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.

Curried Coconut Tomato Soup

As the tomatoes in the farmers market or your homegrown ones start to proliferate, this soup will make good use of those fresh tomatoes. Alternatively, you can use whole can tomatoes, preferably fire roasted. Make sure you get canned tomatoes that have the BPA-free liners. What makes this soup different from the ones you would find in a restaurant, is that it’s influence is from India – with some hot flakes of chili and a cool down of coconut milk. Simple, quick and a perfect summer soup on those hot nights. Inspired and adapted from Melissa Clark’s Cook This Now.

Curried Coconut Tomato Soup

Ingredients

4 tablespoons olive oil, or coconut oil
2 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon fine grain sea salt, plus more to taste
3 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon chile flakes
2 (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes or 20 peeled tomatoes*

          6 cups (1.5 L) of water
          1 (14-ounce can) coconut milk

Directions

  1. Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions and salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions really soften up – 10 minutes or so.
  2. Stir in the curry powder, coriander, cumin, and chile flakes, and cook just until the spices are fragrant and toasty – stirring constantly at this point. Just 30 seconds or so.
  3. Stir in the tomatoes, the juices from the cans, and water. Simmer for fifteen minutes or so, then puree with a hand blender until smooth. Pour in the coconut milk. Taste and adjust with more salt to taste.

* To peel fresh tomatoes, the easiest method is over a gas flame. Remove any stems that are still attached to your tomatoes. Rinse the tomatoes clean and pat dry. Spear the tomato with a fork at the top, where the stem core is visible. Turn the stovetop flame to medium high. Hold the tomato an inch over the flame, turning slowly, until the skin begins to split and blister. It should take about 15-25 seconds for the skin to loosen all the way around the tomato. Don’t hold it over the flame too long or it will start to cook the tomato. Place the tomato on a smooth surface and let it cool off enough for you to comfortably touch it. Begin peeling the skin where it split, making your way all around the tomato till all the skin is peeled off.

Spicy Cucumber Peanut Salad in Lime Dressing

This salad is the best of both worlds for me. Cucumbers and limes which are so refreshing and cooling against the backdrop of the slight bite from the chilies. My taste buds just do a happy dance when I eat this. The utter simplicity of this salad with just a few ingredients; a hit of citrus, toasted peanuts and an exotic touch of slivered coconut –  transforms this ordinary cucumber salad into a complex and layered salad. This recipe has been Adapted from Sanjeev Kapoor’s Cucumber Salad {Khamang Kakdi) in How to Cook Indian. Published by Stewart, Tabori & Chang, April 2011.

Serve 4

Ingredients

3 medium cucumbers, partially peeled
1 green serrano chile, stemmed and minced
1/2 cup peanuts, toasted
1/3 cup dried large-flake coconut, toasted
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon natural cane sugar
1 tablespoon sunflower oil
1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
scant 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
a handful cilantro, chopped

Directions

  1. Halve the cucumbers lengthwise, scrape out the seeds, and chop into1/4 inch cubes. Just before you’re ready to serve, transfer to a mixing bowl and toss gently with chile, peanuts, coconut, lime juice, and sugar.

     

  2. Over medium heat, heat the oil in a small skillet and stir in the mustard seeds. When they start to pop, add the cumin for 15-30 seconds – just long enough to toast the spices. You’ll know from the fragrance. Remove from heat, sprinkle in the salt, and immediately stir this into the salad. Turn out onto a patter topped with the cilantro.

Zucchini & Carrot with Tofu in a Coconut sauce

A few years ago, I went to Costa Rica’s Vista Del Valle (View of the Valley). It’s a lush self-sustaining hotel that grows its own produce, has an estuary, tropical birds and a butterfly garden pitched atop a mountain that is carved into the tropical forest. Below you will find some of the photos from our trip. The restaurant uses all the produce that grows in the forest, creating surprising dishes from Earth gifts. The head chef there served this dish to me from El Rosario, Costa Rica who graciously shared this simple and outstanding Zucchini & Carrot with Tofu in Coconut Sauce. I decided to post it now, because I just got some fall carrots from my CSA and had some zucchini to throw in. At the bottom of this post you will find directions on how to purchase tofu and make it taste outstanding.

