(Column 44 – Published December 13, 2016 in the Warroad Pioneer)
Living so far from civilization here at The Angle, I learned to get creative when craving particular flavors. Greek food, Thai, India, Ethiopian and Vietnamese had all been out of my cooking league when I lived in Seattle BECAUSE I lived in Seattle and had every kind of restaurant at my fingertips. But throw me into the middle of the middle and suddenly I’m brave enough to challenge myself to cooking with widely different spices and techniques.
So, hopefully without stepping on the experienced toes of Dororthy and her Cooks Corner recipes, I’d like to share a recipe or two or seven, as well my sure-to-come kitchen misadventures while making my way through the cuisines I crave living out in the woods far from it all.
The first is a tried and tested recipe I call “Minnesotan Tom Kah Gai” or coconut chicken soup. These are Thai flavors but the base recipe came from Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Solutions cookbook. I’ve changed it up quite a bit as most cooks do, making it my own and making due with what we have available in this rural area. I hope you’ll adventure out with me and try some new flavors. This one is great for this wintery time of year.
Minnesotan Tom Kha Gai
- 1 quart and 1 pint chicken bone broth
- 2 cans whole coconut milk – I don’t recommend the lite kind
- Juice of one lemon
- 1 tsp red chili paste—like like Sambal Oelek, found in the ethnic food aisle.
- 1 tsp lemongrass paste
- 1 Tablespoon grated or finely diced ginger
- 12 oz of canned chicken, or 1 cup de-boned diced chicken, or boiled chicken breast, shredded or chopped
- 2 cups of baby bella mushrooms, cut in half or quarters. Keep them fairly good-sized
- Several green onions, chopped
- 3 Tbsp fish sauce
- 2 Tbsp chopped cilantro
It’s so worth it to make a big vat of bone broth to have on hand, especially for soups like this. It is the key to the deep, rich flavor, in my opinion. Regular broth or stock will suffice but stay away from bouillon, in my opinion. Bring your broth to a boil, skim off any foam that rises to the top and turn the heat down to Medium. Add the canned coconut milk. Remember that coconut is a healthy saturated fat, so don’t feel guilty about it. Everything we were taught about fat in the 80’s and 90’s was wrong. The lite version of coconut milk isn’t as healthy even though it has less fat grams and calories – honest! See the book Nourishing Solutions for a much better explanation.
Add the lemon juice, chili paste, lemongrass paste and ginger, and stir. You can find tubes of lemongrass and ginger paste in the produce section refrigerators, which makes this one step easier. I’m sure you lose a smidge of the freshness factor, but hey, this is northern Minnesota. Flavor in a tube will do just fine for our stunted taste buds. The red chili paste is the heat, so please add it slowly if you’re not familiar with it or are nervous about spiciness. Turn the heat down to Low, add the chicken, mushrooms and green onions and simmer for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat, add the fish sauce and stir in the cilantro, or ladle out the soup and garnish with the cilantro. I love cilantro, so I add tons and throw it right in, even though it turns an ugly, dead brown color.
Speaking of dead and brown, don’t forget the fish sauce. It smells wicked on its own, but it’s critical to the end-result. A generous amount of sea salt will work in a pinch but fish sauce is by far the best option. You can find it in both Roseau’s and Warroad’s grocery stores.
This soup tastes surprisingly authentic and the few items you may need to buy are used in most other Asian dishes, so you’ll have the start of a decent Asian pantry. I’ve never been able to find galangal or kefir limes, which are in the authentic Thai recipes. Ginger and lemon juice do just fine for my Midwest palate.
I swear by it to help fight off a cold or sore throat, and it’s also a wonderful appetizer to serve before an Asian feast! The broth is the focus, hence the small amount of chicken. You could always add more chicken and mushrooms if it’s going to function as a full meal.
I haven’t served it to a soul who didn’t love it.
If you do try it, I’d love to hear how it went over with your family.
Next recipe column, I’ll share my bone broth process.