The Recipe

Cambodian Curry Soup

Some LAW

As Makara Meng, her mother, An I, and two friends, Saran Svay and Mom Hoeung, all from Cambodia, taught Lindsay Sterling in South Portland, Maine, July 2011

Serves 10
Cooking time: about 2 hours

Step 1: Make Curry Paste

10 4-6 inch long dried chili peppers (mildly spicey if at all; these are for the red color mostly)
10 shallots, peeled
2 heads garlic
5-10 fresh red birds-eye chili peppers or 2-3 habaneros
1 6-inch piece of galangal root
4 long stems fresh lemongrass
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 Tbsp cumin seeds
3 green cardomon pods or 1 tsp cardamon powder
20 fresh kaffir lime leaves
2 Tbsp salt
1/4 cup sugar

The night before or hours ahead, soak dried chili peppers in water to soften. Take off stems and put the soft flesh in food processor. Trim stems of fresh chilis and stick them in, too. Wash and cut lemongrass into 4-inch segments, then whack them hard with the side of a wide nife to unlock those delicious oils. Slice each crosswise into super-thin rounds before putting lemongrass into the blender or food processor. (I blew out my blender - it totally overheated like a car engine -- because the lemongrass, even cut up, was to much to handle. Makara's food processor could handle it, but if you want to avoid the risk, do what Saran does. Keep the lemongrass in long segments, and cook it in the soup in chunks like that. It's so tough, diners won't be able to eat it even if they try.) Likewise, help out your food processor by cutting the galangal into small chunks. I'd peel the skin off first, but I noticed Makara didn't bother! I love to toast spices for 30 seconds in a dry small saute pan to release the locked-up flavors. As soon as you smell them, they're done! Don't walk away for a second, though because they'll burn. Cut kaffir lime leaves into thick strips. Get all the ingredients in list, plus salt and sugar, into to food processor. Add a little water, maybe 1/2 cup to get the ingredients moving. You want to end up with a thick, red paste that's pretty smooth but not silky by any means.

This recipe makes enough for ten servings of soup. Use it all if you're cooking for ten, or divide up and freeze what you don't use. You'll thank yourself later! You can adjust the spiciness by adding more or less birds-eye chili peppers. A half a pepper per person is mild when cooked over time with the rest of the ingredients. I imagine a whole pepper per person would be hot.

Or instead of all that, just buy 2 cans Maesre brand red curry paste from Thailand. It's pretty good, but homemade is magical. My ten cooking class attendees did a taste test and agreed.

Step 2: Make Soup

2 cans coconut milk
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
4 stems lemongrass, cut into 4-inch segments (if it's not in your curry paste)
3 whole kaffir lime leaves
fresh curry paste (recipe above) (about 1 cup)
2 1/2 pounds boness chicken meat, cut into bite-sized chunks or 5 lb bone-in chicken pieces, trimmed of fat and skin
1 tsp chicken bouillon (she used "Flavor Broth Mix" Dragonfly brand; I like Better than Bouillon)

2 sweet potatoes or yams, cut into 1- to 2-inch chunks
1/2 lb green beans, ends trimmed
1 eggplant, peeled and slice into thick chunks
1 yellow onion, peeled and sliced into wedges
sugar to taste
salte to taste
Vermicelli rice or wheat noodles (that means super thin!) or baguette
4 whole kaffir lime leaves, cut into tiniest slivers possible (aka chiffonade)

Wash lemongrass stems, cut into 4-inch segments and whack with the side of a large chef knife to release the divinely fragrant oils locked up in those woody stems. Suate them in a large soup pot in a couple tablespoons oil with 3 whole kaffir lime leaves. Put a teapot of water on high.

Once the lemongrass and kaffir have cooked in the oil a couple minutes, add one can coconut milk, the chicken bouiloon, and the curry paste, and bring to a biol. Then add the chicken. Stir to coat chicken in the curry sauce and cook on medium high about twenty-five minutes until all the chicken meat is cooked through. (Wash all cutting boards, utensils and hands that touched raw chicken to prevent bacteria from contaminating these things.)

Bring about 6 quarts of water to a boil in a second large pot for coking the noodles. (If you're using baguettte to soak up the sauce, skip the noodles.) When chicken is cooked all the way through (you can cut a piece of chicken open to see if the center is opaque), add one more can coconut milk to the chicken curry and enough hot water from the tea kettle to cover all the chicken completely. Stir. Add vegetables to the soup - yam first because it takes longer to cook, and then after a couple minutes, the eggplant, onion wedges, and green beans.

After about five mintues, try the veggies. When they're all soft throughout, turn off heat. Taste sauce. Could it use more salt or sugar? Adjust as you like. Sprinkle more chiffonade (finest slivers) of kaffir lime on top for a last infusion of magic! Boil vermicelli size rice noodles for 3 miutes, slightly longer for wheat flour noodles. When noodles are soft, strain. Serve curry soup in large bowls with noodles.

Step 3: Pile on Fresh Garnishes

fresh mung bean sprouts
cucumber strips
mint leaves
cilantro leaves
birds-eye chilis, thinly sliced
banana flower
green papaya

The Cambodian women piled all of these garnishes on top of their bowls of curry. The raw, cool freshness balances the rich, spicy cooked soup. Amazing! To prepare the garnishes, cover mung bean sprounts in fresh water, strain and repeat at least once. Peel and cut cucumber into thin strips. Wash mint, pick leaves off stems. Same for cilantro. Remove stems from birds-eye chilis and slice into super-thin rounds. Slice banana flower across the flower bud and soak round slivers in water with lime juice in it (she said this is to keep the color?). Peel papaya and use a wavy-edged peeler or mandolin to make long, thin strips. Pile on any or all garnishes on each bowl of soup.

copyright Lindsay Sterling 2011