Do y'all have litmus tests for different restaurant cuisines? You know, the first thing you try at new places to see how they shape up to your other experiences within that culinary sphere? For me, it's Tacos de Lengua and Enchiladas Verdes at Mexican restaurants, Pho Tai and Tofu Bahn Mi at Vietnamese spots, Paneer Tikka Masala and Pav Bhaji at Indian restaurants, and at Thai places, it's always Tom Kha Soup, even before any curry.
For whatever reason, these are the dishes that help me establish trust in new establishments. Maybe it's my own internal dichotomy of loving to try new things while also being comforted by the familiar? In any event, if these dishes hit the mark, I'm far more likely to return and go nuts with the menu.
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After the glut of corn I got at the Farmer's Market last week, I wanted to make some kind of corn soup. I also found these awesome long, wrinkly, spicy peppers (I found out they're Mesillas!) at the market and definitely wanted those in the mix. And after making that Vegan Flourless Chocolate Truffle Cake on Friday, I had a cup of coconut cream leftover. A coconut based spicy soup? Why, that's halfway to Tom Kha! So I set about trying to create a dish that would satisfy my own lit-Thai-mus test while using some ingredients that are decidedly not part of any Tom Kha soup I've ever eaten.
Not long before I started, I saw an IG post from Two Peas and Their Pod about Coconut Corn and Sweet Potato Chowder. While it helped me to figure out some quantities, it was more Tex-Mex inspired and a little thicker than I was looking for this time around. That said, I'll definitely be going back to try it another time. It looked and sounded amazing. I'm always game for a rich, chunky chowder!
The thing about Tom Kha is that while it's served hot, it's also cooling and refreshing. It's a true food paradox, and one that I love. I knew that I needed some ginger for that underlying back-of-the-tongue heat, some Sambal Oelek for the more obvious chili heat, some fish sauce for the salty, umami funk I love, and lemongrass for the bright, floral perfume it lends.
The Pantry Superstar, #1
If you, like me, are interested in being able to pull those flavors out of your cabinets at any time despite not cooking with them all the time, I have some grocery recommendations for you. Being a grocery addict has its perks. I've learned some cool tricks along the way!
First off, ginger paste in a tube is one of my favorite things to keep in stock. It's already peeled and minced down to perfect consistency and ready to squeeze into whatever dish you have on hand. It gives a more pungent and authentic gingery bite than ground ginger, and is much easier to sautee with the aromatics than the powdery stuff. From my experience it lasts upwards of a month, which is key in these COVID times.
I couldn't find brands I like on Amazon, but I can tell you that both TJ's and Aldi carry them. Just look for ones that don't add any sugar/fructose/whatever to the bunch. At most, a natural preservative like ascorbic acid or lemon juice and a little oil for added squeezability is all you want added to it. If you can't find it in a squeezy tube, TJ's also carries a brand in the freezer section that is pretty awesome. Just know that it's slightly more expensive per oz.
The Pantry Superstar, #2
Secondly, I don't know about y'all, but lemongrass isn't something that our normal grocery stores regularly carry. When I lived in California, things were different. But here in the South, "lemongrass" means "specialty store." Don't get me wrong, I LOVE a good international market. I can easily spend an afternoon sauntering up and down the aisles looking at products and attempting to decipher what they are and how to use them. I've filled up many a shopping cart at K&S World Market and Patel Brothers Grocery stores here in Nashville, and had a delightful time using the fun stuff I found.
Since we're not in normal times right now, though, I'm limiting myself to the absolute minimum number of grocery trips/stores I'm willing to hit. And since I'm not fully comfortable going all-in on a singular type of cuisine for as long as a grocery shop is supposed to last me these days, I've had to figure out some hacks. You've witnessed me using essential oils to cook before, and y'all? Lemongrass is one of the best ones I've found yet. It packs all of the flavor punch of fresh lemongrass - citrusy, bright and herbaceous all at the same time - and takes up very little space in your cupboard to do it. And if that's not enough of a reason to keep it on hand, lemongrass essential oil has a host of health benefits associated with it as well.
The Pantry Superstar, #3
Finally, I know that what I'm about to write is kitchen sacrilege. Please forgive my transgression. But my refrigerator is never without a bottle of Nellie and Joe's Famous Key Lime Juice. I know, I know. Fresh citrus is best. I try my darndest to keep lemons and limes on hand all the time, I promise! But my fridge/freezer combo is a piddly 18 cubic feet. I go through the equivalent of probably 10 lemons and 10 limes every month. Since I'm only shopping every four weeks, that would eat up a full half of my veggie drawer capacity.
So, when grocery trips are few and far between and storage space isn't an option, this bottled Key Lime Juice has been a savior. (P.S. The link is ~4x as expensive as I can find it in store, so if possible, buy it locally.) Not only is it an acceptable substitute for fresh citrus when cooking, it's also great for key lime pie recipes. Judge me if you will, I can take it. But if you, like me, are short on space and like a good workaround, this brand will do you proud.
While a Corn and Sweet Potato Tom Kha is not something I had ever previously thought of, it was delicious. All of the flavors I'm used to in Thai Coconut Soup came through beautifully. It was: lightly sweet from the corn and the sweet potatoes; spicy as a result of the ginger, peppers and Sambal Oelek; bright and fresh from the lime and lemongrass; salty and umami from the fish sauce. I topped it off with some cilantro and sliced green onions for freshness. Even though it was far from traditional, it absolutely scratched our itch for Thai.
If you're looking for a hot soup that somehow cools you down in this summer heat, I totally recommend my Thai-Inspired Corn and Sweet Potato Tom Kha Soup. I can almost guarantee you'll love it! Until next time, friends. I hope you have a delicious week.
If you loved this recipe, be sure to rate and review it below!
Vegan Thai Inspired Corn and Sweet Potato Soup
- 2 Tbsp Coconut Oil
- 5 ears Fresh Corn on the Cob kernels removed, cobs reserved
- 1 Jalapeño minced, saving heads for broth
- 2 large Mesilla Peppers diced, or sub another 4 jalapeños or other hot peppers if you are unable to find them, saving heads for broth
- 3 small Sweet Potatoes peeled and diced small
- 2 small Yellow Onions diced small, saving peels for broth
- 5-10 cloves Garlic minced
- 2 Tbsp Fresh Ginger minced
- 5-7 C Water simmered with corn cobs, onion peels and pepper ends to make corn broth
- 1 C Coconut Cream
- 1 can Coconut Milk
- 2 Tbsp Sambal Oelek aka Chili Garlic Paste
- 1-2 tsp Fish Sauce sub Liquid Aminos or Coconut Aminos for Vegan
- 1 Tbsp Lime Juice
- 2 drops Lemongrass Essential Oil
- Cilantro Leaves for garnish
- Green Onion for garnish
- Sriracha for garnish
- Make broth by bringing corn cobs, pepper ends, and onion peels to simmer with water. Allow to simmer until ready to use.
- Sautee corn kernels with coconut oil, adding kosher salt to taste. When corn begins to soften, add onions, jalapeños, and peppers. Stir occasionally until peppers are softened and corn is beginning to turn golden. Add sweet potatoes, stirring to coat.Add garlic and ginger, stirring until fragrant.
- Add coconut cream and coconut milk. Strain corn broth, and use enough to give soup appropriate consistency for your taste. Simmer until sweet potatoes are fork tender.Season with Sambal Oelek, lime juice, fish sauce and lemongrass essential oil, adjusting flavors as necessary. Season with kosher salt to taste.
- Divide into bowls and top with garnishes of choice. Enjoy!