An easy and tasty Thai soup – Khao Soi

This is an incredibly easy dish that I love to make.  It is a bit decadent due to the amount of coconut milk, but hey — you only live once.  I figure that you might as well indulge on spicy milky goodness and not the Big Mac at the local drive-through.  Moreover, this stuff is insanely easy to make and freezes/reheats well so you can make a big batch and use it at your convenience.  My friend Danielle told me about it and I have been addicted to it ever since.  The dish is called Khao Soi and it originates from northern Thailand/Myanmar. More specifically, the region around Chang Mai.   The first time I made it I followed a recipe on epicurous.com.  That one calls for chicken and recommended the creation of a homemade curry paste.  I have changed the recipe a bit to my taste and replaced the homemade paste with one from my local Asian market.  You should so the same — modify it to suit your tastes, that is!

The soupd Khao Soi is basically some kind of noodle, protein, onions, uber-tasty Thai curry paste, chicken broth, coconut milk, cilantro, and lime.  And when you are done, it will look like this:

Khao Soi Goodness

Khao Soi Goodness

Trust me on this – you will want to make this ASAP.  It is that good.  Seriously.

First, assemble what you will need for constructing the soup.  While you may need to hit an Asian grocery story for the curry paste, the rest can be found almost anywhere – though ethnic stores may be substantially cheaper.  Basically, in addition to a good curry paste, all you need is coconut milk, chicken broth, fish sauce, some kind of protein (shrimp or chicken is best), onions, cilantro, brown sugar, lime, and ramen/egg noodles.  I assembled mine below:

Khao Soi Mise en place

Khao Soi Mise en place

Since I prefer to use shrimp in khao soi, I soaked my frozen shrimp in water to thaw, and then separated the shells from the meat.  Be sure to keep the shells as we will be using them later!  If you decide to use chicken, just cut it up into bite-sized pieces.

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Get a heavy soup pot or dutch oven for cooking and assembly.  Then heat up about two or three tablespoons of olive oil.

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At the same time, you will need to make about two cups of chicken broth.  Homemade is probably best, but who has time to make homemade chicken stock??  I wish I did (and it is a future goal), but at present I use a base you buy in a store.  I like the “Better than Bouillon” brand that is available in Michigan.  It is a little more expensive than the powdered bases, but it is much better and has far less salt.  That said, use whatever you like.

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There are a variety of curry pastes that you can find your local Asian market.  I personally like the Maesri brand but I am sure that there are many other good alternatives.  My local market has, among others, red (hot), green (really hot), and yellow (medium spice) curry pastes.

 

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I have tried all three pasteswith this recipe and found that you have to adjust the amount depending on the type and the amount of heat you can tolerate.  This stuff is not for the weak-kneed!  I find that the red is about right for me with half a can, the green is still pretty darn hot with half a can, and the yellow is mild enough to use an entire can for one batch of soup. Two of the cans I had on hand are pictured above.  Each has their own flavor profile, with, in my opinion, the green being the most interesting.  It has that Thai flavor going on, and does not taste too Indian, at least to me.   If it is your first time using a given paste, I recommend starting with less rather than more until you know how much heat you like.

For what it’s worth,below  I am including lists of ingredients of the above cans.  As you can see, they are similar, but not identical!  In particular, the green curry has sweet basil and a lot of Kaffir lime while the yellow curry has more turmeric (no surprise), cinnamon, and fennel.

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Once you choose your paste, put a dollop (or more) into the hot oil and saute until it darkens in color and the aroma opens up. The paste I use is actually a bit oily so this should make your pan look all caramel colored.  It smells great!

 

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Then add the chicken broth and two cans of coconut milk.  Give the mixture a stir.

 

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Now add about three medium size onions, coarsely chopped, to the soup (I guess it is OK to call it a soup now??!).  Many recipes don’t call for onions, but I love them and they add a nice texture to the soup that I think is awesome.  Leave these out if you prefer.

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At this point you should add the chicken (raw!) if you are making the chicken version.  Since I tend to like making this with shrimp, since I want the shrimp flavor without overcooking the meat, I just add the shells.  So I toss those in.  Then let this simmer for about 20-25 minutes.

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Now.  You are free to be a bonehead like me and just do what I said above.  Throw in the shells.  But then you have to pick them out later (which I do here below).

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But the smart thing to do is to gather up all of the shells and tie them up in cheesecloth before tossing the whole works into the soup.  Then taking them out is as simple as removing the tied bundle.  I did that the next time I made this soup.  Alas, not this time. Oh well.  Live and learn, right?

At this point, after your soup has simmered and the onions are nice and tender, add in a nice handful of chopped coriander (aka cilantro) and give in another stir:

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We are almost done.  Whether you have one of the last ingredients for this soup on hand depends on how much Asian food you have cooked in the past.  For me, when I made this soup, the answer was “no Asian food had I cooked”. This was my first “Asian inspired” dish. So I had to go out to the store in search of fish sauce.   When I went to the store, I was dumbfounded by the dizzying array of choices.  I read online about the various styles and brands.  Some from Vietnam. Some from Thailand.  Then I remembered what dear friend had said to me one time: “get the sauce with the baby on it”.  So I did.  Golden Boy Brand.

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It is pretty good.  I even found this fish sauce taste test page to back me up!  No matter, get something.  The bottle I got was about $5 and will last me for a long time!

Now, take about 3-5 tablespoons of fish sauce and about a tablespoon of brown sugar and add it to the soup.

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Let it simmer a bit longer.  Then, since shrimp takes so little time to cook, the final step in making the broth is to actually add the shrimp to the soup and give it a 3-5 minutes to simmer and blend a final time.  Note: If you are planning to freeze this to have it reheated later, you may want to leave the shrimp out and just heat freshly thawed raw shrimp at the same time you reheat the soup.  This would prevent overcooking.

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While the soup is mingling, prepare your noodles.  Noodles are another ingredient at Asian stores that can leave one overwhelmed by the numerous options.  Row after row noodles can be found at the store. Most are dried and made from rice or beans. Some are egg noodles with wheat.  Some fresh and some dried. Nearly all of the recipes I have found for Khao Soi call for egg noodles.  I personally like fresh egg noodles for this soup.

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But you may not (like egg noodles).  Frankly, I don’t think it matters all that much so long as you are not cooking up linguine or ravioli or lasagna (though who knows?).  And, if you are planning on making a big batch of this to freeze, then you may want to just get single servings of ramen noodles so that you can quickly nuke them at work for immersion in this broth.  In any event, here are my noodles.  Exciting, huh?  No?  Yeah. But wait until they are covered in the simmering broth!

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Ladling the steaming nectar onto your bowl of noodles and garnish with lime and more coriander.  Viola!

Khao Soi Goodness

Khao Soi Goodness

Well, that is it.  Another installment in my little cooking blog.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!!

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