Sunday, January 12, 2014

Yam and Coconut Soup + Tamarind Chicken with Cashews

Sometime in the mid-90's Thai slophouses began proliferating at an alarming rate across North Brooklyn, their greasy, syrupy-sweet fare sabotaging our love of the cuisine. Almost identical menus in each ignored the complexity of true Thai flavor and eschewed regional variations. Basically, you ordered either red, green or Massaman curry with a protein of choice or the sticky muck of noodles dubbed Pad Thai. Of course trips to truly great Siamese restaurants in Flushing, Sunnyside, Elmhurst and Woodside were revelations, and based on these and others, Cafe Drake HRV has begun again to explore Thai cooking in our own home. A good place for us all to start is with this first course of silky coconut soup. Honestly, the olfactory citrus bomb of lime leaves and lemongrass will perfume your kitchen to such an extent mouth-watering before tasting is guaranteed! Begin with a large saucepan. In it, whisk together: 3 T. chili paste OR 4-5 dried red chilies torn in pieces, 2 T. fish sauce, 3 cups vegetable OR chicken stock and 1 1/2 cups coconut milk (the canned, thicker variety). Now stir in 2 stalks of bruised lemongrass (peel tough outer layer and bang with a knife to release aromatic oils), 6 kaffir lime leaves (some shredded finely, some whole), about 4-6 slices peeled ginger and 1 cup of sliced, dried shitake mushrooms, pre-soaked in hot water for 20 minutes. Cook over a medium flame for 5 minutes, simmering gently. Now add 1 1/2 cups of very thinly sliced sweet potatoes/yams and another cup of coconut milk and continue simmering soup for about 25 minutes. It will be ready to eat when the yams are melting soft and the soup has the consistency of a light cream. Stir in a few sliced scallions, heat for one more minute and serve hot. Remove ginger slices and lemon grass before eating, as well as any lime leaves left whole.

Tying the lemongrass stalks together makes then easy to fish out and keeps the papery edges from separating into the soup. A strictly optional method of course.

This recipe can be adapted to feature shrimp instead of chicken but cooking time will be much more brief. Toss 4 boneless and skinless chicken thighs (cut into small pieces) with 1 T. oyster sauce,  1 T. vegetable oil, 1 T. brown sugar, 1 T. minced garlic, 1 T. minced ginger and 3-6 minced Thai green chilies. If possible marinate in the fridge for a few hours or overnight; otherwise, cover and marinate at room temperature for 45 minutes or so. It's best now to assemble all ingredients stove-side for the zippy stir-fry process. Heat a large skillet or wok over a high flame until smoking hot. Swirl in 1 T. vegetable oil and add the chicken along with any marinade. Cook for about 2 minutes or until the poultry is cooked halfway. Now add 2 cups of small broccoli florets and stems and 1 cup of sliced onions. Cook for a minute or two and then stir in 1 T. tamarind paste or concentrate, 1 T. soy sauce and 1 t. sugar. Throw in a handful of chopped cashews and continue cooking until the dish has developed a thick sort of sauce/glaze. Adjust seasoning if need - salt, black pepper, oyster sauce - and enjoy hot with rice or noodles.

Cutting the broccoli into smaller pieces allows for quicker cooking along with the chicken and onions.

Our comforting TV Tray dinner of tamarind chicken, coconut soup, rice and curried noodles.

Don't forget to try the recipe with either shrimp or fried tofu as a chicken substitute. Cauliflower and bok choy can be swapped for the broccoli if desired.

We were surprised to find the coconut and yam soup keeping well in the refrigerator for almost an entire week. So make a bunch!

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