Tomyum Thai Soup Family, Recipe for Tomyumghai
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Tomyum Thai Soup Family
Tomyum Thai Soup Family, Recipe:There are three kinds of soups in Thai cuisine:
Ghangjeud - Plain and simple soup with meat and vegetables (depending on the kind of soup) in clear broth. Its purpose is to accompany more dominant dishes, such as stir-fried curry and Thai mole - spicy pastes; or, to go on the side of rice dishes, such as fried rice, Sichuan chicken rice, or shrimp mole rice in order to enhance the taste of a dish it complements.
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Tomyum and tomkha - To me, tomyum took the ghangjeud concept, dressed it up and shined a spotlight on it. Tomyum has three flavors, led by sourness from mouth-watering lime juice, the salty and aromatic nampla taste, and the super tiny chili heat of prikkeenoo - good luck finding the 'real' ones, by the way. (The original prikeenoo has practically disappeared from our farmlands since some genius and commercial scientist(s) genetically altered the plant by combining it with Mexican chili to make it more durable and faster growing. The real thing that I grew up with did not give burning sensations anywhere in your body. Hot was hot, and then it was over with.)
Besides the three flavors, tomyum and tomkha contain three herbs: Galanga - kha, Lemongrass - takrai, and, Kaffir lime leaves - baimagrude. (If you've noticed, we Thai don't use singular or plural. Our language relies on users' commensense to suggest whether it's one or ten.)
The difference between tomyum and tomkha is that tomyum has clear broth and tomkha contains coconut cream (or milk) in its broth. Examples of these are; tomyumgoong (prawn) tomyumplaghapong (white sea bass) tomyumhedphahng (a type of mushroom) or tomkhaghai (chicken)- or you can say ghaitomkha, they're both the same dish. I tried to think of some innovative chefs who replace the 'ghai' in the tomkha with other meats but can't think of anyone who has had big success with it. I personally think that chicken is already the perfect meat to put in tangy tomkha without giving it a ridiculously rich taste when combined with coconut. I suppose some have tried tomkha with lobster, but that would be overkill..brrr...
So - What am I making tonight?
My kids are down with cold/flu symptoms, and they are sniffly and achey. It's already a given that being a good mother- as I try to be- I'd make them chicken soup. When I opened the freezer for chicken breasts, on its upper shelf several very long stems of lemongrass were sticking out at me. From that moment on I operated on impulse. I reached in the sidedoor where I store my Thai herbs and grabbed a bag of beautiful kaffir lime leaves, then started to panic when I didn't see galanga, or kha. Oh please, please let there be a few slices left frozen somewhere in this freezer. My last batch was purchased two years ago in an oriental supermarket in New Jersey. A place that is NOT between Manhattan (where I often visit) and home in Easton, PA. I can get lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves from my downtown Vietnamese grocery, but I can't come to terms with powder or preserved shredded galanga that the store carries. I searched and finally found in the back corner of a shelf- where my husband keeps his several loaves of bread for the kids' lunches- a small sandwich bag tucked away. Inside were, indeed, five pieces of frozen galanga. Yes, yes, OH YES!!! I am going to make TOMYUMGHAI and boiled rice for my sick children.
I took three limes out of the fridge - one thing I never have to worry about running out of is limes since Ralph, my husband the baritone, has a thing for them and buys them whenever he sees them (in fact, his Thai nickname is 'Laabmoo,' which is also his favorite dish, and he knows that it won't be laabmoo unless there are a few limes involved!)- a bag of cilantro for garnish, and the beautiful oyster mushrooms we just bought.
What ingredients do I have so far?
Five slices of galanga (that was all I had - Normally, I would use 7-10)
Ten to fifteen kaffir lime leaves - I find it better, economically, to order the leaves from my Vietnamese grocer: she charges me around ten dollars per pound. If you go to your regular food store it will charge you forty-five dollars a pound since it has more overhead, and it knows you will pay that price because it assumes that you don't know better.
Two stalks of lemongrass - Peel outer (dry, dead) leaves, cut both ends off, then cut both stalks into several two-inch pieces. (You can buy more than you need and freeze them. These herbs are essentials in many dishes, great for your digesive system and make excellent tea.)
Cilantro - Always, ALWAYS buy them with roots - Cilantro root is your 'secret' ingredient in making several things. For tonight, though, I took a handful, cut an inch off from the roots, bagged the roots and threw them back in the fridge for later use. Please make sure you soak your cilantro really, really well. It grows in rich wet soil, but you don't want to eat that! Chop your cilantro up and put it aside: you will use this as the finishing touch to add an aroma on top of your tomyum when it's ready to be served.
Three limes - Clean them, cut them in half width-wise and ask your husband to use his strong, powerful hands to squeeze them into a cup for you. (You know those times when your husband askes, "Hon, can I do anything to help?" This is one of those rare moments when you can make him feel proud and useful.)
Nampla - Have the bottle handy
Chili - Although you can't find prikkeenoo, should you want to fire up your life (and lips-mouth-throat, etc.) then go for the Thai small green chili. A few to several of these should be rinsed, flattened by a cleaver or a heavy knife, and added to the lime juice. As I get older, I find my system just cannot and will not endure such heat from chili pepper anymore, so I just cut a few chili peppers and put them aside - in case my husband and I feel brave enough to float it in our tomyumghai later on.
