Monday, April 7, 2008

A tasty, quick and easy Thai-style soup


Around here, we love red curry any way it comes-- as a sauce or soup, with chicken, duck, shrimp, and even tofu. We've eaten wonderful red curries in nice restaurants, and we've cooked several recipes at home over the years. There's a bit of a process to more authentic red curries, but you can also make tasty ones quickly. This red curry-style meal is the quickest one yet, and it's satisfying, too. There is very little prep and mess involved in making this, and total cooking time (fairly hands-free) is 7 minutes. The recipe is from Donna Hay's book, The Instant Cook.

Our family loves food with some heat to it, and this soup has just a bit of spicy warmth. So it's not for everyone. It's really only mildly spicy, though. I'd rate this about a 2 on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the homemade red chile sauce a woman gave me recently. This woman is a checker in a local supermarket, and as she eyed the food I'd put on the belt one day, she asked if I liked Thai food. Mmm, yes, I said. Then she told me she was from Malaysia and that her country's food is very similar to Thai food. Did I like to eat it really, really spicy? Yes again. Then she offered to give me some of her chile paste, which she says is a staple in Malaysian kitchens. When she goes home to Malaysia to visit her family, she makes huge batches of the stuff and brings it back to Oregon in plastic bins. And she was nice enough to share some with me. You can only use a tiny amount at once, just to add heat and flavor to whatever dish you're making.

My daughter, Michelle's, version of her mother-in-law's curries from her native land of Bangladesh rates a 7 on my spicy-heat scale. And, oh, these curries are good. The flavor isn't like the one you get from Madras curry powders, and each curry-- chicken, beef, catfish-- has a different combination of spices, giving each one a delicious, unique flavor.

Anyway, Melissa called me when she was leaving work to come home (it takes about 20 minutes to get here), and I started the soup then. It was finished by the time she pulled into the driveway. I pulled out some pretty soup bowls and the brightly colored cloth napkins with rickrack edges that Michelle made me for Christmas, and we sat at the table together, eating soup and talking about our day.

"Mmmm. This is yummy."

"I know. I love eating spicy food that makes your face radiate warmth."

And, as we often do, we pulled out a pile of cookbooks to see what we should have for dinner tomorrow and the next day. We browsed and oohed and ahhhed over the photos and recipes. We like food.

Here's a slight adaptation of Donna Hay's recipe. Have everything ready to go beforehand, and it's a breeze:

PRAWN, LEMONGRASS, AND COCONUT SOUP

1 stalk lemongrass
2 t. vegetable oil
1 T. red curry paste (found in Asian markets; I used more)
4 c. fish or chicken stock (I used homemade chicken stock)
1 14 oz. can coconut milk (don't use the lowfat kind) 4 lg. slices ginger (I had to use powder because I had no ginger left)
16 large raw prawns (shrimp), shelled and cleaned, tails intact
2 t. sugar
2 T. lime juice
1 T. fish sauce (get the kind with no sugar if possible; available at Asian markets)
2 T. coriander (cilantro) leaves, roughly chopped (or not)

Cut slits in the lemongrass stalk down to the root, keeping the stalk intact. Place the oil and curry paste in a large saucepan over medium-high heat and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the lemongrass stalk, coconut milk and ginger and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 4 minutes. Add the prawns and cook for 2 minutes. Stir through the sugar, lime juice, and fish sauce. Ladle into bowls, discarding the lemongrass and ginger. Top with the coriander (cilantro) leaves and serve. Serves 4.

Bon Appetit!