The Chef in Charlotte: Tom Kha Gai
Updated: Feb 21, 2021
This short and sweet blog post is dedicated to the impending first week of classes, a time when I need short and sweet (and comforting!) recipes; I'm sure y'all do some nights as well! This post also qualifies for my "budget" series, as the Maestro's pursestrings have been a shade tighter this month after all the traveling!
After six weeks of travel, I spent the past three weeks working on getting ready for the new semester at Davidson while essentially being a hermit in my apartment, which I'd missed so much! I've been enjoying my comfy couch, my mood lighting, and the comfort/relief of a new presidential administration and haven't been cooking much that warrants a blog post, but Mom has been surprising me with photos and descriptions of her delicious meals! I guess I lit a fire in her to cook delicious things! In turn, she inspired me to cook something and post about it this week.
The thing she has been raving about more than anything else is a recipe she discovered for a wonderful, traditional sweet and sour Thai coconut-based soup––tom kha gai. She is bananas for this recipe, and has made it at least three times since I left after Christmas, and kept telling me that "had" to try it. Well, one particularly chilly night in Charlotte after a rough day of working from home, I decided to give the recipe a shot, and popped over to the grocery store across the street for ingredients, looking forward to having a ton of soup left over for lunch during next week's classes!
The recipe claims it's "secret" is the addition of Thai red curry paste to the aromatics, which include onions, garlic, lemongrass, ginger or galangal, and a red chili. I sautéed the aromatics and curry paste in a little oil over medium heat until the onions were translucent and the aromatics fragrant, and then poured four cups of organic, free-range chicken broth into the pot, keeping the heat about where it was and letting it simmer and infuse for just over an hour, essentially until I was hungry and the scent from the pan was making my tummy grumble! Afterwards, strain out all the aromatics and discard, leaving just the gloriously-scented broth.
The recipe calls for chicken, but I have always been "meh" on most chicken, particularly in something like soup where it sits in the heated broth and can get overcooked really easily. Not really wanting tofu and feeling "meh" also about shrimp, I located some of my local supermarket's actually really good imitation crab, which was on sale and just packed. I cut the "legs" up into chunks and put them in to the strained broth, along with thinly sliced mushrooms, coconut milk, brown sugar, fish sauce, and lime juice.
I let the soup simmer a bit longer to cook the mushrooms and heat the "crab," and then ladled myself a healthy amount and garnished with green onion, cilantro, red chili, and a slice of lime.
The soup was absolutely delicious. Comforting, filling, and bursting with flavor. I can see why mom loves it so much! And with almost 8 cups of liquid in the recipe, I had a couple Tupperwares full for later! (note: it gets even better after the flavors have time to meld overnight!) Moreover, keeping with the "budget" theme, the ingredients cost me less than $15 for probably six to eight servings of soup. Killer!
Wine to cook by: When cooking on a budget but still in need of wine, I can't recommend the Chateau Ste. Michelle wines more highly. A major commercial house from the Columbia Valley, despite their mass production, CSM produces wonderful wines, and their Austro-German varietals in particular are big hits. Their "Eroica" Riesling, for example, is, to my mind, one of the best domestic Rieslings you can buy for less than $20. With Thai food, especially anything with coconut, I tend to gravitate toward Gewürztraminer, which I picked up at my local supermarket for less than $10. Higher in alcohol and more complex than Riesling, with a fuller body and a hint of sweetness, it's the perfect wine for this soup.
I have a couple really exciting posts upcoming! Keep your eyes on the blog y'all!