Tom Yum Noodle Soup
An essential element in Southeat Asian cuisine, fresh lemongrass are long, narrow pale yellow-green stalks with a woody core an a refreshing sweet citrus aroma. Fresh lemongrass will have firm, tightly bound leaves, but even slightly drier lemongrass is still usable.
Lemongrass can be used two ways; either the long stems steeped in simmering broth and discared before serving, or the inner core of the stalks sliced paper thin and consumed (the third is pureeing into curry pastes, where the texture no long matter so much). The texture of lemongrass can be very fiberous, and in the case of soup you may prefer to simmer whole stalks and discard if you don’t want all that fiber.
If using the whole stalks, pound the stalks with the dull edge of a chef’s knife before adding to a soup, to help the flavors diffuse into the broth. If you prefer to just leave it in there, use only the inner most core of very fresh lemongrass, as those leaves are usually very tender and discard any dry outer leaves.
To slice lemongrass, steady a stalk on a heavy wooden cutting board and using a very sharp heavy chef’s knife, cut off the bottom 1/4 inch from the stem and trim about 3 or 4 inches from the top. Holding the stalk firmly on a cutting board slice as thin as possible, 1/8 inch or thinner if you can. You’ll have a little pile of fine circles; if desired pull them apart with your fingers.
Fresh lemongrass will eventually dry out sitting in the vegetable bin and it’s long shape can make it awkward to wrap and store, so I prefer to chop and freeze lemongrass whenever I purchase a bundle. I usually prepare 6 or more stems at a time, slicing as thin as possible and gently fluffing up the slices. Pack sliced lemongrass into a small zip top plastic bag and squeeze out any air. Keep frozen until ready to use. Don’t thaw the lemongrass, just add directly to a soup or curry paste.
Tom yum soup, that always popular hot and sour Thai soup, is surprisingly easy to make at home with a combination of authentic Thai ingredients and a few substitutions. While it may not taste exactly like your favorite restaurant’s soup, it will satisfy cravings, or it might taste even better! The light broth bursting with the fresh flavors of lime, hot chiles, lemongrass with a touch of sweetness when combined with pad thai rice noodles makes this a whole meal, but you can of course omit the noodles if you prefer a standard light and brothy soup. You’ll come back to this soup again and again, especially if your sinuses need relief from mid-winter chills.
The amount of fresh hot red chiles in this soup is entirely up to your heat tolerance. If you’re a chile champion, go for the maximum amount; if a hot food novice, start with 1 chile, simmer the broth and before adding the tomatoes taste and add another chile or two if you’re feeling up to it.
Tip: For best results use a small, thin-skinned organic lime for this soup if you can’t find kaffir lime leaves. To peel the lime, slice into quarters and use your fingers to separate the peel from the pulp. Squeeze the remaining lime pulp and use the juice for the broth.
4 ounces pad Thai rice sticks (half of an 8 ounce package)
1 stalk lemongrass or 3 tablespoons prepared lemongrass (see page XX)
5 teaspoons peanut, coconut, or vegetable oil
2 large shallots, peeled and sliced into 1/4 inch rings
4 cloves garlic, minced
6 cups vegetable broth, preferably vegetarian chicken flavored
1 1/2 inch long piece of ginger, peeled and sliced into matchsticks (see page XX)
2 to 6 fresh red hot chiles (serrano or Thai), stem removed and sliced into paper thin slices
4 kaffir lime leaves or the peel from one lime, cut into 1 inch wide strips
4 dried shiitaki mushrooms
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons Thai thin soy sauce
2 cups (about 4 ounces) thinly sliced fresh mushrooms
½ pound red ripe tomatoes or cherry tomatoes, stems removed and diced into 1 inch pieces
1/4 cup lime juice
8 baby corn (from jar or canned), drained and sliced in half lengthwise
Optional: 4 ounces fried tofu or 1/2 recipe Pressed Baked Tofu, sliced into 1/2 thin pieces
1 cup fresh cilantro leaves
1. Bring a pot filled with 2 quarts of water to boil, stir in the noodles and simmer for 4 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water, place noodles in a bowl, cover with 1 inch of cold water and set aside. If using a whole, fresh stalk of lemongrass see page XX for tips on preparing lemongrass (don’t bother if you’re using minced prepared lemongrass). In a large 3 quart soup pot saute the shallot and garlic in the oil over medium heat until softened, about 4 minutes. Add the broth, then add the lemongrass, ginger, chiles, lime leaves or peel, shiitaki mushrooms, brown sugar, and Thai soy sauce. Increase heat and bring mixture to an active simmer, then reduce the heat. Add the mushrooms. Partially cover the pot and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the kaffir leave or lime peel, and any large stalks of lemongrass if you used a whole stalk.
2. Stir in tomatoes, lime juice, baby corn, and tofu if using and simmer, partially covered, for 5 minutes. Taste the soup and if you desire add an extra dash of lime juice or a teaspoon of brown sugar for a more sour or sweeter broth. Turn off the heat and divide the noodles among 4 large 1 quart serving bowls. Ladle the soup over the noodles, making sure to include tomatoes, tofu, and corn in each serving. Garnish each serving with cilantro and serve immediately.
Tom Som Soup: Of course you can serve this as a soup without the noodles, a perfect starter for a Thai feast or just a comforting soup when you’re recovering from a cold. For just those under the weather occasions, I like to leave out the corn and tofu for a lighter, brothy soup.