The quirky older man who lives in the bush and grows incredible finger limes.
The cute Thai / Filipino / Cambodian lady selling homegrown galangal, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, and home made chilli sambals that can blow your brains out.
The Caribbean dude who sells all the cool spices that no one else has heard the name of, let alone tried.
You should visit that person’s stall. And buy galangal, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, and fresh chillies. As soon as humanly possible.
Why? You ask. Oh sweet reader, because then you can make Tom Yum soup, which is possibly the most delicious symphony of sweet, sour, salty, spicy, and something-I-can’t-describe-in-words, imaginable.
A longing to be back in Thailand, my second home, and
An even more acute longing for Tom Yum soup.
All the hot people eat spicy food, literally. Think of every traditional cuisine from an equatorial region – be it Mexican, Thai, Southern Indian, Vietnamese, Caribbean. You name it, if you can picture palm trees, the food - it be spicy.
Physiologically this makes sense: eating spicy food makes you sweat – if it’s spicy enough. And sweat is one of the body’s neat little tricks for lowering your temperature, and relieving you from the sweltering reality of your torrid surrounds, in a delicious way. So eating spicy food makes you cool (are you enjoying my dietitian puns? No?!)
Spicy foods also increase metabolism. And research has (apparently) shown that the more adventurous a person’s taste buds are, and the more they like spicy, pungent, and otherwise exotic flavours, the more adventurous they tend to be in general (and in the sack, so I’ve heard). Maybe that’s just BS but I like the sound of it.
So here’s the recipe for Tom Yum – use whatever meat or meat alternative you like, but prawns (Tom Yum Goong) and chicken (Tom Yum Gai) are popular options.
Tom Yum Gai recipe
- 2 litres of water
- 4 stalks of lemongrass
- 1 inch chunk of galangal
- 10 kaffir lime leaves
- 5 – 10 chillies – birdseye, yellow, or whatever you can get your hands on
- 5 cloves of garlic, peeled
- 500g meat (e.g. prawns, chicken) or meat alternative, sliced and ready to use
- 300 grams of oyster mushrooms, chopped into quarters - I used a handful of dried shiitake as well for extra immune modulation
- 2 roma tomatoes, chopped into large chunks
- 2 onions, chopped into large chunks
- 2 teaspoons of sugar (yes, the real stuff. Use rapadura or brown sugar if you're scared of white sugar, or stevia if you're a "sugar is the devil" person - but it won't be the same.)
- 8 - 12 tablespoons of fish sauce, or 2 - 3 tablespoons of vegetable stock paste (depending on your taste)
- 4 - 8 tablespoons of lime juice (2 - 4 limes)
- Handful of coriander
- Put 2 litres of water in a pot to boil. Take your lemongrass stalks - tear off the outermost leaf and throw it out. Use a mallet or back of a knife to lightly pound the lemongrass to release the flavours. Then slice it diagonally into roughly 1-inch pieces.
- Take the chunk of galangal and chop it into thin slices.
- Coarsely tear the kaffir lime leaves to help release their flavour.
- I used about 6 spicy yellow chillies (thanks Naomi) for this recipe, but you can use as many as you’d like (depending on how sexy you are). Remove the stems, then you can either just slice them in two pieces, or give them a little pound on your cutting board. You can remove the seeds if you’d still like the chilli flavour but not as much heat.
- Throw the lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, garlic and chillies into the boiling water. Boil your soup with all the herbs in it for about 10 minutes.
- Add the meat or veg*n alternative and turn the heat down to low.
- Add chopped mushrooms, tomatoes and onions - you want them to be big and chunky.
- Add about 3 tablespoons of fish sauce (I used vegetable stock paste made by a friend – thanks again Naomi and your magical Thermomix), and 2 teaspoons of sugar. You may need more of each, but start with that.
- Boil the soup for another minute or so and then turn off the heat.
- Add 4 - 8 tablespoons of lime juice – I squeezed 2 limes straight into the pot, because I’m a lazy mofo and I don’t enjoy doing dishes.
- Make sure you taste test until your tom yum is perfectly sour and salty. You might need to add more fish sauce / salt, sugar, or lime juice.
- Finally chop up a handful of fresh coriander, throw it in the soup, and give it a final stir. Always add the lime juice and coriander at the end after the heat has been turned off, as they taste fresher and more vibrant when not boiled.
- Eat, sweat and be merry!