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Sunday, March 9, 2008

Soup or Salad? Thai Chicken Coconut Soup Gets My Vote

I remember playing a game when I was a kid, a variation of the "If you had to choose, which would be worse: being blind or being deaf?" Only, in my food-centric world, the choice was, "If you could only have one food to eat forever, would it be soup or salad?" I couldn't imagine denying myself either, they are both so essential to good eating, but in the interest of influencing the vote to the soup-side, I'm offering up a Thai Chicken Coconut Soup recipe that was sent in by Susie Fitzgerald and Kristy Hake.

A few of the ingredients can be difficult to find: kefir lime leaves and lemongrass. Most Asian markets carry both, but if you can't find either, the soup is still delicious without those ingredients. You can also try growing your own. Susie planted a kefir lime plant she bought from a farmer at the Santa Monica Farmers' Market. The lemongrass in our garden came from a cutting I planted years ago.

There may be some nurseries that carry lemongrass plants in their herb sections, if not, you can grow one from the stalk you buy at the market. Growing lemongrass is really very easy. Buy lemongrass stalks that still have their root ends intact. Cut off the bottom 2" of the stalk and put it into a container with well-mulched dirt. Water well and keep in a sunny spot. Within a few weeks, the stalk will begin growing a root system and put out a new shoot. After a month, the roots should be well enough established for you to transplant the plant to a sunny part of your garden or into a larger pot. In time, the stalk will throw off many shoots. Then, when you need some lemongrass for a recipe, cut off the stalk just above the root, that way a new shoot will grow from the old roots. Lemongrass is self-renewing.

Susie Fitzgerald and Kristy Hake's Thai Chicken Coconut Soup

The only change I've made to their recipe is to suggest that the chicken stock be homemade. I prefer homemade because the salt content of prepackaged chicken stock is very high. Another suggestion: when using coconut milk, try to find brands like Trader Joe's and Thai Kitchen that don't use preservatives. Suzie and Kristy clearly like their soup on the hot side. If you prefer yours milder, use less of the jalapeno pepper and Thai red chili paste.

4 cups homemade chicken stock
2 chicken breasts, boneless, skinless, washed, cubed
1 can (14 oz.) coconut milk
2 stalks lemongrass, washed, the white part cut into 2" pieces
2" piece of ginger, washed, peeled, grated for the juice
2 tablespoons fish sauce
8-10 mushrooms, washed, thinly sliced
4-6 limes, juiced
4 fresh kefir lime leaves, washed, roughly sliced
5 cilantro sprigs, washed, stems removed, leaves only
1 jalapeno pepper, washed, seeded, thinly sliced lengthwise (to taste)
1-2 teaspoons Thai red chili paste (to taste)

Add the chicken stock, lemongrass, ginger, fish sauce, lime juice, mushrooms, and kefir lime leaves to a pot and simmer for 5 minutes. Increase the flame, bringing the soup to a boil, add the chicken, and cook 2 minutes. Stir in the coconut milk and chili paste. Reduce the flame, and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the cilantro just before serving.

Serve over Basmati or Jasmine rice.

Serves 4. Preparation Time: 15 minutes. Cooking Time: 15 minutes.

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