Oyster mushrooms - This is 'da best' mushroom for tomyum. But choose any kind you like. Soak them, rinse them, cut them, slice them - do what you do with them. The usual mushroom to chicken ratio is 60:40 but for tonight, I went 50:50 for more protein.
I think that's it for our ingredient list!
In a normal circumstance we will have three to five dishes, a large tray of fresh (and possibly beautifully carved) vegetables along with steamed jasmine rice. For an evening with tomyumghai we would probably have: crispy-fried whole fish marinated with garlic-black pepper-cilantro root in nampla, pork fried with French beans ginger-chili (which gives a little bit of spicy heat and a touch of sweet taste), a large platter of sliced cold cucumbers and young Thai round eggplants, and steamed long grained jasmine rice. Everything is served at the same time as all the dishes complement each other.
Instead of cooking rice tonight I will make "Kaotom," which is boiled rice - wonderful comfort food for sick children. I will serve tomyumghai on boiled rice. Their taste buds are off because of the congestion, so the sourness of the tomyum with a hint of galanga-lemongrass-kaffir lime leaves will be just right for them.
I looked in the refrigerator again for left over rice, and instead of ordinary rice I came across a good amount of cooked sticky rice that I made a week ago for laab. Perfect! Once again, I will be unorthodox, and turn my last week kaoniew - cooked sticky rice- into tonight's "Boiled Sticky Rice," or "Kaotomkaoniew" Sticky rice will give more character in the texture because it's sticky, slightly sweet, and will make one of the best comfort foods for the kids.
Let's take care of the rice before we make the tomyum.
I put the sticky rice in the electric rice cooker. When you have left over rice - whether it's from a Chinese restaurant, a Thai take-out, or from your own left over, you know that it will be hard and dry and doesn't look as good as when it was just cooked. Please ignore that, that will change when you re-cook it. This was my case when I tried to break the hard kaoniew to put in the rice cooker. Then I poured a lot of water on the kaoniew, about two times the amount of the kaoniew rice that I put in. Please use your judgement: you want to make your rice soupy, but leave room for the water to bubble when it's at the boiling point or you will have a hot mess to clean up.
If you use uncoooked rice or uncooked sticky rice, one measured cup of rice and water filled up to 3/4 of the cooking pot can feed the whole family. Do not overdo the amount of rice, it expands. I am not a fan of thick boiled rice and prefer for it to be on the soupy side. Please do not forget to plug in the rice cooker and be sure to push the button to "cook."
Take a large pot and put in your chicken, galanga, lemongrass, and kaffir lime leaves. Add as much water as you want but at least twice the level of the ingredients. (How much soup would you like? This is entirely up to you: just don't fill it too close to the rim of the soup pot.) Put your stove-top burner on medium-high. Add nampla - try two spatula-fulls at first - and please don't be alarmed by the amount. Nampla is not pure salt, it's already diluted. Again, use your judgement: the idea is to balance the taste between nampla and lime juice - 1:1. Now, the more soup you have, the more nampla you will put in.
I usually put in the mushroom almost as soon as the chicken is put in. Please note that I put ingredients in when the water is still cold - or at room temperature. There are different schools: Those that bring the water to a boil before they put in the meat and vegetables, and those who put the meat (and veggies) in when the water is not heated. I am from the latter. The reason is that the meat (and other goodies) will have an easier time releasing its juice or flavor into the cold (uncooked) water, and the broth will then taste naturally sweet. While waiting for the soup to boil, I turn my attention to cleaning. I am paranoid when it comes to cleaning my kitchen utensils. It's also the reason why I keep my nails short. This habit started when I had Brendan many years ago - one can never be too careful when it comes to cleaning!
I checked my kaotomkaoniew and it's bubbling beautifully. Soon enough, the soup is boiling. Leave the heat where it is, you want it to boil until you get a clear bloth. At this point the aroma is just delicious! Now, it's time to taste. You want it to have enough of a salty taste so that when the tomyum is poured on top of the rice it won't be too bland. Tonight, I used about 4 spatulas of nampla - Did you see how much I made? This is also the time to get rid of the extra grease from the chicken by taking it off the top of your boiling soup with your spatuala. It's even better if you have one of those grease brushes that will just pick up the excess fat off the top of your soup.
When I achieved the flavor I was happy with, I turned off the heat, just when my boiled rice was ready. The harsh and hard looking one week old sticky rice had disappeared; and, in its place appeared soft and shiny rice. I grabbed a large soup bowl and put in two spatulas of rice, turned to the tomyum pot, and put in the yummy-smelling chicken and oyster mushrooms and a lot of broth. I then put in a teaspoon of lime juice, give or take - add more if you like a sharp taste, less for a smoother taste, and, garnished with chopped cilantro. For my husband and for myself I added extra pieces of Thai chili to give our tomyum that kick. And, boy, did it kick! My joy was indescribable when I heard my stuffy-nosed chidren cried "Oooooo" and "Yummmmmy" and "Mommy, you're the best cook in the world" when they tasted "Kaoniewkaotom and TomyumGhai," the special dish I made for them tonight.
I hope you will try out this simple soup! Shoot me your questions if you need help in putting it together!
Have a Chef-Me-Not! meal. Happy eating with your family!!!
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