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Favorite Thai Soups

Michael Babcock, Friday, August 1st, 2014

Over the years I’ve come to have some favorite Thai soups that might not even be known to people who haven’t traveled in Thailand or taken Kasma’s Thai cooking classes. This blog looks at 4 of my favorites, soups I prefer to the better known duo of soups seen in pretty much every Thai restaurant, at least here in the U.S..

Those two soups are, of course, Hot-and-Sour Prawn SoupTom Yum Goong – and some iteration of Tom Ka – a coconut-based soup with galanga, such as Chicken Coconut Soup with Galanga (Tom Ka Gai) – perhaps the most common version in America – or Seafood Coconut Soup with Galanga (Tom Ka Talay) – perhaps the most common in Thailand.

Don’t get me wrong: they are delicious soups. It’s just that there are others that deserve to be just as well known. And in Thailand there are numerous versions of tom yum (hot and sour) soups; such as one that includes a whole, fried fish.

So in no particular order, here are four other Thai soups to enjoy.

(Click images to see larger version.)

Southern Thai Oxtail Soup (Soop Hahng Wua)

Oxtail Soup

Southern Thai Oxtail Soup

Hmm. Did I say in no particular order? Actually, I think this might be my favorite, especially for a winter’s day. It’s a fairly spicy dish, as Kasma teaches it in the Weekend Series Advanced Set B-3. It’s quite easy to make: cook the oxtails with salt until tender; toss in the potatoes, tomatoes, onion and other ingredients and cook until nearly done;  season to taste with fish sauce or light soy; finish the cooking and add some white pepper, a bit of lime juice and palm sugar as needed. It’s very tasty and, as a bone broth, it’s also very nourishing. (See the article Broth is Beautiful by Sally Fallon Morell.) This is one I love to make in the winter; it’s pretty darn good in the summer as well. In Thailand you’ll see it at some of the truck stops in the south.

Southern-style Turmeric Chicken Soup (Tom Kamin Gai Bahn)

Turmeric Chicken Soup

Southern Turmeric Chicken Soup

I don’t believe I’ve ever come across this soup in the United States, save in Kasma’s cooking classes: she teaches it in the Weekend Series Advanced Set F-2. I’ve had it at a couple of places in Thailand down south. Like the Oxtail Soup above, and many Thai soups, it’s a soup with the ingredients surrounded by a mostly clear broth. Again, you get a healthy bone broth, this time flavored with lemon grass, galanga, garlic, shallots and, as you might guess from the name, fresh turmeric; the turmeric gives it the lovely golden color. Kasma makes it with 10 to 15 crushed Thai chillies to give it a bit of heat. Again, add a bit of lime juice , finish off with fish sauce and sugar (both to taste) and you’ve got a delicious soup that lights up your taste buds. Kasma makes her version using whole quail: they make a really good broth.

Hot Galanga Beef Soup with Holy Basil (Neau Tom Ka)

Galanga Beef Soup

Galanga Beef Soup

When I’ve had this soup in Thailand, it’s slightly different than the version pictured here and which Kasma teaches in the Weekend Series Advanced Set F-3. In Thailand the beef is stewed, so quite well-cooked. In Kasma’s version, beef slices (sirloin or skirt steak) are added at the end by bringing the soup to a rolling boil, adding the beef and then turning it off so that the beef is very lightly cooked. I have to say, I prefer her soup; we get different and better beef here in the U.S. This is a soup that can be incendiary – it has both dried red chillies and fresh Thai chillies. There’s also a sour component from tamarind juice and a quite noticeable flavor from the holy basil leaves. Just a delicious, fiery-hot soup.

Golden Pumpkin Coconut Soup (Kaeng Liang Kati Fak Tong)

Pumpkin Soup

Pumpkin Soup

I debated including this soup because it is really Kasma’s creation; I’ve never seen it anywhere else than in our own kitchen. This is a very rich soup: the base is 4 cups of coconut milk. One of the keys to the soup is making sure you have a very ripe squash/pumpkin; we prefer to use a ripe kabocha squash. Further flavor comes from ground shrimp, kapi shrimp paste and chopped jalapeño or Fresno peppers. At the end, fresh lemon basil is added for an added dimension. This is a very hearty soup: a little bit is quite satisfying. Kasma teaches this dish in the Weekend Series Advanced Set B-4.

If you’d like to try it yourself, Kasma’s posted her recipe for Golden Pumpkin Coconut Soup. Do use fresh lemon basil at the end, if you can: it adds a very tasty dimension (though Thai basil can be used if necessary).

