As a kid growing up in Bulgaria I didn’t have much food-related cultural experiences. The most adventurous my family ever got was eating dumplings and red cabbage in some sort of a sweet sauce (and we all didn’t like it) on a trip to Eastern Germany. In the years to come, as the country changed, our eating habits changed too. As the country opened its doors to new things, some of the first to open restaurants in Bulgaria were the Chinese. Eating Chinese food to me was like a trip to a foreign land – so exotics and delicious that I would have had it every day if I could.
As I moved to the United States in my early twenties, I got exposed to so many different and exciting cuisines and life experiences. I was blown away how a simple thing as a carrot could be cooked in so many ways, with so many different spices and depending on the type of cuisine it could taste totally different.
Quickly, Thai food became my new favorite cuisine. There is something so fresh and flavorful in the way the food is prepared; the use of lime, cilantro, lemongrass, coconut milk and all the fresh veggies. It is like a sunny summer day for the taste buds. I love it.
I had always had Thai food at restaurants and I was too afraid to prepare it myself. One day, however, I decided to challenge myself with a very basic recipe for Thai coconut soup. This soup became a favorite of mine and I have modified and improved the recipe over time to match my taste.
What I love about this particular recipe is that the base is not sweet, but rather fresh and citrusy. It is a versatile base and all the veggies can be substituted with different ones. It could be vegetarian or non-vegetarian, which makes this soup very adaptable. It is a favorite of mine, I hope you love it too.
Thai lemongrass coconut soup
• 1 can coconut milk
• 3 cups chicken stock
• 2 lemongrass stalks, each cut in 4 pieces
• 4 kaffir lime leaves (if available at your market, if not you can substitute for 1/2 lime)
• ½ medium size ginger root, grated
• 1 clove garlic, finely minced
• 1 small red onion, finely chopped
• 1 red bell pepper, sliced in 1-inch long strips
• 1 yellow pepper, sliced in 1-inch long strips
• 2 medium size tomatoes, chopped in 1-inch pieces
• 1 lime
• 1 teaspoon yellow curry powder or paste
• cilantro leaves
• 2 tablespoons oil
• 1 lb mahi-mahi fish, sliced thinly (optional)
• 2 lbs boneless chicken breast. sliced thinly (optional)
1. Heat the oil in a large pot, add the peppers and onions, and lower the heat to medium-high. Sauté for 2 minutes stirring frequently. Add the curry paste/powder, tomatoes and garlic and sauté for an additional minute. Add the coconut milk, chicken stock, lemongrass, ginger, kaffir lime leaves and ¼ of a lime. Stir gently. Bring the soup to a boil, then set the heat on low and simmer for 15 minutes stirring from time to time.
2. If using chicken, toss the chicken into the soup and simmer until the chicken is cooked through.
If using fish, add the fish and cook for 3-4 minutes or until the fish is soft and tender (be careful to not overcook; fish can easily become tough and chewy if cooked for a long time).
3. Remove the lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves from the soup and serve with fresh cilantro leaves, lime wedges and steamed rice.
Basic steamed rice recipe:
The rice-to-water ratio is 1:1 1/3. Knowing this you can increase the rice and water amount based on the number of servings.
Makes about 4 cups of rice:
• 1 cup white long rice
• 1 1/3 cups water
Place the rice in a medium sized pot and rinse it over running water about 4-5 times. Add the water. Bring to boil, set the heat to medium-high, and cook for 5 minutes, making sure the water is not boiling over. Set the heat to low and steam for additional 12 minutes. Remove from the heat and fluff with a fork.