Thai food combines all of my absolute favorite flavors: basil, kaffir lime, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, chilies, and coconut. Somehow this odd mix of bold flavors mixes together in a way that makes me salivate just thinking about them. After spending almost a month in Thailand I can confirm that everything from the high end restaurants to the street food is nothing short of amazing. I’m so in love with the food that I even took a cooking class while visiting the northern city of Chang Mai, but somehow I’ve never been able to recreate those flavors in my own kitchen.
As my disclaimer will tell you, I’m no chef. If a trained culinary professional saw the way I cut onions they’d have a heart attack (I just can’t curl my fingers, I’ve tried!). My personal recipe reservoir has evolved from a system of repeated trial and (lots of) error, and I never actually write down amounts or ingredients. A little of this, a little of that, and voila! Either it’s awesome or terrible, and if it’s the latter then we usually go out for Thai.
I’ve tried recreating Thai food at home, to no avail. My husband will tell you that my adventures in Pad Thai weren’t less than impressive. But after having a serious craving for lemongrass soup one rainy afternoon I did some research, hit up my local Asian market for ingredients, and set up my kitchen experiment.
A Word About Lemongrass & Galangal
Finding ginger and chilies shouldn’t be a problem at most grocery stores, but lemongrass and galangal especially may be a problem. This was my first time working with both ingredients and I followed this video to learn how to cut lemongrass for soups. I chopped the soft centers and added to the soup, but also used the harder shells to flavor the broth but removed them before eating. Hate wasting the leaves and stems of perfectly edible produce? Me too. Here’s what you can do with lemongrass leaves after you’ve use the root. Galangal a root vegetable in the ginger family, but its very distinct flavor is what differentiates Southeast Asian cooking from similar cooking styles. It should be peeled and either grated over soups or cut into larger pieces to flavor broth. Like the lemongrass, I removed the large galangal pieces before serving as they are very tough and nearly inedible (but they shouldn’t be skipped!).
A Word About Forbidden Rice
Forbidden rice. The name alone sounds mysterious and exotic. Black rice varietals have been growing in China for more than 10,000 years, but the rare rice was reserved exclusively for emperors and royalty. A recent study was done on the 21 types of black rice and researchers found that all forbidden rice is descended from a mutation in Japanese rice, which was thought to be cultivated into the forbidden rice we know and love today. Nowadays it has become a foodie fixture, replacing humdrum white or jasmine rice for an interesting twist on the starch staple. The dark color of forbidden rice comes from the antioxidant anthocyanin, which also gives eggplants and blueberries their dark hues.
A recipe that calls for ingredients you aren’t familiar with shouldn’t be skipped. Accept the challenge, learn something new, and incorporate these new culinary skills into future meals.
Thai Basil, Lemongrass & Forbidden Rice Soup
what you’ll need
- 3 tsp vegetable oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 lemongrass roots
- Soft centers minced and harder shells cut in 2 inch sections
- 3 1/2 inch peel and cut pieces galangal
- 1 tbsp grated ginger
- 2 red chilies, chopped (removed seeds to lessen spice)
- 6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
- 2 cups water
- 1-2 tbsp fish sauce
- 2 limes
- 1 cup Thai basil leaves
- Salt/pepper to taste
- 2-3 cup forbidden rice, cooked (1 cup dry)
- 2 chicken breasts (optional)
- 1/2 cup coconut milk (optional)
- Pinch sesame seeds (optional)
what you’ll do
- Heat oil in large soup pot or dutch oven on medium heat. Add onion, garlic, lemongrass roots and shells, galangal, ginger, and chilies. Cook 3-5 minutes, or until onion starts to soften.
- Add stock, water, fish sauce, juice of two limes, basil, and coconut milk (optional). Bring to boil for a few minutes to release flavors, then reduce heat to simmer for 30 minutes.
- Optional: Add chicken breasts, cooking on medium heat for 15-20 minutes, or until cooked through. Remove cooked chicken, allow to cool, then shred with fork and return to soup.
- Remove galangal and hard lemongrass shells. Add salt, pepper, fish sauce, chilies, or more lime juice if needed.
- Add precooked forbidden rice prior to serving. Rice will release color and blacken soup if added before cooking.
- Top with sesame seeds (optional) and enjoy!
Are you a thai food connoisseur?
Share your tips, advice, and recipes below!