When it’s cold out — as it is now in North Texas and most of the rest of the country — it’s hard to not think about curling up in front of a blazing fire with a good book. I personally like to spend these cold days trying out new recipes and preparing comfort food. The kitchen is almost as cozy as the fireplace!
So, when the temperature promised to dip into the teens yesterday, it seemed like a perfect time to experiment with some updated flavors for a “quick fix” satisfying soup. Readers will know that soups, stews and one-dish, simple meals are standard fare in this household. And, with no apologies, it is also true that ease of preparation and reasonable cooking times rate high marks in my recipe-grading system.
Thai Vegetable Soup
With the wonderful variety of enhanced stocks now available on supermarket shelves, there is very little reason to open a can of prepared soup. Here’s a formula for a delicious, easily put-together, full-of-unusual-flavor soup that will please kids and adults alike. Its spice adds an exotic aroma to the kitchen as it simmers and its color is rich and enticing. It’s packed full of beneficial veggies; and you can easily add protein in the form of chicken, turkey, sausage, small meatballs or fish and seafood. I chose baby shrimp.
The Thai-flavored vegetable stock serves as a distinctive base for the addition of a variety of fresh produce, and a last-minute addition of coconut milk adds some “body” and dulls the “spark” of the peppery-ginger-curry spice somewhat. Required veggies include a variation of the traditional Cajun “holy trinity” — onion, celery and bell pepper — sauteed in just a bit of olive oil. I left out the green pepper, but added diced carrots. Because the stock itself is so full of spice, you should add only a pinch of salt as you saute the chopped vegetable trio. None is really needed.
Additions can and should include any vegetables you have on hand — the more you add, the heartier the end product will be. But, this is meant to be a lighter soup — warm and satisfying, to be sure, but with a lighter “texture” than an Italian minestrone. For this version, we added bits of chopped red, orange and yellow peppers, slim asparagus pieces, a few small cauliflower florets, sliced mushrooms and hardy winter kale freshly harvested from the garden. If you’re feeling fancy, or want to spend additional time in a warm kitchen, julienne the veggies.
You can also be more traditionally Asian with your selections by using green onions, bean sprouts, pea pods and perhaps some bok choy, or add two or more varieties of mushrooms and some spinach. The key is to experiment and make the soup your own! If you’re a purist, here’s a made from scratch hot pot style soup.
Simmer time can be adjusted, but you don’t want to leave it on the stove top too long. The appeal of fresh vegetables is that you can taste the freshness, and even a bit of crunch is acceptable. Add your already cooked chicken, meatballs or shrimp just to heat them through.
Add the coconut milk, approximately 1/2 to 3/4 of a cup for one box of broth; and make sure your soup is hot before serving. Garnish with parsley or cilantro if you wish, or squeeze a bit of fresh lime juice over each serving. For an unusual touch, substitute a bit of half and half for the coconut milk, but go light on the lime juice and the cilantro if you do.
You won’t need bread with this soup; but some crunchy bread sticks might be welcome.
This is a good soup to make for cozy suppers in front of the TV, or for those evenings when family members all eat at different times. It’s also perfect to have available for “heat-a-mug-of-soup” lunches on these cold days.
If the cold stays around for a while, you can be sure that I will be “playing in the kitchen” with other varieties of stock — on my last trip to the supermarket, I noticed Hot-Sour, Tuscan Chicken and Mexican Tortilla.
Now, let’s see — what new ideas can we come up with for those?