Friday, January 22, 2010

Souped Up!

It’s raining in Los Angeles. This isn’t just a drizzle. Not just a sprinkle. Not even a cat or a dog! I’m talking a full week of non-stop monsoons nearing biblical proportions and it doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon.

Like many a SoCal resident I’m not physically or emotionally equipped to deal with “weather.” I’ll be the first to admit we’re spoiled here and maybe more than a little soft when the temperature dips below 65 degrees or more than a drop of water hits our windshields. Personally it makes me want to take refuge under my Slanket until it all goes away. And p.s., I’m not kidding. I really do have a Slanket!

There’s only one thing to do. Make soup! That’s right, if nature is going to hand me lemons in the form of rain, I’m going to make lemonade in the form of soup! I may not be equipped to deal with weather extremes, but I’m always equipped to whip up something warm and comforting in the kitchen. So until the rain decides to let up, you know where to find me…

Tom Kha Gai (Thai Chicken Coconut Soup)

I don’t know if this soup is authentically Thai, but I do know that it is exotically wonderful and deceptively easy to make. It has a kind of restorative, life affirming quality about it and definitely borrows from the Thai palate, perfectly infusing the flavors of coconut, chili, lime and lemongrass. It’s the kind of soup you can make mid-week when you’re stressed out, hating life and the weekend seems nowhere in sight. Think of it as a vacation for your taste buds.

Serves 4

1 quart chicken stock

2 cloves garlic, smashed

1 (2- inch) piece of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced

2 slices Galangal root*

3 Kaffir lime leaves**, torn

2 stalks lemongrass, white part only, sliced in half lengthwise

1 teaspoon sugar

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

2 (13 ounce) cans coconut milk

1 to 2 teaspoons sambal oelek (Asian hot chili paste), or to taste

1 ½ tablespoons fish sauce (nam pla or nuoc nam)

½ teaspoon turmeric

1 medium carrot, peeled & shredded

8 ounces button mushrooms, halved

Freshly squeezed juice of 2 limes
4 scallions, thinly sliced on an angle
Fresh cilantro, chopped for garnish

Place the chicken stock, garlic, ginger, Galangal root, lime leaves, lemongrass and sugar in a large stock pot or Dutch oven and bring to the boil. Add the chicken breasts, reduce heat and simmer gently until chicken is just cooked through, about 12 minutes. Fish the chicken out of the pot and allow it to cool a bit on a cutting board.

Meanwhile, remove the Galangal root, lemon grass, garlic and lime leaves from the broth and discard. Stir in the coconut milk, sambal, fish sauce, turmeric, carrots, mushrooms, and lime juice.
When the chicken is cool enough to handle, cut it into rough and tumble chunks or shred it with your fingers and add it back to the pot. Heat the soup through gently to soften the carrots but don’t bring back to the boil. Add the scallions and ladle into individual bowls and garnish with chopped cilantro.

*Galangal root can be found in Asian markets in most cities. If you can’t find it, feel free to omit it from the recipe.

**Kaffir lime leaves can also be found in Asian markets. If you can’t find it substitute the zest of a lime instead. I buy extra when I’m at the Asian market and store them in a ziplock bag in my freezer. They keep for months!