Soup is a universal, go-to comfort food. There’s just something about a big bowl of steaming hot soup that nourishes the body and mind. Here in Southeast Asia, soups are generally clear, usually served with noodles and sides of chilies in one form or another – chopped in soy or even sambal. It’s been a bit chilly in the evenings with the rains, so soup feels like such a good idea a lot of the time.
Unfortunately, it’s not easy to find a soup when you’re eating that isn’t packed with MSG (monosodium glutamate. You’ll know that it was in there when you feel really thirsty after having your meal. It’s not very pleasant. I used to really like this place near the office that proudly declares “No MSG” on their storefront but since cutting out gluten, I’ve been a sad little kitty.
When you make things at home you, you know what you’re putting in, and you’ll love even more what you’re getting out of it. Thanks to the girls from Hemsley and Hemsley, I’ve gotten into the habit of boiling leftover chicken bones with a roughly chopped carrot, an onion (unpeeled is fine!), a bay leaf and a couple of peppercorns for a couple of hours to get a really nice, homemade chicken broth that could be used for other meals throughout the week – or, frozen, anytime whenever soup comes into the picture, or even in quinoa or risotto. By making your own chicken broth you extract the amino acids (protein), gelatin, glucosamine (both good for joints), vitamins, minerals and collagen (great for your skin!). You cannot get the same from those stock cubes or canned/boxed broths.
Here I use it as a base for tom yum soup, one of Thailand’s most famous dishes. It’s so fragrant with the galangal, lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves, and it’s got a really fantastic balance of flavour, typical of Southeast Asian dishes, altogether sweet, sour and spicy. I do not vouch for the authenticity of my recipe, it’s just something I put together and tasted as I went.
The supermarket nearby has a pre-packed “tom yum” kit with all the ingredients you need. I’m not sure if that’s a common product, but basically it’s got a tomato, some lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, chilies, a knob of galangal (lengkuas), a lime and an onion. When you’re making this, be really careful with the chili. My tray had SO MANY of the short, crazy spicy red and green birds eye chillies. Killer! I went for two long chillies and one each of the red and green birds eye chillies, and this was quite spicy. Make it as spicy as you can take, at least one (long ie less spicy) chili because you need some spice for this.
Then you can take it whichever way you like, with chicken, seafood such as squid, prawns and fish or just vegetarian with some soft tofu and mushrooms. You can add zucchini noodles, brown rice vermicelli noodles (bee hoon), or mung bean noodles (soh hoon) to make it a main dish.
- Tom Yum tray:
- 1 onion
- 4cm piece galangal
- 4 pieces lemongrass
- 1 tomato
- 1 lime
- 6 kaffir lime leaves
- chillies: I ended up using only 1 each of the red and green short chillies. If you are intolerant to heat, do not use birds eye chillies.
- ½-2 long red chillies (depending on your tolerance to spice)
- 1 teaspoon tomato paste
- 100g mushroom of choice (I used enoki mushrooms because I'm crazy for them)
- 1.5 litres homemade chicken broth (make a vegetable broth if you are vegetarian/vegan)
- Choice of:
- vegetarian/vegan - 1 tray soft tofu, other vegetables of choice
- pescetarian - 4 large prawns, plus 3 tablespoons fish sauce
- Prepare your ingredients: Peel and slice the onions into half-moons. Peel the galangal and just slice thickly. Slice the lemongrass in half and pound lightly with a pestle (or something generally a bit heavy). Roughly chop the kaffir lime leaves. Roughly chop the chillies you want to use, and pound lightly in a pestle and mortar.
- Throw in the above ingredients into the chicken stock (if you don't have your own homemade stock, you could use your favourite chicken/vegetarian stock) and bring it to the boil. I like my tomatoes on the weird soft side, so as it starts to boil I cut it up into wedges and throw it into the soup. Add the tomato paste, and fish sauce if using.
- Bring it down to simmer and leave it for 10 minutes. Taste and season, if required. At this point you can fish out the galangal and lemongrass so that you don't bite into them as you enjoy your soup. Add the mushrooms and tofu, or prawns, and let it cook for another 5 minutes. (Once the prawns are cooked) Turn off the heat, and serve.
- If using noodles, pre-cook the noodles of choice according to package instructions. Add the noodles into the bowl and pour the soup over.
Enjoy! xx, Bee