January is for television and takeout. Last year, I somehow squeezed five seasons of Lost into the first four weeks of 2010. The mental energy needed to determine why there were polar bears on the island pulled me from the kitchen and into a world full of pizza, carryout from Lavash and the occasional pho from Mi Li Cafe. The first several weeks of 2011 were similar, though I substituted four seasons of Battlestar Galactica for Lost, and Graffiti Burger for my Middle Eastern or Vietnamese fare. This past weekend, I wrapped up Battlestar and found myself in an emotional daze. What would I do without Commander Adama, Kara Thrace and the smoking doctor? The answer, it seems, was to get off my lazy ass and back into the kitchen.
Back issues of Saveur had been piling up and a quick page through the October issue brought me to a recipe for tom yum goong (hot and sour shrimp soup). The bright colors lured me from the science fiction world I’d been living in for several weeks and into what might possibly be the perfect January soup.
It takes longer to procure the ingredients than it does to prepare. While most can be found at the conventional grocery, the fresh lemongrass and frozen lime leaves had to be procured from one of the nearby Asian markets. It’s amazing how quickly the flavor of lemongrass can be infused into a stock and fill the kitchen with a fresh and tangy aroma. (Fewer than five minutes for this dish.)
With everything else covered in white and gray, the brightly colored lime leaves were a pleasant addition to both my kitchen and the soup, which was heavenly (and without a doubt the best part of my day). While I’m still mourning the characters of my television gluttony, this tom yum goong cast with the flavors of southeast Asia, makes for a worthy mid-season replacement.
Tom Yum Goong
from Saveur, October 2010
3 large stalks fresh lemongrass
4 cups chicken stock
12 fresh or frozen Kaffir lime leaves
1 cup canned straw mushrooms, drained
2-4 tablespoons roasted Thai chile paste (nam prik pao)
8 oz. medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
4-6 Thai chilies, stemmed and smashed with side of a knife
3 scallions, cut into 1″ lengths
juice of 1 lime
2 cups cooked rice (optional)
1. trim tip and root ends of lemongrass stalks and remove and discard tough outer later. Using a meat mallet or the side of a knife, smash lemongrass to flatten it; tie stalks into a knot; set aside. Pour stock into a 2-quart saucepan and bring to a boil. Add lemongrass and half the lime leaves, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until fragrant, about 5 minutes.
2. Remove and discard lemongrass and lime leaves and increase heat to high. Stir in mushrooms and chile paste, to taste, and boil for 1 minute; add shrimp and fish sauce and cook until shrimp are just cooked through, about 45 seconds. Combine remaining lime leaves with chiles, scallions, and lime juice in a serving bowl or tureen. Pour soup into serving bowl, stir, and serve with rice, if you like.