Like sugar and salt, there are some ingredients that can be added to a kitchen equation that give immediate and dramatic results. Fresh herbs (basil, tarragon, young fennel fronds) might come to mind for many of you but there lesser known players whose addition to a dish create mind-boggling and palate-pleasing opportunities. Galangal (Thai ginger), lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves, though laborious to track down if you're accustomed to one-stop-shopping, will keep a long time in the freezer and keep the dust from settling on your Southeast Asian cookbooks.
Lemongrass Coconut Soup with Sweet Potatoes and Savoy Cabbage (Tom Kah)
inspired by Sadudee, Amy, Aaron and RB
Though a forever-advocate of taking liberty with substitutions, there are no replacements for the aromatics of this dish: galangal (Thai ginger), lemongrass, and kaffir lime leaves. They can be found in the Asian produce of larger grocery stores or in specialty Asian markets. Slice the galangal into thin strips and break the lemongrass into 3" pieces before freezing them. Pound the lemongrass to release the oils before adding it to the soup. Kaffir lime leaves will keep in the freezer as is.
1 T coconut oil
1 yellow onion, halved and semi-thinly sliced
10 fresh shiitake mushrooms, sliced (or 5 dried, pre-soaked)
1 sweet potato, halved and quartered lengthwise and cut into 1" cubes
1 clove garlic, smashed
10 c water
1/2 t sea salt
1 12oz-ish can coconut milk (absolutely full fat, no excuses)
4 1" slices of galangal
1 3" stalk lemongrass, pounded
1-3 Thai chilis, smashed
6 kaffir lime leaves
4 T good-quality fish sauce (or vegan substitution for those of you who are strict)
2 T sugar
the juice of 1 1/2 fresh limes
2 c blanched savoy cabbage (5 minutes boiling in salted water)
cilantro, for garnish
In a soup pot, heat the coconut oil over medium heat and saute the onion with a pinch of salt until soft, about 10 minutes. Add the mushrooms, sweet potato, garlic and water and bring to a boil. Add the salt and reduce the heat to maintain a hearty simmer. You are essentially making a quick stock.
After 20 minutes, add the remaining ingredients and let simmer for another 10 minutes. Remove the dried mushrooms and save for something else (or chop them up and add them back to the stock).
Taste to adjust the sweet, salty and sour flavors -- you may need to sprinkle a bit more lime, sugar or fish sauce. Remove and discard the galangal, lemongrass and lime leaves. Add the blanched cabbage in the last minute, ladle into bowls and garnish with fresh cilantro. To make a meal out of it, serve with steamed jasmine rice.
Yields: soup for 6
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes (mostly inactive)