Coconut Curry Soup

When I feel under the weather, the #1 thing I want is the coconut tofu soup from our favorite local Thai place.  It is velvety and warms you up with just the right amount of back-of-the-throat heat, and I want it in a bad way.  Like a "sip it through straws on my beer helmet" kind of way. Point of interest, however: I have thus far lived my life sans beer helmet.

I've recreated the soup at home, but over time it's transformed into a whole other animal in our kitchen. Instead of a light broth, the changes yield a fairly hearty bowl that, according to my boys, earn it credit as a full meal.

Here we go...

Coconut Curry Soup with Chicken
4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1-2 tablespoons Chinese five spice powder
olive oil
kosher salt
4 tablespoons curry paste (I tend to use red more often than green for this)
fish sauce
1 bunch green onions, chopped
1 yellow onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, minced
1 pint mushrooms, sliced (I use the "baby bella" ones - I haven't gotten adventurous with mushrooms yet)
3 cans light coconut milk
6 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons brown sugar (optional - we like sweet heat)

Preheat oven to 425. Drop the chicken thighs into a ziplock bag, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle a generous pinch of kosher salt, and toss in the Chinese five spice powder. Zip up the bag and smush it around until the chicken is evenly coated. Place the thighs on a sheet pan covered with aluminum foil, and bake until they're golden brown around the edges. Cool, chop into bite-sized pieces, and set aside.  In a large pot, heat a few glugs of olive oil over medium heat. Toss in the green onions, yellow onion, ginger, garlic, and a pinch of kosher salt and cook until the onions are translucent, stirring occasionally. Add in the mushrooms and give them a minute to get tender, then add the curry paste and continue stirring. Add a splash of fish sauce and cook for another minute or so. If you're new to using fish sauce, don't worry - the funky smell of this stuff will cook off and leave some seriously deep flavor behind. Pour in the coconut milk and chicken stock, turn the heat to high, and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat back to medium. Let it simmer for about 10 minutes to reduce and thicken slightly and to bring all the flavors together. Test for seasoning, and add salt to taste if needed. Ladle into bowls, and serve.

Note: I have also stretched a pot of this into many more meals by spooning it over steamed rice.

Red Lentil Soup

When I was nineteen, I spent ten days in Egypt with a group of professors and grad students from my university.  I was the farthest from home I'd ever been.  I didn't really know anybody, and that first night in Cairo, I was both jetlagged and apprehensive when our guide slid a bowl of lentil soup to me from across the table.

"Eat this," he said. "It will help."

He was not wrong.  It was one of the simplest, best meals I've ever had.  Since then, this soup has always been one of my favorite comfort foods.  So because it's cold outside today in that always-winter-but-never-Christmas way that only January and February know how to do, I'm sharing a recipe that approximates the bowl of comfort offered to me that night.   

Red Lentil Soup
1 tablespoon olive oil
a few dashes crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground turmeric
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 cups chopped onion
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound red split lentils (soaked)
8 cups chicken stock
lemon wedges
fresh pita, naan, or similar

In a large pot heat the oil. Add the pepper flakes, cumin, and turmeric, and fry until the spices are fragrant.  Stir in onions and garlic, and season with salt and pepper. Sauté until the onions soften, then add the lentils, cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Add broth and bring to a boil then reduce heat to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 45 minutes or until lentils are broken down and soup's texture is nearly smooth. Taste for seasoning, then remove from heat and cool slightly before serving with a squeeze of lemon and fresh bread. 

Once Upon a Time We Celebrated the 4th with Mayan Pork

Since 4th of July weekend this year followed quickly on the heels of our trip to Atlanta for a tech conference, we kept our celebrations low-key. In this case, low-key meant a barefoot day of coffee and video games, lots of snuggles with Matt, and hassle-free barbecue.

For the last item on that list, I found myself craving puerco pibil. Because nothing says USA like a dish from the Yucatan, right?  So puerco pibil, also called cochinita pibil, is a slow-roasted pork dish that starts with a bath in lots of citrus juice, vinegar, and garlic, plus ground spices like annatto, cumin, cloves, allspice, and black pepper.  The result is tender, melty meat that pairs well with rice or tortillas, beans, pickled onions, and avocado.  It's very different from the smoky, sticky-sweet barbecue that I tend to prefer for these occasions, but I like the change of pace.

I'd like to say that I first encountered this recipe on a globe-trotting adventure southward.  Instead, I will admit that I discovered it as a special feature on my Once Upon a Time in Mexico DVD in 2004.  It quickly became one of many dishes that Erik, Beard, and I enjoyed cooking together before I graduated from college.

Here's the "10-Minute Cooking School" video that taught me how to get it done (FYI: Rodriguez drops a few f-bombs).

Incidentally, we tend not to keep alcohol at our house, so we skip paying for a bottle of tequila when we only need a splash.  If we're missing out as a result, this stuff is still delicious, so I'm cool with that.  Additionally, when I'm cooking for a crowd that includes little ones like Matt or just folks with varying degrees of heat tolerance, I leave out the habaneros and strategically place a bottle of sriracha so anyone who wants to can adjust the spice level of their own plate or bowl.

Happy July!