Friday, July 15, 2011

Tom Yum With a Kick

In grad school, I shared an apartment with a couple of strict vegetarians and cooking anything non vegetarian other than eggs was a strict no-no. At that time, I did not know how to cook anything other than eggs, so it suited me fine. However, as the months wore on I started feeling a little stifled by this rule and even started craving some chicken now and then. A few of my friends decided to help out by inviting me to dinner at their place whenever chicken was on the menu. One of these sympathetic blokes would do something rather peculiar.

Whenever I was invited to their house, I was told that X chicken would be on the menu, with X being malai, methi, saffron, saag (you get the idea). I would land up at their place with high hopes and come dinner time I would be presented with a bowl of yellowish chicken curry with no traces of X. After a few evenings of this, I had to confront my friend. The chicken curry, however generic it might have been always tasted good but the dashed hopes were getting bloody impossible to hide. His explanation went something like this. He had all the intentions of making X chicken, the recipe for which was faithfully downloaded and printed out. But when he reached home and started on the cooking, he would realise he did not have the key ingredient. So if it was methi chicken and he did not have methi, he would skip the methi part and keep going. Ditto with any other recipe. The end result of this rampant substitution was the generic chicken I had been eating. He did throw in something about how it was the thought that counts and not the recipe etc. etc.

The tom yum soup I made this week, was kind of like that X chicken. I searched the internets, compared a bunch of recipes all of which called for some combination of galangal, shallots, lime leaves and a few other ingredients. Since I did not have galangal and lime leaves I left them out. I spiced my home made chicken broth with lemon rind, lemon grass, ginger, garlic, onions and a healthy spoon of chilli garlic paste. I also did not have any shrimp at hand. So this turned out to be a button and enoki mushroom (which look like rice noodles) tom yum...if you can even call it that at this point. And finally since I thought it was still not coming together I gave the whole thing a nice dousing of coconut milk and fish sauce.

It tasted like a distant cousin of the original and looked like a positively ugly one. But this concoction did pack in a whole lot of flavor and one wallop of a kick. Note to self: dial down the chilli paste next time.

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