As a general rule, I won’t complain about the weather. Snow happens. As does rain. As do those chinooks which bring a brief and welcome reprieve from the short days of winter.
But this year, for the first time, I’ve actually found myself daydreaming about a tropical holiday: aquamarine waters, warm beach, cold drink.
My bank balance, however, won’t allow it.
The next best thing is to eat like I’m somewhere exotic.
A spicy kick to warm the belly was the aim, a meal evocative of southwest Asia to cut through the grey afternoon with wind-whipped snow swirling outside. A little searching led me to Khao Soi, a Thai soup thickly spiced with red curry, but balanced with creamy coconut and spikes of lime. Chicken shredded after cooking in the broth and egg noodles add heartiness to this dish, which requires both fork and spoon to eat.
Pickled mustard greens or cabbage, crispy shallots and deep-fried noodles are traditionally added, but I craved a simpler soup that could be whipped up in less than hour without the need for all the pots in the cupboard. If I was going to pretend to be on a holiday, then coming up with something easily put together made sense.
As such, despite my recent vocal opposition to “recipes” that use cake mixes or jarred sauces – which I’m not against them as a general rule; I just expect when I click over to a food blog for a recipe that it will be how to make something, not just assemble it from pre-made parts – I admittedly came up with a version of Khao Soi that uses Thai red curry paste. I’d argue this falls more toward the practical end of the jarred sauce continuum since it’s comprised of numerous, and sometimes obscure, ingredients. But, since I could have technically made my own curry paste (recipes abound on the Internet), I’ll simply say there are times when shortcuts are warranted; this is one of those times.
I did enhance the curry paste with more garlic and ginger and a sprinkling of spices sautéed to enhance their flavour. The broth is rounded out with salty fish sauce and a bit of brown sugar then poured over bowls of chewy noodles and chicken cooked in the creamy, hot and spicy soup.
A bit of cilantro, lime wedges and bean sprouts added just before serving adds to the complexity.
The soup was all I had hoped for, hot and spicy enough – definitely at the upper end of my albeit low tolerance for heat – with the requisite sour, salty and sweet components that comprise a lot of southwest Asian cooking.
It wasn’t quite like sitting on a beach as aqua waters lap at the sandy shore, but it was at least a culinary escape from the dreary winter.
I adapted this from a number of sources. I used chicken thighs which have more flavour, but boneless, skinless chicken breasts will work just as well in a pinch or if preferred. It can easily be made vegetarian by skipping out on the chicken and using vegetable broth. In that case, I’d add some fried tofu to round out the dish.
- 2 tbsp (30 mL) vegetable oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tbsp (15 mL) ginger, finely minced
- 1 tsp (5 mL) curry powder
- 1/2 tsp (2 mL) turmeric
- 1/4 tsp (1 mL) cardamom
- 3 tbsp (45 mL) red curry paste
- 2 14-oz cans (796 mL) coconut milk
- 2 cups (500 mL) chicken stock
- 1 1/2 lbs. (750 g) chicken thighs, sliced in half lengthwise
- 3 tbsp (45 mL) fish sauce
- 2 tbsp (20 mL) brown sugar
- 1 lb (500 g) fresh egg noodles (see note)
- Lime wedges, cilantro, sliced shallots, bean sprouts for serving
In a large pot set over medium heat, warm the oil until it’s shimmering slightly. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute, then stir in the ginger. When the garlic and ginger are just cooked, but aren’t yet brown, add the curry powder, turmeric and cardamom. Sauté the spices until the form a paste with the oil and are fragrant, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the red curry paste and stir with the spices, garlic and ginger. Work the paste and spices together and continue cooking, stirring nearly constantly and scraping it up off the bottom of the pot, until they are completely mixed and fragrant, another 2 to 3 minutes. Watch to ensure the spice mixture doesn’t burn. Scoop off the solidified coconut cream from the two cans of coconut milk and add to the pot. Mix well with the spice paste and cook, stirring often, until the red oil from the curry paste starts to separate, bubbling up to the surface, about 3 or 4 minutes. Add the rest of the coconut milk and the chicken stock. Bring to a boil. Add the chicken thighs, reduce the heat to a simmer and cover until the chicken has cooked, about 20 to 25 minutes. Remove the chicken to a dish and shred with two forks, setting aside until ready to serve.
Add the fish sauce and brown sugar and taste for seasonings, adding more of one or the other if desired.
Bring another pot of water to a rapid boil and cook the egg noodles until just tender with a slight chew. (Mine only needed about 45 seconds.) Drain and divide between 4 bowls.
Top with shredded chicken and ladle over the broth.
Serve with lime wedges, cilantro, sliced shallots and bean sprouts.
Note: Find egg noodles at most grocery stores in the produce section or at Asian supermarkets.