Tom Yum Goong; Hot and Sour Prawn Soup
When people think of Thailand a lot of things come to mind; the buzz and bustle of Bangkok’s winding streets, the white sandy beaches and crystal waters of the southerly islands, the countless golden faces and majestic statues of Buddha. And of course, one cannot think of Thailand without dreaming of the fragrant smell of lime leaves, lemongrass, and coconut; nor the punchy taste of chilli in the air, the type to leave you coughing, eyes watering, taste buds tingling. It is a country where the weird meets the wonderful, and I have had the pleasure to visit such a place twice in the last four years. Before I went to University I spent some time travelling through Asia with some friends; Thailand was just one stop on our little journey. We each thrived off the exciting buzz and energy of the culture- and of course we couldn’t eat enough of the food! I returned to Thailand last summer, but not as a stereotypical traveller as such, but as an English Teaching Assistant. I worked in a college in central Bangkok, and lived within the soi (the neighborhood) with a very kind and welcoming family. I re-experienced Thailand through a new perspective, I was a sort of insider; I wasn’t really viewed as a ‘farang’ (a foreigner, a white western person), at least in my neighbourhood that is, but rather respected as an authoritative teacher. Of course, on the infamous Khao Sahn road, I was just another face among the crowd of tourists!!
During my most recent visit to Thailand, a friend and I booked into Bangkok’s Silom Cooking School for an afternoon exploring the vibrant flavours of the infamous Thai cuisine. I’d never got round to doing it during my first visit, and I was sure I wasn’t going to miss out second time round. It turned out to be one of the best afternoons of the trip! We begun by visiting a local market; our guide lead us through the stalls and picked out all the ingredients unfamiliar to our westernised eyes; from herbs and spices like morning glory, turmeric, tamarind and pandannas leaves, to the different sized and coloured chillis. The rest of the afternoon was spent cooking a number of dishes; fresh spring rolls with chilli dipping sauce, pad thai with chicken, green curry, mango sticky rice. We were unspeakably full by the end of it. But it was an experience I will never forget. This Tom Yum Goong recipe is the one I was taught in Bangkok; hot with fresh chillies and chilli paste, sour from the lime juice, and yet gently fragrant from the lemon grass and lime leaves. I love it because its super quick to make, and yet no flavour is lost from the efficiency of the cooking; it really packs a punch. It’s also great as you can adapt it to certain tastes; I get that some people might not be able to handle the true heat that often comes with a local Thai Tom Yum. It literally makes your ears sweat…as I found out one rather humid afternoon! Luckily, you can put in as much or as little chilli as you like, and make it creamier by increasing the amount of coconut milk/cream. The base of this soup is exactly as I was taught to make it in Bangkok, but with the addition of bak choi- I decided to just to throw this in last minute and worked wonders.
serves two good sized portions
- 1 stick of lemon grass, chopped in two
- 1 thumb-sized piece of Galangal ginger (ordinary ginger will suffice)
- 3 kaffir lime leaves
- 50g of button mushrooms
- 2 medium sized tomatoes, chopped into four
- 4 spring onions, chopped into medium sized pieces
- 1 bak choi, sliced
- 1/2 a red chilli (adjust to taste)
- 2 cups of vegetable stock
- 224g of raw prawns (or as many as you wish)
- 1 lime
- 1/2 tbsp of chilli paste (adjust to taste)
- 1/2 tbsp of fish sauce, or soy sauce
- small carton of coconut cream (or milk if you prefer)
- Put the lemon grass, ginger, lime leaves, mushrooms, tomatoes, spring onion, bak choi and chopped chilli into a wok with the vegetable stock, and cook until fragrant and the vegetables are tender.
- Then add the prawns and cook until pink; this will literally take like a minute!
- At this point add the coconut cream, chilli paste, fish sauce and the juice of half the lime.
- Serve immediately with an extra slice of lime.