I have the flu. Third time this year I’ve been sick.
So, for the third time this year, I made a powerful, brothy soup to combat the bug. This time my weapon of choice was tom yum, or Thai hot and sour soup. It’s fiery, sharp, and a little bit sweet–terrific stuff, even if you’re the picture of health.
Where Chinese-style hot and sour soup uses white pepper and vinegar, tom yum gets its punch from red chili and a trio of tart aromatics: kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass and lime juice. Some recipes add a small amount of sugar, which I think works well to offset the aggressiveness of the other flavors.
My favorite Thai restaurant does a simple vegetable tom yum that I love: straw mushrooms and baby corn in a lipstick-red broth, topped with cilantro sprigs. I tried to duplicate that here, with some degree of success. Working from this base recipe, you could include your favorite soup vegetables–carrots, broccoli and cabbage work beautifully–or add chicken or shrimp for a more substantial meal.
Tom Yum (Thai Hot and Sour Soup) (serves 6-8)
Adapted liberally from Allrecipes
2 quarts (8 cups) chicken or vegetable broth
2-inch knob galangal* or ginger, thinly sliced (no need to peel it)
4 kaffir lime leaves*
2 stalks lemongrass, bruised with the back of a knife and cut into 1-inch pieces*
1-2 tbsp hot chili paste, or to taste (I used this)
1/4 cup nam pla (fish sauce) or soy sauce
2 tsp granulated sugar
One (8 oz) can peeled straw mushrooms, drained and rinsed*
One (8 oz) can baby corn, drained and rinsed*
1/4 cup lime juice (from 2-3 limes)
Salt to taste
Fresh cilantro sprigs, for garnish
*Available at Asian markets
In a large stockpot, combine broth, galangal or ginger, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass and hot chili paste. Bring to boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until the aromatics have infused into the broth. Add the fish sauce, sugar, straw mushrooms, and baby corn; continue simmering for another 8-10 minutes, or until the veggies are tender. Stir in lime juice, then taste for salt and adjust the seasoning as necessary. Fish out the inedible aromatics–lemongrass, ginger pieces and kaffir lime leaves–and ladle the soup into bowls and top each bowl with a sprig or two of cilantro.
Variations: If you use chicken broth, and add in a pound of thinly sliced chicken meat along with the vegetables, you’ve made tom yum gai; if you use shrimp-shell stock instead, and add a pound of peeled deveined shrimp along with the vegetables, you’ve made tom yum goong.