I have a secret ingredient… Well, it surely isn’t secret to someone because it is a marketed, purchasable ingredient buuuut it is one that I had not ever heard of until that fateful day when Nigella Lawson introduced it on her show, Nigella Bites. I remember first seeing the show years ago at my parents house on some cable channel that I didn’t have (they spring for the good cable, not the basic, bare plan that I have). She was absolutely fabulous! I fell instantly in love with the way she describes food. She was (and still is) a lusty, curvy wordsmith who cooks with an off-the-cuff abandon that makes it all seem so easy, so fun, so…sexy. The particular show where she introduced THE secret ingredient was one on virtuous foods that are naturally low in calories and fat. Her philosophy is, instead of using low-fat this and that, when you want to keep things on the light side, choose dishes that are healthy in and of themselves. When you want to splurge and eat cheese or bacon or cream, go for it and eat the real thing. Just don’t eat it every day. I’ll have to say that this is a philosophy that I can get behind.
On the virtuous food episode, Nigella makes a brothy Thai Hot and Sour soup with shrimp. Simple, flavorful, aromatic, light, and dead simple. I’ve made it numerous times and it is fabulous. The key ingredient is this…wait for it, wait for it…It may change your life:
This is Tom Yum Paste. You can get it in some grocery stores or at your local Asian market. To find an Asian market in your area, click here. Tom Yum paste is quite a time/ingredient saver. It has all of the seasoning ingredients that are in the Thai coconut soup that you love so much in a paste. Now normally, I’m a from scratch kind of girl but sometimes I don’t want to hunt down galangal root, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, shrimp paste, etc., bring it home, chop it up, and infuse a broth with it. Sometimes I just want my soup now! With this, all you need is some broth, a couple of scoops of Tom Yum Paste, a can of coconut milk, some mushrooms and whatever protein you like and in about 10 minutes, you have some Thai Hot and Sour. A whole pot full for around 5-10 bucks. Yes, please!
I decided to use my special little ingredient to take a classic and throw it in a different direction. This time of year in Alabama, we have an abundance of corn. Corn is sweet and delicious. It gets along swimmingly with lots of different cuisines. I think Corn would get along just fine with Tom Yum, oh yes indeed.
Thai Corn Chowderish
At the beginning of the recipe, I’ve chosen to infuse the broth with the corn cobs and some sliced ginger in addition to the Tom Yum Paste. I think it adds some nice flavor but the soup won’t fail if you are in a rush and want to skip this step. Just mix the paste and other ingredients directly into the broth and let it simmer until the potatoes are tender (see below). With the potatoes, you can leave the peel on or remove it–it is up to you.
4 ears of corn, shucked, kernels removed and cobs reserved
4 cups of chicken or vegetable stock
1, 1-inch piece of ginger, roughly sliced
3 heaping Tablespoons of Tom Yum paste
1 can of coconut milk (lite coconut milk works fine here)
1 pound of Yucon Gold potatoes (I used baby ones but regular sized ones are fine), diced into 1/2-inch pieces
2 Tablespoons of fish sauce (you can use soy sauce in a pinch)
1 Tablespoon of sugar, honey, agave nectar, or maple syrup
Juice of 1 lime
Garnishes: jalapenos, Thai basil, cilantro, green onion, Sriracha, lime wedges, etc.
Place reserved corn cobs, broth, Tom Yum Paste, and ginger into a stock pot or large sauce pan. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove corn cobs and chunks of ginger and discard. Add coconut milk, potatoes, corn, fish sauce, and sugar to the pot. Simmer for 30 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Scoop 3 cups of the soup into your blender or food processor and puree (be careful when you do this–make sure you lid is on tight). Add pureed soup back to the pot and stir. Add lime juice and season soup with salt and pepper. Garnish with toppings of your choice.