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Monday, May 05, 2014

recipe development: a customizable Thai coconut-chicken soup loosely inspired by Tom Kha Gai

it's high time for some creative recipe tinkering! I've been craving Tom Kha Gai in a big way, but 1) I need to accommodate the varying tastes of the folks who eat with me (one hates cilantro; two of them truly cannot handle anything spicy/hot, but they're all pretty adventurous eaters within those constraints), and 2) I have some lovely little butternut squashes that I'd like to add to the soup, but not in a puree (because that would make it a completely different dish). so...

the goal: to create a flexible Thai coconut & chicken soup template that can accommodate different tastes, seasonal ingredients and capricious whims.

the non-negotiable: I'll start with a saute of minced shallots, chunks of chicken thighs and quartered fresh mushrooms, to add to a base of ultra-rich chicken stock, coconut milk, fish sauce and fresh lemongrass. I'll add just a touch of palm sugar to sweeten it slightly.

the variables: while I prefer fresh kaffir lime leaves, when I can't get them, I'm fine with fresh lime zest. likewise, galanga (a.k.a. "kha,") is the authentic choice, but fresh ginger is delicious and still makes an excellent soup.

the totally optional: I'm going to roast some thin slices of peeled butternut squash, to caramelize the exterior a bit, and will add those in to the soup this time; we'll see how that works.

the garnishes, so we can each customize our own bowls of soup: a big plate with wedges of lime, fresh Thai camphor basil (for the cilantro haters, and because it's wonderful in its own right), fresh cilantro leaves and thinly sliced fresh chiles, plus the bottle of fish sauce, so we can each doctor our own bowl of soup to make it truly "ours."

if this succeeds, I'll have to come up with a good name for it -- although it might be inspired by Tom Kha Gai (one of the finest soups ever), it definitely won't be authentic in anyway.

I'm planning to serve it with side dishes of jasmine rice for some, cauliflower "rice" for me, and a cucumber salad with minced raw scallions, rice vinegar and a bit of honey.

if I get the cookbook-worthy results I want, I'll write it up into a real recipe!