Do you love Thai cuisine? I might go as far as to say it is one of my favorites. The first time I tasted it, it was the soup that won my heart. Don’t let the complex flavors of Thai soups fool you. They are not only easy to make, but also very healthy. Unlike recipes from other parts of the globe, cooking time is generally short thus retaining vitamins and other nutrients. The ingredients are easy to find (Asian markets or ethnic sections of many grocery stores) and the preparation steps are minimal. This recipe has you making your own curry paste which will have you feeling like a smarty pants for sure. I have had people tell me they just aren’t fond of curry but I assume they tasted a particular type such as a Madras curry powder and decided it wasn’t for them. Curries however, are a blend of seasonings and ingredients and each has it own distinct taste. In cultures where curry is used frequently, families often have their own blend (sometimes kept secret) that is made regularly and gives their dishes a unique palate. Soup is an important part of Thai cuisine and is served almost daily with the rest of the meal (not as a first course) and sipped between bites of other dishes. At a family-style meal, everyone shares from a serving bowl or a soup tureen such as the Thai Hot Pot, spooning into individual bowls. I often serve soup as a main course but you should decide for yourself.
This simple curry paste gives this northern Thai-inspired soup an amazing depth of flavor. It is the base or the “sofrito” as it is called in Spanish cooking, “soffrito” in Italian.
Recipe 6-8 servings
Recipe by Ravin Nakjaroen, adapted from Bon Appetit Magazine
Khoa Soi Paste
4 large dried New Mexico or guajillo chiles, stemmed, halved, seeded
2 medium shallots, peeled, halved
8 garlic cloves, smashed, peeled
1 2-inch piece fresh ginger, sliced
1/4 c cilantro leaves, chopper
1T ground coriander
1T ground turmeric
1t curry powder
Place chiles in a small heatproof bowl, add boiling water to cover and let soak for 25-30 minutes until softened. Remove chiles and reserve the soaking liquid. Puree the chiles, shallots, garlic, ginger, cilantro, coriander, turmeric, curry powder and 2T of soaking liquid in a food processor. Add more soaking liquid as needed to achieve a smooth paste. Set aside.
2T vegetable oil (I use grape seed oil but any neutral oil will do)
2, 14oz. cans unsweetened coconut milk
2c chicken stock
1 1/2 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs, halved
1 lb. Chinese egg noodles (I used Udon noodles because that is what I had)
3T (or more as needed) fish sauce (nam pla or nuoc nam)
1T palm sugar or light brown sugar, packed
Kosher salt (I used sea salt)
Sliced red onion, bean sprouts, cilantro sprigs, crispy fried onions or shallots, chili oil and lime wedges for serving.
Heat oil on a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add the khao soi paste; cook, stirring constantly until slightly darkened, 4-6 minutes. Add the coconut milk and broth. Bring to a boil; add chicken. Reduce heat and simmer until chicken is fork tender, 20-25 minutes. Transfer chicken to a plate. Allow to cool and shred.
Meanwhile cook noodles according to package directions.
Add the chicken, 3T of fish sauce and sugar to soup. Taste and season with salt or more fish sauce if needed. Divide noodles among the bowls and ladle soup over them. Serve with toppings.
Just a quick note, fish sauce is an ingredient some people find off-putting but if you want to recreate the flavors you have had at your favorite Thai restaurant, it is a must! Smells fishy and by itself tastes bad but used for its saltiness it adds so much to the authenticity of any Southeast Asian recipe. I urge you not to leave it out. Fish sauce is to these cuisines as soy sauce is to Chinese and Japanese. Learn to love it!
This soup is spectacular! The rich deep flavor provided by the curry paste (let’s not forget how smart you are going to feel having created it yourself) is so satisfying you will be smiling the remainder of the day and perhaps into tomorrow.