There is a Thai restaurant near my house which serves the most delicious soup. When place a to-go order, it actually comes in three separate containers to make sure that you eat it properly, even at home.
On a night of both an imminent dinner party and particularly nasty weather, the steamy windows of Pho Basil inspired me to change my menu and create a tropical, yet soul-warming South Asian dinner. Visions of noodles with peanut sauce and Balinese fruit salad began filling my head.
Numerous Google searches (not the best starting point) did not at all yield what I was looking for. All of the Thai soups I came across during several different searches were heavily coconut milk-based. What I was craving was more of a clear liquid, brothy soup, punctuated with fresh vegetables. I had almost given up and settled on the coconut milk version when Epicurious came to the rescue with a seemingly perfect reconstruction of what I was looking for. Of course, it called for numerous exotic ingredients (past what I normally keep in the house, which is an impressive collection), so off I went to Whole Foods.
Maybe the crummy weather inspired others to turn to Thai food, but my local neighborhood Whole Foods was completely stripped not only of fresh lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves, but of rice noodles. I had to find someone who worked in the store to check, because I didn’t think it was possible that the four different types of rice noodles listed on the sales labels could all be out, but so it was.
Thanks to some heavy adaptations and the thankful occurrence these days of lemongrass in a jar by the same company who has found a way to bring kaffir lime leaves and galangal to refrigerators in the U.S., everything worked out in the end and was surprisingly delightful. And so I present a northeastern winter menu for sunny South Asian cuisine:
Set the table with the soup bowls and plates underneath for the noodles. Start with the soup, have the noodles as the second course, and the fruit salad for dessert with hibiscus tea as an after dinner drink.
- mins 1-3: Start water (or stock if you have it) boiling for the soup and set the lemongrass, shallots, and garlic to saute.
- mins 4-5: Chop the ginger and chillies, wedge the limes and peel the carrots for the soup.
- mins 6-10: Prepare the peanut sauce.
- min 11: Add the next set of ingredients and set the soup to simmer.
- mins 12-16: Chop the fruit for the fruit salad.
- mins 17-20: Prepare the sauce for the fruit salad, mix, and set aside to blend.
Right before serving:
- min 21-22: Set water to boil (covered) for the noodles. Strain soup into serving bowl.
- min 23-25: Add noodles to boiling water, and add peas, basil, carrots, and lime wedges to the soup.
- min 26: Serve the soup.
- min 27-28: Drain and rinse noodles and mix with peanut sauce.