Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Not Once But Twice

I'm so excited because the market near me sells lemongrass.

Yes, it does look like a funny, long stalk of grass. It's kind of thin and dirty and if I didn't know better, I would have walked right by it. I would be wondering if it was meant to be part of some sort of flower arrangement decor, maybe set in a round bubble vase in a base of marbles.

It would be lovely like that, but such a waste. You'll understand when you cut and crush your first stalk of lemongrass. Trim the base and bulb, and slice the stalk in half. Then hold one of those halves up to your nose and inhale. (I insist on this with corn cobs too - it makes it worth the trouble.) You'll get a clean scent of lemon from what looks like a weed. It's like cracking open a piece of coal to discover a diamond, or finding out that the quiet guy has a clever wit.

Lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves are the two components of authentic Thai food that are difficult to find. The lime leaves have still eluded me, though like vanilla beans, they are easily available on the internet. But with lemongrass in hand, I made a Thai hot and sour soup not once but twice this week. Usually I hate eating the same thing every night but the soup was spiced up with habanero chili, tangy with lemongrass and lime zest and juice, and chock full of mushrooms and shrimp and tomatoes. It tasted as good as any hole-in-the-wall restaurant's hold up the bowl to your mouth and suck it down soup. It's a light soup, only 135 calories per serving, but you can always put more coconut milk in it if you miss the creaminess. The flavor is there either way. Cooking Light recommends it with some sauteed snow peas, but for a heartier accompaniment, I found that a Thai beef salad was perfect.

Thai Hot and Sour Soup (Cooking Light)
(4 2-cup servings)
  • 6 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
  • 4 kaffir lime leaves or three strips of lime zest
  • 1 (4-inch) lemongrass stalk, halved and crushed
  • 1/2 habanero chile pepper, minced
  • 1 cup thinly sliced shiitake mushrooms (about 2 ounces)
  • 1/2 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • 2 teaspoons fish sauce
  • 1 medium tomato, cut into wedges
  • 2 green onions, thinly sliced (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1 cup light coconut milk
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Combine chicken broth, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, and habanero in a large saucepan; bring to a boil. Cook 5 minutes. Add mushrooms and shrimp to pan; cook 3 minutes or until shrimp are done. Add juice, fish sauce, tomato, and onions to pan; cook 2 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in coconut milk and cilantro. Discard lemongrass stalk and lime leaves or zest strips.

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