Saturday, February 9, 2008

M—‘s "Soup Group" Coconut Chicken Soup

As my convalescence home is at rest again, so I am posting. Before lunch I had a long period of rest, where I posted (as you might have read) and I then made another type of soup. My friend M— is a great home cook, either because she has nimble fingers or because she has a rarified palate. She makes a mean Pavlova and the loveliest petit fours with homemade candied violets. If she were ever to get a digital camera and decided to blog, hers would be the great blog to read. (I do have the camera phone pict, to the right, courtesy of her friend C--.)

The other day she had mentioned that her work has started a “soup group” where they cycle through staff-made soups each day of the week. This week she made a sort of tom ka gai/ chicken pho soup.

Elements of it sounded very appealing to me (she lives ½ a continent away, so I rarely eat her food.) I was particularly drawn in by the self-serve nature of her presentation. She took in a coconut chicken broth and allowed her coworkers to add their choice of rice noodles, bean sprouts, steamed carrots, steamed squash, coriander leaves, spicy peppers, lime juice. This ability to empower the audience to top their soup, in the opposite vein from some restaurants “no substitution” policy, is what drew me into Vietnamese food. So, that was the good of M—‘s recipe.

The bad of her recipe was the tom ka gai-ness of it. I hate coconut. I want to like it, and my dislike has truly softened. Ten years ago, I would probably say I DESPISE coconut. It is fine when the spice level is so high I don’t really taste it—Thai, Malaysian, and South Indian curries for instance. I understand its function in these cuisines—a milk-free creaminess in cultures where fresh milk is not readily available. But, in any recipe where the coconut is the star, where it is being showcased for its own properties, well, those are not really for me. But, I am alone in the house with this aversion—so when my sick husband asked me to make the soup, I went for it.

The result was nice for Belle and for my husband. And, for me, I took one for the team. I didn’t have coconut milk, so I used some old coconut power that I had in the pantry. It gave the soup a coconuty flavor, but it wasn’t as creamy as the milk. I also didn’t have lime leaves, so I just omitted that. Finally, I love raw onion, so I make the quick pickled onions that I add to everything.

M—‘s "Soup Group" Coconut Chicken Soup
In a small bowl combine
¼ medium red onion, sliced fine
1 T white vinegar
Pinch of kosher salt

In another small bowl combine
½ green chili, slice so incredibly fine
1 T white vinegar
1 t fish sauce or soy sauce
pinch of salt
pinch of sugar

When a sauce-pot of water comes to a boil turn off the heat and add

1/3 package thick rice noodles

In a separate sauce-pot, add
2 T olive oil
3T sliced ginger
2T sliced galangal
2-3 lime leaves (if available)
1 pinch Chinese 5 spice

When the aromatics are just that, add

3-4 cups chicken broth
½ can coconut milk OR
3 T coconut powder

Simmer the broth while you julienne and steam

1 carrot
an equal amount of butternut squash

Serve with pickled onions, pickled peppers, limes or lime juice, coriander leaves, steamed veg, pulled chicken meat, rice noodles.

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