Monday, March 19, 2012

Takeout No More - Easy Tom Yum Goong

The first day of spring is tomorrow, and my craving for hot and cozy soups is fading fast. But there's one soup I never stop jonesing for, no matter the season, and that's Tom Yum, or Thai Hot and Sour. Easy to find in Thai restaurants, this soup is usually prepared with Chicken or Shrimp. To be exact, Tom Yum Goong is made with shrimp, and Tom Yum Gai is made with chicken. With an intoxicating spicy, salty, and tangy taste, Tom Yum is, to my mind, really the king of soups. Not only is it packed with flavor, but when prepared right, I find it incredibly refreshing and light. 

Tom Yum Goong Ingredients, Photo: NK

Tom Yum is also one of those dishes that can be hit or miss. I can't tell you the amount of times I've salivated while tearing into my brown takeout bag only to find my soup covered in an unappetizing slick of oil, or maybe with too much fish sauce, too little spice, or not enough citrusy pucker. I tell you, few things are sadder. It's for this reason I took a break from Tom Yum. For someone who craves certain foods as much as I do, the stakes had become too high and the risks, just too great.  

My Tom Yum turnaround occurred just last week in my office, of all places. While ducking into our kitchenette (likely to pull out some incredibly snore-worthy healthy snack from the fridge), I noticed my coworker, Nancy, chopping away at some mushrooms and filling her mini crock pot with some interesting ingredients. Nancy is always creative with food but I still had to wonder, what's she up to? I'm nosey, so I hung around long enough to ask. "I am making homemade Tom Yum soup," says Nancy. Wow. This is a majorly resourceful office lunch. 

Soon after, an amazing aroma began to waft throughout the office. I was inspired. Later on, while scouring the interwebs for authentic recipes, I landed on a website called Thai Table that features recipes that appear to be from everyday cooks. I prefer my Tom Yum with shrimp, so I was pleased when I came across an easy looking recipe from a contributor by the name of Natty Netsuwan. Here's what she had to say about her Tom Yum Goong:

"This is my mom's recipe and method of making tom yum goong and it is the best! It is simple and fast to make. . . tom yum should never be bland, but hot and sour... I have seen many recipes calling for chicken broth. It is totally unnecessary! We don't use chicken broth in Thai cooking like in Western cooking. Tom Yum Goong should have shrimp flavor, not chicken!"

I don't know if it was her emphatic use of exclamation points or fervor about tradition, but I felt an immediate kinship with this woman. This recipe was gonna be good. 

Please note, any changes to Natty's recipe below are more a function of what ingredients I could scare up. If I ever do find kaffir lime leaves in my neighborhood, I should be all set to make this recipe exactly as indicated. Even with a few slight changes, it came out utterly delicious, light and refreshing. Also, she was right - it was so easy. Enjoy, and thanks for the inspiration, Nancy and Natty.

Tom Yum Goong (Thai Hot and Sour Shrimp Soup)
Adapted from Natty Netsuwan of
Serves 2
Cook and Prep Time - 25 minutes

4 Green Thai Chili Peppers lightly score with a knife to release their flavor
2 Tablespoons Fish Sauce 
1 Lemongrass stalk cut in 5 inch lengths and bruised or slightly scored with a knife
6 medium Button Mushrooms, halved
6 Jumbo or 8 to 10 large Shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails off
4 Cups Water
6 Cilantro sprigs
3 Kaffir Lime leaves or a 1/2 teaspoon Lime Zest
1 Lime
2 teaspoons Nam Prig Pow* what is Nam Prig Pow?

*I wasn't able to find Nam Prig Pow that was labeled as such, but after finding this chili paste and noting that it included most of the traditional ingredients, I decided it made a fine substitute. Thai Kitchen brand can be found in most supermarkets:
Roasted Red Chili Paste, NK


Boil water in a large pot. 

Set out your two serving bowls and fill each with the juice of half a lime and 1 Tablespoon fish sauce. Next, add two chili peppers to each serving bowl. 

Once water is boiling, add lemongrass and boil for 5 minutes. 

"In The Bowl" Ingredients, Photo: NK

Add the Kaffir Lime leaves (stems removed) to the pot. If you are substituting lime zest, add it to the pot now. Let boil for 2 minutes. 

Add the Shrimp and immediately turn off the heat. Shrimp will cook quickly in the hot broth. 

Scoop Shrimp and Liquid into serving bowls right away. 
You may leave the Lemongrass in if you like, but it's not edible. 

As you add the liquid to the serving bowls, it will become cloudy due to the lime juice. 

Add a teaspoon of Nam Prig Pow to each bowl, give them a stir, and then sprinkle in the cilantro sprigs and serve. 

You can adjust this recipe to your tastes easily by adding a bit more lime juice, fish sauce, or Nam Prig Pow, as you see fit. 

Lastly, be careful with the chilis. Definitely don't bite into them and certainly don't rub your eyes. I am a major spice-lover so despite Natty's warnings, I took one little nibble of a chili. I learned my lesson after having to dash to the fridge to swig milk.


Tom Yum Goong, Photo: NK

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