The Empowerment of Coconut Soup

by Brianne

For a new cook, any delicious spoonful created by your own hands brings with it a stunning epiphany: I have food power.

I never have to wait for that take-out place to open at 5 or the grocery store to be stocked in premade whatever or my good friend so-in-so to invite me over or the occasional trip to Texas/New Orleans/San Francisco/insert your favorite food city.

Any time I want this precise glorious taste, at 4 p.m. or 2 a.m., I can have it.

And the skies open and tea kettles sing.

I feel this same sweet emotion whenever I make something I never imagined I could, something that once tasted so exotic, I had no idea how to begin picking out the flavors.

Like Thai Coconut Soup.

On a chilly snow-slush day like today in Germany, I craved the creamy, warm, spiciness of coconut soup, filled with soft vegetables. A veritable vitamin-packed tropical escape.

Though, in all honestly, I don’t really know how Thai this concoction is. There are no kaffir lime leaves or galangal or lemongrass or ginger even. So let me work on the name. Hmm.

The basic gist is coconut milk, vegetables and spices. The right spices. Fish sauce is also key. If I had had ginger, I would have added it. Ditto on chicken or shrimp and most any vegetable – string beans, okra, zucchini all sound nice to me.

Coconut Soup with a Kick

Serves 4

  • 2 cans (around 13-15 ounces or 400 ml) of coconut milk (ideally at least 1 non-lite)
  • 2 cups of chicken broth, vegetable broth or water
  • 2 sweet peppers, sliced into strips
  • Handful of shiitake mushroom caps, cut into strips
  • 1 small eggplant, sliced thinly into rounds and then each round quartered
  • 1 box of firm tofu, cut into chunks
  • 3+ garlic cloves, minced
  • 2-3 tablespoons oil (peanut, canola or vegetable – not olive)
  • 3 tablespoons red curry paste
  • 1-2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes, more to taste
  • sprinkle of cayenne powder, more to taste
  • fresh cilantro, chopped, optional
  • rice (cook according to package instructions)

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium in a deep skillet or dutch oven. Add the minced garlic and red curry paste. Stir.

Add the eggplant, peppers and any other chopped vegetables you like. (White mushrooms would be good to add here – shiitakes are so delicate, they cook just by simmering later.)  Add the tofu. Let it all cook for a few minutes, enough so the vegetables get a head-start on cooking. Stir periodically. Add a little more oil if things start to stick.

Pour in the coconut milk and broth (or water). Stir to combine. Add the shiitake mushrooms. Let it come to a boil and then adjust the heat so it simmers.

Add the curry powder, turmeric, cayenne, red chili flakes and 1 tablespoon of fish sauce. (If you aren’t one for heat, omit the cayenne and only sprinkle a bit of the red chili flakes. You can always add more.) Let it simmer for a minute or two and then taste. Does it need more fish sauce? More heat? More curry? Add more spices and fish sauce until you hit the right spot for you. This is one of the most valuable parts of your own kitchen. Dinner is exactly to taste – your taste!

Let the soup simmer until all of the vegetables (the eggplant is usually the last to relax) are soft enough to your liking and ready to eat. It won’t hurt to keep the soup simmering a little longer while you set the table and wait for the rice to cook.

Serve with rice and topped with chopped cilantro, if you like.