I’m not sure if it’s the wacky weather lately, but there’s an awful upper respiratory thing going around and it knocked me on my butt several days ago. I dragged my ailing self to the Union Square greenmarket and Kalustyan’s (the world’s best spice shop) for some therapeutic ingredient shopping, and I lucked into fresh Thai basil, lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves. I usually don’t have much of an appetite when I’m sick, but I make an effort to sneak in some soup at least once a day to get in essential nourishment and fluids. I absolutely adore Thai flavors and spicy food and the weather feels too summery for the classic Jewish chicken soup from my childhood, so I opted instead to use some of my shopping bounty in this beautiful red curry-based creation. It’s spicy, sweet, savory, sour, and just what my sinuses needed!
These are the basil and lime leaves. Do you see the difference between this Thai basil and regular Italian basil? The leaves are thinner and pointier, with slightly jagged edges. They also have a different flavor and aroma – Thai basil has prominent anise (a.k.a. licorice) overtones. It’s very distinctive and recognizable if you’ve eaten Thai food before. If you’d like to make this soup and you can’t find Thai basil, go ahead and use the sweet/Italian variety instead, or substitute cilantro. The flavor will be different, but it will still be delicious! As for the kaffir lime, if you can’t find any you can substitute strips of lime zest. I recommend using a well-scrubbed organic lime if possible.
Since I was working with a diminished appetite the vegetables and noodles were plenty satisfying for me, but if you’d like to boost the protein content feel free to toss in some shredded chicken or diced tofu.
- 2 stalks lemongrass, tough outer layers removed, bulbs thinly sliced, and slices lightly crushed
- 8 oz (1 cup) boiling water
- 2 Tbsp neutral oil
- 1 Tbsp minced garlic
- 1 Tbsp grated fresh galangal (may substitute fresh ginger)
- 3 Tbsp Thai red curry paste
- 1 sweet bell pepper, sliced
- 8 shiitake mushroom caps, sliced
- 2 kaffir lime leaves (may substitute 2 one-inch strips of scrubbed organic lime zest)
- 32 oz (4 cups) chicken or vegetable stock
- 1 Tbsp fish sauce
- 6 oz light or full-fat coconut milk
- 2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice, divided
- 1 carrot, julienned
- 2 cups finely shredded nappa or purple cabbage
- ¼ cup Thai basil leaves, chiffonade
- 4 oz dried rice vermicelli noodles
- For serving: sliced red onion or scallions, sliced red chilies, fresh cilantro, lime wedges
- Steep lemongrass: Put sliced & crushed lemongrass in a heatproof bowl and pour boiling water over. Steep for 15 minutes. Strain and reserve water, discard lemongrass pieces.
- Sauté aromatics: Heat oil in a large pot set over a medium flame. When oil is hot, add garlic, galangal or ginger, and Thai red curry paste. Sauté for 5 minutes, until fragrant and toasted. Add bell pepper, shiitake and kaffir lime leaves and sauté for another 2 minutes.
- Complete soup: Add the reserved lemongrass water, chicken broth, fish sauce, and coconut milk. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and let cook for 5 minutes. Add half the lime juice, taste for seasoning, and add more fish sauce and lime juice if desired. Turn off heat and stir in carrot, cabbage and Thai basil.
- Serve: Portion dried noodles out into bowls. Pour soup over noodles and let sit for 3 minutes. Serve with garnishes passed on the side.