Before you try the recipe, do read Kasma’s article Cooking “to Taste”


You might enjoy learning how to Cook Thai food from Kasma in a Thai cooking class.


Written by Michael Babcock, August 2014.

Southeast Asian Ideas With Pumpkin

Kasma Loha-unchit, Friday, October 15th, 2010

Winter squashes are used for various dishes is Southeast Asian Cooking.

With the autumn leaves rustling, orange and golden colors are appearing all around us. On tables at farmer’s markets, produce counters in supermarkets and seasonal pumpkin patches at corner lots, the colorful winter squashes are the smash of the season’s harvest. Seeing them all around stirs up delicious memories of the golden squashes I grew up with and the wonderful dishes in which they reveal their glory.

Golden Squash

Golden squash, Sukhothai

The squash I grew up knowing as “pumpkin” is a much different variety from the bright orange ones that are carved and decorated as jack-o’-lanterns for Halloween. Smaller, flatter and more disc-shaped, its mottled dark green peel turns to a dull greyish green, tinged with spots of yellow and light orange as it ripens. Inside, the flesh is a vibrant golden yellow, hence we call it “golden squash.”

(Click on an image to see a larger version.)

Luckily there are now so many different varieties of winter squashes to choose from in Bay Area produce markets. Relatives to the golden squashes of home are the kabocha and the kalabasa. Tasty and sweet, both these varieties revive recollections of my favorite flavors from childhood. Brought to us here by Japanese American farmers, the kabocha (meaning “little pumpkin”) is now widely available not only in Asian markets, but in supermarkets and neighborhood grocery stores as well. It is prized by Southeast Asian immigrants as can be seen by its availability in most of their markets, to the exclusion of other “pumpkins.” Kalabasa, on the other hand, is only beginning to become popular and its availability is still limited.

Kabocha Squash

Cut kabocha squash

I love kabocha. A fully ripe one has a delightful natural sweetness. Cooked, its smooth, creamy texture melts in the mouth, revealing a rich and nutty flavor. Without the stringiness and sponginess of common varieties of pumpkins, some of my friends tell me it makes an exquisite pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving.

Squash Carving

Carving a squash


Southeast Asians also carve their pumpkins, but in floral designs on the outside, while the cavity inside is used as a bowl to hold a sweet coconut-egg custard that is steamed until both pumpkin and custard are cooked through. This is sliced and served in small wedges, the golden flesh of the pumpkin surrounding the caramel-colored custard – a lovely and delicious dessert. (See Coconut Egg custard (Sangkaya).) Instead of pumpkin pie and pumpkin bread, we make bite-size pumpkin cakes with rice flour and shredded coconut steamed in small banana leaf cups, (See a picture of Steamed Pumpkin Cakes (Kanom Faktong).) and a sweet soup of pumpkin sticks in coconut milk. (See Sweet Soup of Kabocha in Coconut Milk (Gkaeng Buad Fak Tong).) As you may have guessed, coconut is a favorite companion for our pumpkins.

Custard

Custard in squash

Besides desserts and sweet treats, we use golden squashes in different stages of ripeness for a wide variety of dishes, including soups, salads, appetizers, pickles, vegetable courses and curries. Try the recipe for Golden Pumpkin Coconut Soup (Gkaeng Liang Fak Tong). It is simple and nutritious, but because it is very rich, in the tropical heat, we usually eat only a few mouthfuls of it along with rice, much as we would eat curry and other dishes at a meal. With the colder Northern Californian climate, however, the richness of this soup can be fully appreciated, giving warmth and comfort. Try this soup with some of the hearty sourdough bread for which the Bay Area is known.

Pumpkin Soup

Golden Pumpkin Soup

For a delicious pumpkin soup, use a ripe kabocha squash – one with peel that has turned a light greyish green, splashed with splotches of yellow and orange. But it shouldn’t be so old that it has dried out. Pick one with a good weight for its size. If the squash is under-ripe (i.e., still deep green in color), use a natural sweetener such as palm or coconut sugar to help bring its nutty flavor through the coconut milk. A green kabocha squash will ripen when stored in a well ventilated area for several weeks, or even a few months, so I always have one on hand. It is pretty to look at in the hanging basket in my kitchen. If you are not able to find kabocha, substitute with a good variety of winter squash that has a sweet and buttery flavor.


Here are links to recipes mentioned in this blog:


Written by Kasma Loha-unchit, October 2010