Right now I'm listening to the rumble of distant thunder outside my office window, so my thoughts turn to the latter. It's a balmy 85 degrees outside, but, really, it's not so very hard to imagine the comfort of a simmering pot. Just imagine a swirling gust of yellow leaves. . . and spicy chili bubbling on the stove . . . Imagine the pepper-flecked flavor of a thick corn chowder or a hearty get well chicken noodle with a side of cheddar biscuits . . . and frost on the windowpane.
Food, in the end, in our own tradition, is something holy. It's not about nutrients and calories. It's about sharing. It's about honesty. It's about identity. ~ Louise Fresco
Last winter, I took my lifelong love affair with soup to a new level with the launch of my annual Soup Project (I've decided to make it annual just this very minute because it sounded really good, but actually I like the idea:). Because soup means love and comfort and just plain good living to me, I decided to bless people who've blessed me with a flavor that just seemed to fit what they've meant to me in my life. My friend Jill (and her family) got vegetable beef because she's steady and sage and just really good . . . and good to me in that lifelong friendship kind of way. My in laws got a beefy mushroom stroganoff cause they're down to earth and give my children roots and . . . well, cause that's what they asked for. Another close friend got an Asian chicken noodle (the recipe for Tom Kha Gai is below) because she's introduced me to so many different ethnic foods and brought so much color to my life that it just couldn't be something conventional for her. And also, she was sick. It went kind of like that. Gratitude doesn't really need a reason. And I guess soup doesn't really need a season. If you're interested and you qualify (you know who you are) feel free to put in your order for this year.
Some other recipes that made it beyond my kitchen last year were Pioneer Woman's Tomato Basil and Potato Kale. A few that I kept to myself, but might be willing to share;) were Chicken Tortilla and Spicy Sausage with tri-color Cheese Tortellini. An unexpected benefit in my whole growing Soup Project was that I got an education in the more obscure ingredients that will take a recipe from good to sublime . . . Rotel and cooking sherry, chicken stock, fish sauce, and herbs . . . Oh, the herbs that keep me busy and surmising just the right amount of water for each . . . and the perfect winter window angle of sunlight . . . If you've ever taken on an indoor herb garden, you know what I'm talking about . . . Last year I only managed NOT to kill the sage and the rosemary . . . indoor gardening tips welcome . . .
1 can (14oz) Coconut Milk
1 can (14oz) Chicken Broth
6 quarter slices of fresh ginger peeled and chopped fine or an inch sized chunk peeled and grated
1 stalk fresh lemongrass cut into 1 inch pieces or 2 dried lemongrass herb sticks (simmered and removed) OR a few drops of Doterra Lemongrass Essential Oil
1 pd boneless chicken breasts or thighs shredded
1 cup sliced gourmet mushrooms ( I recommend the Shittake, Cremini, & Oyster combo that I can find at Kroger)
1 tbls fresh lime juice
1 tbls fish sauce
1-3 tsp Thai Chili Paste (season to taste. . . maybe 3 tbls:)
1/4 cup each fresh chopped basil and cilantro leaves
Thai Rice Noodles (gluten free!)
More Green Stuff
Bring all of the ingredients to a boil and then simmer for 30, and then add the rice noodles to boil for 10 more minutes.
Some tips for the ingredients -- a little extra trouble to find them, as well as the careful preparation is well worth it! The coconut milk, fish sauce, Thai chili paste, and rice noodles can all be found in the international Asian section of any grocery store. Now let's talk specifically about the fish sauce. If you've ever cooked with fish sauce, you know what I'm going to say. It's like the anomaly of recipes. You don't really want to use it, or touch it, or really be anywhere near it because of the horrible odor. You can't imagine how anyone could have ever conceived of incorporating something so putrid into the culinary world. But once you taste the difference in a recipe with it and without it, you have to add it. It's just that simple. My husband is staunchly opposed to me using it, but he feels the same way about the mushrooms, too (horrible and putrid). He wouldn't prefer the coconut milk or the rice noodles or the green stuff, either. Actually, he wouldn't come anywhere near this soup, so his opinion shouldn't be factored in here (I have a very simple chicken soup recipe stored in the freezer that I'll bring out just for him next time I make Tom Kha Gai). Anyway, when adding the fish sauce, take a deep breath and hold it as you screw off the cap, very carefully measure and pour in a tablespoon, and then quickly screw the cap back on tightly (If you get any on your skin, scrub vigorously with lye soap and consider taking the next day off work. . . just kidding about the lye). Breathe. Then double ziploc it and store it in the back of the refrigerator until you need it again. Moving on. . . the lemongrass in fresh form is virtually impossible to find (I even went to Randazzo's). I imagine it could be found in an authentic Asian market, but I didn't try that. What I did find was dried form in the spice aisle at Kroger. The label says McCormick Lemongrass, and it looks like cinnamon sticks. Crush them just a little before adding them to release the flavor, and then remove them after simmering. It seems like a lot of trouble, but it's an essential, basic ingredient. Finally, in addition to the herbs, I like a lot of green stuff. Broccoli is good. Kale is great. I happened to have some the last time I made it, and tossed some in, along with a handful of frozen peas.
Seriously, try this soup. If it wasn't worth all the trouble, at least you've had the fish sauce experience and will have something to talk about at your next dinner party.
PS Look what I discovered after my epic lemongrass search.