On Thursday it snowed! Finally. It wasn’t the best timing since Joel was flying back from a work trip that night, but it was snow, and I wanted it! The winter has been so sparse and brown, and when I looked out at the fragile white coating on the ground I literally felt what is meant by “a sight for sore eyes.” My strained retinas relaxed perceptibly, and something inside me that has been tight and knotted all winter relaxed and unwound just slightly. I’m a northerner. My heart aches for a real winter.
I think you can see it in the photos too, that de-saturated grey light that comes with flakes suspended in the air. Today it’s drizzling, so the snow won’t last long. But it was there, and I was happy.
But anyways, what was I here to tell you about? Focus. Focus. Reel it in, Emily. Ah yes, soup.
These are a couple of the last bowls of my aforementioned bottomless pot of soup. I guess that means it wasn’t actually bottomless, if you want to get all technical and empirical about it. It was, however, a not insubstantial quantity of soup. And quantity is an important quality when it comes to soup.
Provided that the soup is halfway decent, that is. And how many aren’t? That’s another good quality of soup – almost all of them are at least decent.
This one, in my estimation, is considerably better than decent. It’s not a flashy or show-stopping soup. But it is kind of a tortoise of a soup, one that you’re happy to lumber through a whole week with. It’s a Thai curry and coconut milk soup, flavorful and satisfying. And, it has me thinking about something I recently read. Apparently sea salt is considered a rather crude ingredient in Thailand, and hot chilis from the Americas displaced peppercorns in Thai cuisine meaning that their equivalent of salt and pepper is fish sauce and chili peppers (especially in the form of a sauce called phrick naam pla).
This is clearly an extremely badass culinary move. I mean, replacing the straightforward saltiness of salt with the potent, nose-mauling funk of fish sauce while simultaneously trading the playful floral tingle of peppercorns for the searing hot blast of chilis? The eating public of Thailand deserves a spot amongst the badasses of history in my book.
Ok, back to the soup. Being Thai inspired, it does indeed contain fish sauce and chili peppers. It’s also loaded with creamy coconut milk, curry paste, tangy lime and fragrant lemongrass. (If you can get lemongrass. If not, don’t fret. The soup will be different but just as satisfying.) Grassy cilantro, oniony scallions, and a suggestion of maple syrup (Feel free to take a moment to feel aghast. Maple syrup is not remotely authentic, but it is tasty.) round out the all important sweet, salty, spicy, bitter, and sour quintet of flavors that characterizes Thai cooking.
The soup is based on one I’ve had a couple of times at a friend’s house. I like it because in many ways it’s more a suggestion than a recipe. The base is there, but then you can vary the details. We had it with rice noodles and then not, and with any variety of vegetables, including cabbage, bok choy, broccoli, peppers, or carrots. In this most recent version, I used a vegetable peeler to create carrot noodles, which gave the slurping effect of having a noodle soup while sneaking in a few more veggies. I felt clever.
The one thing that is sort of fun and distinctive about the soup is the meatballs. It’s also the slightly questionable aspect. As my friend said herself, “it feels very Soviet Bloc to boil your meat.” I agree, yet it works. And, I find it less mentally jarring if I just think of them as little pork dumplings. Normally you wouldn’t want to bake your bread in a vat of water, right? But that’s what we do with dumplings, and we enjoy it. Plus, it’s how the meatballs are cooked in an Italian wedding soup. And, what’s good enough for the Italians is certainly good enough for me.
It’s rainy. It’s a soup day. Here you go!
Coconut and Thai Curry Soup with Vegetables and Meatballs (serves 6)
I don’t know about you, but I’m always intimidated by Thai cooking because of the looooong ingredients lists. But, don’t be put off! They’re often surprisingly easy to find, and once you have them, the actual cooking is usually quite straightforward.
- 1 lb. ground pork
- 1/4 cup very thinly sliced scallions, the white and light green portions only
- 1-2 Tbs. fish sauce, divided
- 1 Tbs. + 1 tsp. grated fresh ginger
- 1 Tbs. coconut oil or peanut oil
- 3 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1-2 Tbs. Thai red curry paste
- 1 finely chopped red chili pepper
- 1 stalk of lemongrass, halved, woody parts removed (optional)
- 2 (14 oz. each) cans of coconut milk
- 1 Tbs. maple syrup (or brown sugar)
- 3-4 cups of chicken stock
- 1 large carrot, sliced into long, thin ribbons using a vegetable peeler
- 2 small limes (mine were golfball sized) (or 1 lime plus two kaffir lime leaves if you can get your hands on kaffir lime leaves)
- 4-6 cups of sliced greens (like cabbage, bok choy, broccoli, or a mix)
- 1/2 cup loosely packed chopped cilantro, plus more for serving
- In a medium bowl, mix together the pork with the scallions, about 1/2 Tbs. of fish sauce and 1 tsp. of grated ginger. Roll into small balls (somewhere between the size of a large marble and a walnut) and set aside on a cutting board or baking sheet.
- In a large pot, heat the oil over medium high heat. Add the garlic and the remaining ginger and cook for a minute. Add the thick cream from the top of one of the cans of coconut milk to the pot and stir the curry paste and the chopped chili into this as it melts. Cook until it begins to sizzle.
- Add the rest of the coconut milk from the can, plus the other can of coconut milk. Stir in the lemongrass (if using), maple syrup, the chicken stock (3 cups for a thicker,creamier soup, 4 cups for a soupier soup), the remaining fish sauce, and the carrot. Bring the soup to a boil, then turn down to a simmer cook, covered, for about 10 minutes.
- If you’re using two limes, zest and juice one and cut the other into quarters (with peel on). If you’re using one lime plus kaffir lime leaves, just zest and juice the one lime. Stir the zest, juice, and quartered lime/lime leaves into the soup. Gently add the meatballs, cover, and cook for 5 minutes.
- After five minutes, add the vegetables, put the cover back on the pot, and continue to simmer until the vegetables are tender, 5-10 minutes depending on what veggies you’re using. Once they’re cooked, stir in the half cup of cilantro. Taste, and season the soup with salt or fish sauce to taste.
- Remove the lemongrass stalk and the lime quarters. Serve accompanied by extra cilantro for sprinkling.