the best - thai soup

Homemade soup is a staple in our house come Fall. You really can't beat it for nutritional value and ease. And the varieties! I think you could probably eat a different bowl of soup each night for a year and never repeat yourself. However, I dare you to make the Thai soup below and not want to make it again and again. You won't be able too. This soup is so packed with multi-dimensional flavour and layers of complexity that it leaves you wanting more and more. Even now, my mouth waters thinking about its sour-sweet-salty goodness.

This recipe comes from the February 2009 issue of Gourmet Magazine. The ingredient list can be a bit intimidating if you haven't cooked Thai food before but everything on the list I was able to buy in my neighbourhood (with the exception of the Kaffir lime leaves). Luckily, many of the ingredients above can be substituted with other things with good success. Tamarind, for example, can be substituted with brown sugar and lime juice.

There are basically three steps to this recipe but I often cut it down to two steps. The first, is to make your own chicken stock. Obviously, this will make the best soup however I find good quality ready-made chicken stock works just as well. The second step is to add all the aromatics to the chicken stock and make a Thai-flavoured stock. A quick note: Since all the aromatics are strained out of the stock after the simmering process don't worry too much about chopping things perfectly. Just throw it all! The third step is to add your final ingredients - the chicken, snow peas, basil and tomatoes. A great tip I learned from this recipe is to freeze your chicken breast for 20-30 minutes before you attempt to slice it thinly. The added firmness the frozen meat takes on makes it so simple to slice.

Thai Style Chicken Soup with Basil (adapted from Gourmet Magazine - February 2009)

  • 2 fresh lemongrass stalks, root end trimmed and 1 or 2 outer layers discarded
  • 2 large shallots, thinly sliced
  • 2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 quart rich and flavorful chicken stock ; 1 or 2 outer layers discarded
  • 1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes in juice, drained, reserving juice
  • 2 ounces tamarind from a pliable block (a 2-inch cube), chopped
  • 3 tablespoon Asian fish sauce
  • 2 (2-inch-long) fresh Thai chiles, thinly sliced
  • 2 fresh or frozen Kaffir lime leaves (or 1 lime cut into quarters squeezed and added whole to the stock)
  • 1 (2-inch) piece peeled ginger, thinly sliced
  • 1 pound skinless boneless chicken breast
  • 1/4 pound snow peas, sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 1/3 cup packed basil leaves (preferably Thai)
  • optional - jasmine rice as accompaniment
  • optional - 1 can of coconut milk

Cut off and discard top of lemongrass, leaving 6-inch stalks, then finely chop. Cook lemongrass, shallots, and garlic in oil in a large heavy pot over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until well browned, 12 to 15 minutes.

Add stock, reserved tomato juice, tamarind, fish sauce, chiles, lime leaves, and ginger and simmer, uncovered, 30 minutes.

While soup simmers, freeze chicken breast just until slightly firm, 20 to 30 minutes, then thinly slice crosswise.

Strain stock through a fine-mesh sieve into a large saucepan, pressing hard on and then discarding solids. Return to a simmer and stir in chicken, diced tomatoes, snow peas, coconut milk (if using) and basil. Gently simmer just until chicken is cooked through, 1 to 2 minutes. Season with additional fish sauce and salt. Serve with jasmine rice.

The recipe notes that adding jasmine rice to the soup is not very traditional but that it makes the soup a bit more like a meal. I also (sometimes) add a can of coconut milk to the final stage of the recipe. It just gives it a bit of added fat and leaves you feeling a little more satiated. Actually, when I was reading the reviews for this recipe over at Epicurious I was astonished at the variations people had come up with. People have tried it with everything from shrimp to tofu, thin rice noodles to wild rice, oyster mushrooms to thinly sliced carrots. It really is a recipe you can make your own! I'm looking forward to making it again in a few weeks and trying out some of these variations. I urge you to give it a try too - you won't be disappointed.

Do you have a favourite soup you turn to again and again in the Fall months?

I'll be back here this afternoon with the winner of the Minted Holiday card giveaway!