On Saturday I helped to host a meeting, one of a series that has been going on for a while. They’re quarterly, and long, so we decided to include lunch. It was a fantastic decision. People love to be fed – especially real, homemade food. To easily accommodate a varying number of participants, we usually serve soup and salad: two crockpots of soup (one always vegetarian, usually vegan – the other usually some variant of chicken soup), a big bowl of salad, bread and butter, and a dessert or fruit.
When we ask for feedback at the end of the meeting, the first positive comment is invariably: “Lunch.”
I usually bring the vegan soup: Ghanaian Peanut Stew was a hit last winter. This time I made Thai Tomato Soup, and was gratified by the response. It’s a wonderful twist on a classic: exotic and spicy enough to intrigue even bored palates, but creamy and familiar enough to soothe.
The recipe came from the March 2005 issue of Cooking Light magazine. I made some minor changes, most notably doubling the coconut milk because it just didn’t seem creamy enough to me. It’s a very simple and quick recipe to make, only slightly more complicated than basic tomato soup. It scales up easily – a triple recipe filled my crockpot perfectly.
A note on the vegetarian element: The observant will note that fish sauce keeps this recipe from being vegan as written. A definite possibility is simply to leave it out, in which case you may need extra salt. You could also use a teaspoon of light (that’s color, not sodium level) soy sauce – regular dark soy sauce may muddy the color. I replaced the fish sauce with an ingredient little-known in the U.S. – umeboshi vinegar. A Japanese ingredient from the brine of salty pickled plums (umeboshi), it is salty like fish sauce and has some of its fermented flavor. It’s worth seeking out if you want to experiment with vegan Thai and Vietnamese food. Eden makes a brand available at some natural foods stores and at Amazon.com.
Thai Tomato Soup
Serves 6; 30 minutes to prepare, mostly hands-on
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 tablespoons peeled and minced fresh ginger
3 minced garlic cloves
28-oz can best-quality tomatoes with juice (I insist on Muir Glen)
1 cup water
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons Chinese chile-garlic paste, Thai red curry paste, or similar, to taste
2 teaspoons Thai fish sauce (see above for vegetarian alternatives)
2/3 cup light coconut milk
Juice of 1/2 lime
1/4 cup chopped cilantro, for serving
Thinly sliced jalapeno, optional, for serving
Heat oil in soup pot; add onion and saute until translucent, 4 or 5 minutes. Add ginger and garlic and cook for a minute. Pour in tomatoes and water; bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Blend to your preferred consistency (this is really easy with an immersion blender, unless you want it super smooth; if using a traditional blender, do so with care).
Return soup to the pot, if necessary. Stir in sugar, chile paste, fish sauce, coconut milk, and lime juice. Taste for balance of flavors and add more sugar, chile paste, fish sauce, or lime juice to adjust to your preference. Serve hot, topped with cilantro and/or sliced jalapenos (or pass the toppings at the table).
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