Tom Kha Kai – Thai Coconut Soup

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Since I was ten years old, I have been traveling to Bangkok to visit my parents, who were once living there. We usually ate at home with the cooks preparing a dish that my mother taught them in Central Asian style, usually made vegetarian, because kosher meat was hard to find. Being so young, I did not venture out on my own in Bangkok and just ate what was served at home.

In my late teens, when I returned to Bangkok to visit my parents, I had more of a social circle and would go out with my father’s clients. My father operated a vast gemstone business where he would broker deals between the miners and purchasers. At that time, the Holiday Inn on Silom Road opened up, and looking to try some Thai foods, I ventured over there. There was a restaurant overlooking Silom Road on the top floor of the hotel. I caught my eye on the Thai Coconut Soup called, Tom Kha Kai. It’s a coconut broth soup with seasonal vegetables, that is spicy with lime and usually made with seafood or chicken.

I explained to the waitress that I would like this soup made vegetarian, since the menu stated “with chicken”. It’s very standard for Asians to put fish broth in almost everything they cook. So when I explained to her that I was vegetarian, (because Thai think that fish broth is vegetarian), I also told her that I am allergic to any fish and meat, and I will choke and need hospital care if there is any flesh in the soup. I had to make this point clear, even though I over dramatized it. She obliged and told me, “no problem”.

Twenty minutes later, came out this lemon scented coconut rich soup that was permeating the surrounding air. I had a sip, and it was AMAZING! I loved the juxtapositions of flavors that just worked. Spicy, sour and sweet, all at the same time. Years later, being now, I have replicated this soup. It is so easy to make and so flavorful.  It will impress all your friends. Trust me. Since I am in full fledged CSA season, I have just added the vegetables that I had available. You can add any vegtable like, even tomatoes work.

A note about the noodles and lemongrass. You may have heard of Zero Noddles, which is the same as Tofu Shiritake. It’s a traditional Japanese noodle made from the konjac plant, which contains high amount of fiber and zero carbs. It has no taste and like tofu, absorbs the flavors of the surrounding ingredients. You can find it in any Asian supermarket or health food store. Lemongrass is prevalent in Thai cooking, and is optional in this recipe, but if you have it or can get your hands on it, it makes the difference and adds more of a citrus zing to the soup, which also is great for colds and flu.

Tom Kha Kai

Serves 4

Ingredients

8 ounces tofu shiritake
2 (14-ounce) cans full-fat coconut milk

1 (14-ounce) can water (use the coconut can to measure)
1-2 stalks minced lemongrass, optional*
2-inch knob of ginger, peeled and grated
3 large minced shallots
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 1/2 teaspoons fine grain sea salt, or to taste

Lots of seasonal vegetables, for example this pot had:
1 head broccoli, cut into florets
16 ounces shiitake mushrooms
3 scallions, sliced
Garnish with squeeze of fresh lime juice and handful of fresh cilantro into each bowl

Directions

  1. In a large soup pot over medium high heat, bring the coconut milk, water, lemongrass (if using), ginger, shallots, red pepper flakes and salt to a gentle boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for five to ten minutes.
  2. Add the seasonal vegetables to the simmering coconut milk, and cook until just tender. Depending on the vegetables used, it can be anywhere from 10-20 minutes.
  3. Drain the noodles from the bag and mix into the soup. Cook an additional 7 minutes.
  4. Ladle the soup into bowls and finish with a generous squeeze of lime and lots of cilantro.

* You can find fresh lemongrass in most Asian food and grocery stores. It is usually located with the other fresh produce, and is often sold in bundles of 2 or 3 stalks. When buying fresh lemongrass: Look for stalks that are fragrant, tightly formed, and of a lemony-green color on the lower stalk (near the bulb). The softer, fleshier part of the lemongrass – which is what you want to use in your cooking – is located under the tough outer leaves. Peel away these layers with your fingers and discard. What you will uncover is a pale yellow stalk that is softer and easier to slice. Cut off two inches from the bulb and make thin slices up to 2/3 of the stalk. Stop slicing when the stalk is no longer yellow and “fleshy”. Because lemongrass is so firm and fibrous, it helps to process the slices a little further. Place the lemongrass in a food processor (or chopper) and process well on “high”, OR pound for a minute or two with a pestle & mortar. Now it’s ready to use in your cooking. You can store leftovers in freezer bags and store in the freeze for up to six months.