Race Horses flown in from Spain
Outdoor restaurant overlooking the lush mountains. Even the tables are made from the trees that fall in the forest.

Zucchini & Carrot with Tofu in Coconut Sauce

Follow post to the bottom where I make suggestions on how to purchase and make tofu taste great.
Serve this dish over jasmine rice and garnish with some fresh basil for a beautiful presentation.

 Serves 4

 

Ingredients
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 (16 ounce) package of firm tofu, pressed and drained (click on link for directions) and cut into 1 inch cubes
1 medium onion
3 carrots, julienned
2 zucchinis, trimmed and julienned
½ cup Coconut Milk 
½ teaspoon red pepper
1-teaspoon sea salt
Brown Jasmine Rice or your favorite rice
, for serving
 
Directions
  1. Preheat that skillet over high heat. Add about 2 tablespoons of oil. Spread over the surface of the pan. Pat the tofu dry one more time and put it in the skillet it in a single layer, with plenty of room around each piece. Don’t crowd the pan, or the heat will drop too much and the tofu will steam, not brown. You will probably need to do this in two batches if it’s too crowded. Cook on one side until it is deeply golden brown, then flip. If you are doing cubes, it becomes impractical to get all sides of every piece, so instead you’ll just toss them every minute or so and hope to get most of them.  When both sides are done, remove to a plate.
  2.  In the same skillet, heat remaining oil over medium-high heat. Sauté the onion, stirring and shaking the pan, for about 7 minutes or until it just begins to turn translucent. Add the carrots and sprinkle with salt so that the carrots will sweat. Cook, stirring often for 5 minutes. Then add the zucchini and stir to combine with all the other ingredients. Cover the skillet, reduce the heat and let simmer for another 5 minutes.
  3. Uncover the skillet, add the tofu to the vegetables and stir gently. Pour in the coconut milk and red pepper and stir to distribute evenly. You can add salt to taste if you like.
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Crispy Pan-Fried Tofu

 
I use this method in lots of recipes, and frequently for simple stir fry weeknight meals. It is easy to do, takes just minutes, and the results are far superior to simply cutting up cubes and throwing them in your stir-fry.Step 1: Buy Good Tofu. Find a store that moves a lot of tofu so you are getting the freshest tofu available. You want the stuff packed in a rectangular, water filled box (or maybe wrapped in plastic), in the refrigerator section, not the shelf-stable boxes. Choose an extra-firm tofu with the latest expiration date you can find. If you open it and smell more than a tiny whiff of sourness,  or it feels slimy, it isn’t going to be good.
Step 2: Dry Your Tofu. Open the package, drain out the water, and press it. You can follow another post I wrote I pressing tofu here. Cut the tofu into desired cubes or slabs. What we need to do is get the surface of your tofu dry so that it browns up on the skillet. Put down a clean dishtowel. Lay the tofu out in a single layer on said dish towel. Put another clean dishtowel on top and pat well, all over, to remove as much surface moisture as possible. It will also reduce dangerous and unpleasant sputtering when you put it in the skillet.

Step 3: Pan Fry Your Tofu. The optimum pan for this job is a cast iron skillet.  It holds a ton of heat, and develops a lovely non-sticking surface. You will cook this over very high heat, in a flat bottomed skillet because it allows the tofu to stay in contact with the hot surface for longer periods of time.

