Tom Yum by Dindeen

Tom yum or tom yam is the name for a spicy clear soup typical in Laos and Thailand. It is characterized by its distinct hot and sour flavors, with fragrant herbs generously used in the broth. The basic broth is made of stock and fresh ingredients such as lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, lime juice, fish sauce and crushed chili peppers. (reworded from Wikipedia)

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This is my favorite dish! The ingredients are simple but creating the right flavor takes a bit of effort. I’ve cooked tom yum many times, with different main ingredients: tom yum gai (chicken), tom yum goong (prawns) but my absolute favorite is tom yum het (mushroom). I cook tom yum based on what is needed at the time: for my own consumption, I prefer very spicy tom yum- but if I am serving it to others, I hold back on the spiciness (my sister gets an upset stomach if the food is too spicy). While the ingredients are based on original (Thai) recipes, the  ingredients will be modified based on what I have tried before. I’m from the Philippines so there will be local terms for the ingredients.

Utensils for cooking the soup:

Cooking pot : This is a soup so obviously you’ll need a pot. The size will depend on how much you’ll be making.
Wooden ladle/spoon : Some metal ladles and spoons can leave an awful metallic taste in spicy soup. Don’t risk ruining your soup!

Soup ingredients:

 

 

 

 

Cilantro (kinchay) : This has a nice aroma and will offset the nose-twitching spicy smell of the soup. Use whole sprigs.

 

 

 

 

Chili pepper (siling labuyo), chili paste or chili powder: Chili paste is the best option since it is concentrated and you will need a very small amount. Chili powder is another good option; watch the amount- this will depend on the ‘heat’ of your powder (medium heat is easiest to use). If you use chili pepper, you’ll have to remove loose seeds otherwise it will end up lodged in the other ingredients.


 

 

 

Fish sauce (patis) : Use this instead of salt; a tablespoon will do, lessen it if you’re using shrimp/prawns. If you must use salt, at least use the fine ones.


 

 

Kaffir lime leaves : Optional. This can be found in Thai markets or grocery sections. Use one or two leaves to taste. You may compensate for the lack of leaves by adding more lemon grass.

 

 

 

 

Lime (dayap) or lemon juice : You may use commercial (not fresh-squeezed) lemon juice as long as it is not sweetened.


 

 

 

 

Lemon grass (tanglad) : This really looks like grass but it smells like lemons. One or half a stalk will be enough. Cut it up into small pieces.


 

 

 

Mushrooms : Use shiitaki mushrooms if possible because they are very tasty and aromatic, but button mushrooms will do just fine. It’ll refer to it as “soup mushrooms” to differentiate it from the main-ingredient mushrooms.

 

Main ingredients:

 

 

 

 

Chicken (manok) : Use slivers or chunks of chicken. Don’t use innards or very large parts such as a whole wing, leg, thigh or breast.


 

 

 

Shrimp (hipon) or prawns (sugpo) : Small shrimps will taste fine but prawns will taste better.


 

 

 

Mushrooms : Try shiitaki, button or oyster mushrooms. You may cut them up into small pieces.

 

How to cook:

1. Create the soup base. You can do this by boiling the main ingredients first. The chicken, shrimp or mushrooms must be very clean, then boil it in water that’s just enough to cover it up. Do not put salt in the water- the objective is to cook the ingredients just enough for its taste to come out so that we can use it as stock.
2. Remove the main ingredient from the soup base once it is half cooked. Place it in a clean bowl.
3. To the boiling stock (the water where you boiled the main ingredients), you may add the following soup ingredients: chili (paste, pepper or powder), fish sauce, lime leaves, lemon grass and lime juice. Stir the stock. You may add water that’s just enough to cover the main ingredients that you will add later. Keep in mind that the amount of ingredients that you may put in tom yum depends entirely on your preference as long as it is sour and spicy, not salty or bland.
4. Add the soup mushrooms into the soup. Stir the soup then turn the fire down to its lowest setting for two minutes.
5. Add the main ingredients into the soup. Let it simmer for up to ten minutes or until the chili’s aroma changes.

I’ve noticed that the smell of chili in a soup changes as it is cooked. Initially, it smells very spicy and smelling it makes me sneeze. When it begins to boil and is almost cooked, the smell becomes less spicy and more aromatic- and it doesn’t make me sneeze anymore.

6. Once the soup is cooked, turn the fire off then add the cilantro. The heat of the soup will cook it just enough while keeping the fresh green color.

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