Thursday, January 6, 2011

Tom Khaa Kai (Chicken, Coconut and Galangal Soup)

I am loving my new Thai cookbook; I haven't even bothered to read the introductory chapter because I have full-on into the recipes. And of the ones I've made, damn, they are delicious - and surprisingly simple. Take this soup: nothing to saute, brown or what-have-you, just dump your ingredients in a pot and simmer until done. Bang. Of course there are complicated recipes I've yet to tackle - and may not tackle until I get to the States - but who wants to fuss over a soup? This will have dinner (or lunch, or breakfast, if that's how you roll) on your table in less than 15 minutes, so my mind is already in step with the working people of the world.

The original recipe calls for several exotic ingredients - galangal, kaffir lime leaves, palm sugar - which may or may not be tricky to find, depending on your area, but fortunately all have easy substitutions. The result: a light, slightly sour, slightly hot soup that is filling without being overwhelming, full of fresh vegetables and lean chicken, and perfect for anyone with a New Year's resolution that includes losing a few pounds. You could go fancy and use shrimp instead of chicken. If I wasn't determined with my resolution (Master Cleanse, god help me) I'd already have dinner made. Eat it for me, then, so I may enjoy it through you.

Tom Khaa Kai

3cups coconut milk
2 lemongrass stalks (white part only) each cut into a tassel or bruised
2inch piece of galangal, cut into several pieces (ginger may be substituted)
4 Asian shallots, smashed with the flat side of a cleaver (regular shallots may be substituted)
14oz skinless chicken breast fillets, cut into slices
2tbsp fish sauce
1tbsp palm sugar (brown sugar may be substituted)
7oz baby tomatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces if large
5oz straw or button mushrooms
3tbsp lime juice
6 makrut (kaffir) lime leaves, torn in half (other citrus leaves may be substituted)
3-5 bird's eye chillies, stems removed, bruised
cilantro, for garnish

1. Put the coconut milk, lemon grass, galangal and shallots in a saucepan or wok over medium heat and bring to a boil.

2. Add the chicken, fish sauce and palm sugar and simmer, stirring constantly for 5 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.

3. Add the tomatoes and mushrooms and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the lime juice, lime leaves and chillies in the last few seconds, taking care not to let the tomatoes lose their shape. Don't worry if the coconut milk splits - it should!

4. Taste, then adjust the seasoning if necessary. This dish is not meant to be overwhelmingly hot, but to have a sweet, salty, sour taste. Serve garnished with cilantro leaves.

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