After a seriously, incredibly – somewhat unbearable at times, hot spell in Kenya – apparently directly related to a very rare phenomenon called the Equinox (when the sun is positioned directly over the Equator), we have had a small relief of cooling thirst quenching rain. The gardens are lush once again and there is a slight nip in the air….Kenyans are not entirely acclimatized to cold weather… so it’s really important to boost your immunity this time of year as we come into our short rainy season. This is such a popular recipe to warm you up and gear your system up for battling colds and flus! Serve in generous big bowls, preferably snuggled in front of a roaring fire! Bliss in a bowl from Sandy x
For those of you who are not so hot on chillies don’t be guided by the general misconception where people tend to think that spices, hot spices are all about Indian curries. This, we all know, is completely misinformed as there are hundreds of types of heat inducing spices and a myriad of chillies across many different cultures across the globe.
The very first recipe that came to mind was a traditional Thai Tom Yum Soup, my all time favourite soup and the best I’ve eaten was, of course, street side in Bangkok. I was there for work and managed to escape for an afternoon to the sprawling, absolutely beautiful Bangkok Farmers market. I can’t begin to explain to you how enthralled I was by all the fresh produce on display.
The atmosphere was electric as I was bundled along with chefs, home cooks and food enthusiasts all vying and pitching for the best cuts of meat, the freshest galangal and baskets of herbs that fragranced the air with citrus and spice. Hundreds of vendors, whipping, folding, chopping and grating away, set the scene for a modern day banquet and I just couldn’t deny myself the pleasure of tasting dishes that simply sang in my mouth. I could have stayed there another week and you wouldn’t have been able to shift me..it’s my personal foodie paradise!
The Tom Yum Soup, ladled from a medieval vat that just breathed fire, spice and exotic flavours, was unforgettable and I wanted to try and recreate this back home as quickly as possible. I’m definitely all about authentic cuisine, but occasionally, I do feel, with our lifestyles and all the hustle and bustle, a few quick shortcuts, without compromising an inch of flavour is absolutely fine. Also, it’s realistic that some authentic ingredients, such as shrimp paste are sometimes difficult to find and this soup can be easily made with some everyday store cupboard ingredients.
This soup is also very well known for it’s incredibly powerful immunity boosting ingredients and wonderful for warming up the soul when you are down with a cold. The galangal and the chilli all have warming properties and help to clear a congested chest- so chuck out all the medicines and put a pot of Tom Yum soup on the boil instead!
This soup does have prawns in it, but if you are vegetarian just keep the mushrooms and replace the tom yum paste with a thai red curry paste that does not have shrimp in it. It’s not authentic but still is a version that will produce a similar result.
12 king prawns or 16 medium sized prawns, shelled, deveined and cleaned (keep all the shells and prawn heads if you have any)
3 sticks of lemongrass, tough outer layers removed and bashed with a rolling pin to splinter the stick
1 small bunch of spring onions, sliced thinly
3 shallots, finely sliced
1 punnet of button mushrooms sliced thinly (if you can get straw mushrooms, these are gorgeous in this soup and give a noodle-like effect)
Juice of 1 large lime
6 kaffir lime leaves
1 small bunch of coriander, finely chopped
2 thumbs of galangal, finely sliced into matchstick thin pieces. ( If you can’t find galangal, then fresh ginger will do)
2 cloves garlic finely minced
1 tbs of jaggery, finely grated
1 1/2 heaped tbs of Tom Yam/ Yum Paste, or Phrik Pao paste if you can get it. ( Please buy a very good quality version as this forms a very strong flavour base for the soup)
1 1/2 tbs of nam pla, or fish sauce
2 litres of boiling chicken stock
2 bullet chillies finely sliced
2 tsp sesame oil
Here are a few little pointers to show you how great the ingredients of a Tom Yum soup really are!
If you have the shells from the prawns, start by heating the oil in a large wide casserole. Throw in the shells and prawn heads if you have any and start to stir fry these. ( If you don’t have any, skip to the next step and just continue)
Next add the tom yam paste. Let this fry very gently for a minute or two on a low heat. Add the sliced shallots and lightly fry for a further minute.
Next add the chicken stock, the mushrooms, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, garlic, cane sugar, nam pla and the chillies. Let this all boil and simmer for around 8 minutes. If you are not serving your soup yet, set this aside until just before serving to complete the dish.
Time this for just 5 minutes before serving..To the simmering soup stock, add the spring onion, the prawns, the lime juice and the coriander. The lime juice will turn the soup slightly cloudy, but don’t worry about that – it’s all part of the recipe. Let this simmer for a few minutes only, until the prawns are tender.
Now the way I check for seasoning for a Tom Yum Soup is to guage the levels of sourness, sweetness and the chilli. If you want it slightly more lemony, add a small squeeze of lime. For a little more sweetness, grate in a bit more jaggery and for chilli, I usually add a teaspoon more of the Tom Yam paste. It really should be to your personal preference, but any which way…this soup is a fiery and feisty and will give you that chilli fix you need! Make sure you serve it piping piping hot, with extra lime wedges on the side.