stock, garlic, ginger, curry paste, coriander, cumin, pepper, and cilantro. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. 
2. Meanwhile, if using tofu, heat 1 TBSP oil and 1/2 tsp chili-garlic sauce in a medium frying pan over medium heat. Add tofu. Stir occasionally, allowing brown crust to form on all sides (approximately 5-8 minutes). Set aside.
3. Strain broth through a sieve and discard solids. Return broth to pot, adding coconut milk, half the green onions, and shrimp, chicken, or tofu. Return to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until chicken and/or shrimp are fully cooked (about 5-8 minutes). 
4. Add chili-garlic sauce. I add noodles to pot here, but these can be added to individual bowls according to taste, if desired.  Garnish with remaining green onion and cilantro.

Obviously, I don't use 5 cloves of garlic.

I heart miniature cans of coconut milk: none goes to waste.

I heart these, too.

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