Tonight I took the train to crazy town and made my family a soup containing (among other things) coconut milk, lemongrass, lime leaves, thai curry, and rice noodles--this for my family who complains fervently when I have the nerve to make tomato sauce that has "chunkies" in it. Because I figure if you're going to go to crazy town, you might as well not stop half way. And I didn't. I had to take a deep breath every time I shoveled in big doses of ginger and lime zest, handfuls of cilantro and a glug of fish sauce. When my husband came in, he uttered this loving phrase, "That better be healthy." By which he meant, "Because there'd be no other reason in the world for eating it." So then I added more lime juice and some other weird stuff. So then he left the room. And I just kept thinking that this would never ever work. But there it was--the most heavenly broth in the world. And, while my kids weren't crazy about the rice noodles, they actually really really liked the rest of the soup. #Is this my family##I love crazy town.# (And, no, I don't do twitter. Why?)
Of course I had planned for defeat. I'd made this so simple and delicious refrigerator bread to go with it (only I'd made it mostly with white flour). Turns out I wasn't so defeated after all, but--boy howdy--was that bread good dipped in this soup. #Who needs drugs# (#Why is it so fun to hashtag everything##I can see how people could get addicted##to bread/soup and hashtags#)
It's been wicked cold here and for whatever reason tangy, creamy, hot things are the very deepest desire of my heart. This hit it right on.
Now I must say this. I've never made a soup like this before. I could get several of the ingredients at my local Walmart. But the rest (lime leaves, cilantro root, etc.--#cilantro roots huh#) required a trip to my city's ethnic store and I had to spend about 20 minutes there and ask several questions to a very sweet man who did not speak my language (it reminded me of my good old days teaching English in Taiwan). We eventually found everything, or nearly (the cilantro root called for still eluded us). I'm still not sure I got exactly the right type of noodles. What I am sure of is that I used too many noodles. With the amount of noodle called for this came out as more of a noodle dish than a soup. Nothing wrong with that, except that you sort of had to eat it with a fork and a spoon (#chopsticks were in order#). Nevertheless, it was a very good noodle dish. But I thought the broth was just so divine that it really needed its chance to shine as the soup it was meant to be. When I make this again (which I'm already planning for a Friday lunch with friends), I plan to use only a quarter of the noodles and to chop them a bit so they're not quite so long.
If you're feeling a little afraid of this recipe--don't. You can find rice noodles, coconut milk, limes, fish sauce, curry, and cilantro at Walmart (and of course chicken and broth). And, truth be told, you'd probably be doing pretty well with just those ingredients. Yes, I do feel that the lime leaves and lemongrass added something to it (in the same way a bay leaf might add something to your pasta sauce--it's good, but if you leave it out, your pasta sauce will still be great). So don't be afraid. You can make it a little less exotic if you wish. And if you make it you will be so so happy. #Yes. Yes you will.#
Also, if you're vegetarian, I think you could easily make this without the chicken and use a vegetable broth. It's just so flavorful anyway--the chicken just added another level/food group.
Thai Soup with Chicken
adapted from Chef Michael Smith
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Cost: $10.15 (or about $1.00/serving)
coconut milk: 4.00, curry: .20, chicken: 3.00, chicken broth: .30, carrot: .10, lime leaves: .10, lemon grass: .35, limes: .25, ginger: .25, rice noodles: 1.00, cilantro: .50, green onions: .10
Note: We halved this.
Note: I used cooked leftover chicken and just let it stew the last 10 minutes or so. Below I'll give directions for cooking up raw meat.
Note: Why have I never grated ginger before? It's so much easier than mincing it. With this recipe you can just grate your carrot, the lime zest, and your ginger. Done.
2 14-oz. cans coconut milk
1 heaping Tbsp Thai curry paste (I couldn't find "Thai" curry, which I believe has more heat; I used a little red and a little green, just to cover my bases, but after making it, I'm sure either would have worked)
1 bunch cilantro roots, rinsed (never found; didn't miss, but if you 've got them, then, by all means)
1-2 chicken breasts, cubed
2 C chicken broth
1 carrot, shredded
4 or 5 lime leaves
2 stalks lemon grass, halved lengthwise, woody leaves removed
2 Tbsp fish sauce
2 limes, zest and juice
1 knob ginger (yeah, I found the word 'knob' a little vague too--I probably used 3-4 Tbsp shredded ginger)
handful bean sprouts (go crunchy and make your own)
rice noodles (2-4 oz, broken a bit if long) (original recipe called for 8 oz)
2 green onions, sliced
1 bunch cilantro leaves
salt or soy sauce to taste
Before starting, grate carrot, lime zest, and ginger. Cut your lemon grass. Juice your lime. Yes, you can do this while your chicken cooks if you'd like. But if that stresses you out, do it now.
Heat a large pot. Scoop thick coconut cream from the top of one can into your pot. Melt it, add the curry and stir until it gets all fragrant and you feel woozy with pleasure.
Add cilantro roots if you could find them. Add chicken and cook it until it's cooked through (5 minutes or so).
Add remaining coconut milk from first can and the second can. Add chicken broth, carrot, lime leaves, lemon grass, fish sauce, lime zest and lime juice, and ginger.
Simmer about 20 minutes.
Stir in bean sprouts (these add a lovely texture, but if you can't find them, this will still be good). Stir in green onions.
Add rice noodles. They don't need to cook, per se. They just need to rehydrate. That said, they used a lot more liquid than I had expected, so start with less (2 oz) and then add more if you want more noodle.
Stir in cilantro (I chopped mine pretty finely).
Remove lemon grass stalks and lime leaves.
Taste and season with a little salt or soy sauce if you think it needs it (I didn't.)
Garnish with more cilantro if you wish.