Quinoa and Broccoli with Japanese Carrot-Ginger Dressing

I was in an epicurean culture shock when I first arrived in Tokyo at the age of nine to visit my grandfather, who had lived there for some twenty years as a rare pearl dealer. My parents wanted to expose me to Japanese culture, which included sushi, but I was not a fan of raw fish wrapped in lettuce of the ocean. I still remember looking down the street at rows and rows of restaurants in the Roppongi neighborhood, the epicenter of Tokyo nightlife, and spying not one Western eatery. Finally I succumbed to a Japanese restaurant and we ordered a carrot ginger salad. That was my first introduction to this delightful Japanese condiment. Years later, I discovered from Good Housekeeping magazine that this dressing, typically served on lettuce greens, fuses well with the South America grain, quinoa.

To save on time and pots, you can steam the broccoli in a steamer basket on top of the bubbling quinoa in a rice cooker. While you wait for those two to cook, a food processor or blender makes quick work for the warm orange colored dressing that clings so well to the quinoa. The sharp flavor of the ginger is rounded out by the toasted nutty sesame oil and soy sauce, and mellowed by the sweet ground carrot. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Serves 6

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups quinoa
3 cups water
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 large head broccoli, cut into florets

Dressing
2 carrots, chopped
2inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and cut into chunks
3-tablespoons vegetable oil
3-tablespoons rice vinegar
4-teaspoons gluten-free or regular soy sauce
3-teaspoons sesame oil
Directions
      1      Pour the quinoa into a sieve and rinse it under cold running water. In a saucepan, combine the quinoa, 3 cups water, and 1/2 teaspoon salt and heat to boiling over high heat. Reduce the heat to low; cover, and simmer for 20 minutes, or until the water is absorbed. Transfer the quinoa to a large bowl.
     2     Meanwhile, fill a medium-sized saucepan with enough water to come 2 inches from the bottom and set over medium-high heat.  Place the broccoli in a steamer basket, and when the water boils, set the steamer on top of the saucepan. Alternatively, place the broccoli directly into the nearly boiling water. Cook, covered, until the broccoli turns bright green and is crisp-tender. Add the broccoli to the quinoa.
      3      In a food processor, combine the carrot, ginger, oil, vinegar, soy sauce and sesame oil and process until puréed. Add to the quinoa and broccoli and toss to combine. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Cook’s Note – Another alternative is to combine the quinoa with water and salt in a rice cooker and use the steam basket that comes with the rice cooker for the broccoli.

Broccoli and White Bean Salad with Chutney Dressing (Gluten Free)

A wholesome salad that is perfect as a starter or a light lunch. I love crunchy foods…. something about it is just satiating. This salad is just that, with the crispiness of the fresh broccoli and the crunchiness of the almonds. Pack that with smooth creamy white beans and the sweet spicy chutney and you will find yourself on a flying carpet to the Taj Mahal.

Serves 8

Ingredients
1 broccoli head, cut into florets
2/3 cup plain non fat yoghurt
1/4 cup mango chutney
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 (15 ounce) can of cannellini beans *
1/3 cup slivered almonds
8 large lettuce leaves (for garnish)

* If you don’t have a can of cannellini beans soak 3/4 cup of dried beans in a large bowl of cold water overnight.  Drain.  Place the beans in a large sauce pan of water, bring to a boil, and cook for 20 minutes.  Drain.  Return the beans to the pan, cover with cold water, and bring to a boil again. Cook until the beans are tender, 1-2 hours.

Directions:

  1. Place a steamer tray in a saucepan, pour about 2 inches of water into the pan, and bring to boil over medium high heat. Place the broccoli in the steamer tray, cover the pan and cook until barely fork tender (about 5 minutes). Transfer the broccoli to a colander, rinse with cold water and stop the cooking.
  2. Meanwhile, place the yoghurt in a small bowl and whisk in the chutney and curry powder. Set aside.
  3. Drain the beans in a colander and rinse. Pay them dry with a paper towel. Transfer the broccoli to a large bowl and add the beans and almonds. Pour in the yoghurt dressing and toss to combine. Season with salt.

To serve:
Line 8 salad bowls with a large lettuce leaf and mound the broccoli salad on top.