So: preheat that skillet over high heat. Add about 2 tablespoons of a neutral vegetable oil that can tolerate a high smoke point, like sunflower oil or canola oil. Spread over the surface of the pan. Pat the tofu dry one more time and put it in the skillet it in a single layer, with plenty of room around each piece. Don’t crowd the pan, or the heat will drop too much and the tofu will steam, not brown. You will probably need to do this in two batches if it’s too crowded.
Cook on one side until it is deeply golden brown, then flip. If you are doing cubes, it becomes impractical to get all sides, so instead you’ll just toss them every minute or so and hope to get most of them.  When both sides are done, remove to a plate. Don’t add the vegetables and sauce on top of the tofu. It will ruin the crust. Instead, remove the tofu from the pan, do your vegetables, then add the tofu back just in time to marry with the sauce.

Cranberry Coconut Munchies (Gluten Free)

I am in need of warmth. Winter in the Northeast has been relentlessly cold. Yes, I know I should not complain, considering world events and natural disasters that have taken place recently. In truth, I am very grateful for all that I have, and have learned to create pleasant substitutions for things that I miss. 

So what foods do you associate with warmth? If I had a magic wand, I would wave away and magically appear in the tropics, slurping away on a straw with a giant coconut in hand. Nothing like coconut to quench your thirst.
Since I am not a fairy princess- much to my dismay, I figured let me bake something that will induce the feeling of warmth. Cranberry coconut munchies, adapted from the eclectic Vegetarian cookbook by Nicola Graimes, is just that. I love recipes that combine ingredients from different regions that just work. These cookies are a mix of the traditional American cranberries with the tropical coconut. It’s amazing how these two ingredients come together to form an alchemy in taste- like they were meant to be together.
These coconut cookies speckled with orange zest and cranberries have a tart-sweet crunch lending to an exotic flavor. Such a simple dessert, that is ready in no time for afternoon tea or coffee.  Can be kept in an airtight container for up to a week.

Serves 20


ingredients

2 egg whites

½ cup confectioner’s sugar

1 cup almond meal

1 cup dried unsweetened coconut

Zest of 1 small orange

1-teaspoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon almond extract

1/3 cup dried cranberries, finely chopped

1   Preheat oven to 300°F. Line 2 baking sheets with wax paper.
2   In a medium size bowl, with an electric mixer beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. This should take a few minutes.
3   With a spatula, fold the sugar, almond meal, coconut, orange zest, vanilla extract, almond extract into egg whites to form a sticky dough. Then gently fold in the cranberries.
4   Place heaped teaspoons of the mixture onto the baking sheet. Bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown at the top.
5   Cool on the baking sheets for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack until completely cool.

Mango and Coconut Cake (Vegan, Gluten Free)

Right about now I could use some tropical weather as winter just does not seem to end here in the Northeast. Looking for sun light amidst this haze, I was inspired to make a tropical dessert from coconut and mango.


When I think of mango and coconut, I am transported to Thailand- they are famous for their mango and coconut sticky rice. While I do love that dessert, because mangos are one of my favorite fruits, I thought why not put the two tropical ingredients together and make a cake?


Although mangos are not in season yet, Trader Joe’s sells mangos in their frozen section which are imported from India. I bought a bag, defrosted it and pureed it which serves as the fruity sweetener in this cake.


This low fat cake with tons of flavor has a spongelike cake consistency that is moist with pieces of mango interspersed adding a sweet surprise to every bite. This cake was inspired from The Witchy Kitchen’s Mango and Coconut cake, however I have made it gluten free.




Ingredients


3/4 cup Oat Flour
3/4 cup Coconut Flour
2/3 Cup Packed Brown Sugar
1 Tsp. Baking Soda
1/8 Tsp. Salt
2 Ripe Mangos, pureed
3/4 Cup Almond Milk or Soy Milk
1/3 Cup Vegetable Oil
3/4 Tsp. Vanilla Extract
Flaked Coconut for topping


Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a round baking pan.
  2. In a bowl, combine the flours, sugar, baking soda and salt. Mix thoroughly and create a well in the center. Place the almond milk, oil, mango, and vanilla in the well and mix gently till homogeneous. Pour into prepared baking pan and top with coconut. Bake for 27-30 min.