Thai Bistro II’s hot and sour soup is easy to do as temperatures dip.
Thursday, October 2, 2008
I love a man who can cook. Too bad Nicky Sriprayul is already taken.
Sriprayul and his wife, Jill, have been running Thai Bistro II in Pacific Grove for more than 15 years so I settled on the next best thing: I asked Sriprayul to show me how to cook tom kha goong (hot and sour soup with shrimp and coconut milk), is a popular dish at their restaurant.
As broth and coconut milk bubbled in a pot on the stove, Nicky pointed out that the main ingredients in the soup– galangal and lemongrass– are great remedies for a cold. He tossed them in with some fragrant kaffir lime leaves. Then he added the remaining ingredients in quick succession: mint leaves, mushrooms, red onions, tomatoes (an American-influenced addition), and prepared some chili sauce.
The shrimp followed and, in no time (see recipe to the right for exact specifications), the soup was done.
As Jill garnished the dish with cilantro, green onions and chilies, she noted that many of their customers don’t like their dishes too spicy. “But when we cook for Thai people, we add tons of fresh Thai chili.”
Perhaps it’s a difference in eating styles. In Western culture, soup is usually eaten as an appetizer, whereas Thais eat the soup together as a main event– with rice– which neutralizes the spice.
As with all home-cooked dishes, tom kha comes in many guises. You can substitute the shrimp with chicken or mixed seafood. “In Thailand, we chop up chicken wings and throw it in,” Nicky says. At Thai Bistro II, they use chicken breast meat. “Some (soups) are all white with lime juice and fish sauce. Everybody has their own way to do it.”
“Taste it and play with it,” Jill adds. “For more flavor, add more ingredients.” You can also change the proportion of coconut milk to broth. For a lighter soup, use more broth but try to resist using “light” coconut milk. “It doesn’t taste the same,” she emphasizes. Or omit the coconut milk entirely for tom yam.
Above all, use fresh ingredients. Essential ingredients like lemongrass, galangal and Thai chilies are available at farmers markets or Asian markets (the Sriprayuls source many of their ingredients from Filipino-Indian Supermarket in Seaside).
Nicky Sriprayul’s Tom Kha Goong (courtesy of Thai Bistro II) 159 Central Ave., Pacific Grove 372-8700
Time: 30 minutes Makes: 4 servings
3 tablespoons fish sauce
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 1/2 tablespoons sweet chili paste
1/4 teaspoon sugar
2 cups shrimp, chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
5 thin slices fresh galangal
2 stalks fresh lemongrass, using white parts only, chopped into 2-inch pieces
2 fresh kaffir lime leaves, crumpled
8 mint leaves, hand torn
1/2 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup sliced button mushrooms
1/2 cup straw mushrooms
1/3 cup red onions cut into thin slices
12 medium shrimp, peeled, deveined with tails intact
2 tablespoons chopped green onions
1/4 cup loosely packed cilantro sprigs
1 teaspoon finely chopped Thai red chilies (optional)
Mix the first four ingredients in a small bowl to form a chili sauce.
In a large pot, bring stock and coconut milk to boil over medium heat. Add galangal, lemongrass and lime leaves. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 4 to 5 minutes for spices to infuse broth.
Stir in chili sauce, mint leaves, tomatoes, mushrooms and red onions. Bring to boil and cook for 2 minutes.
Stir in shrimp and cook until pink, about 1 minute. Do not overcook!
Fish out herbs and ladle soup into a serving bowl. Garnish with green onions, cilantro and chilies, if desired.