Asian Hot and Sour Soup


Explore Your Asian Market

So many times people tell me that they are tired of take out and want to make their favorite Asian restaurant dish at home.  There’s always an excuse though: “it’s too complicated” or “those unusual ingredients intimidate me”.  Actually, it’s not complicated at all and hey, those unusual ingredients aren’t so unusual.

Today, we share a recipe for an Asian style hot and sour soup that will introduce you to a few ingredients easily found at your local Asian market.  This soup is pretty easy to make and we think it would be a good starter recipe for your adventure into Asian cooking.  After all, it’s those unfamiliar ingredients that are exactly what make this soup taste so deliciously authentic.  So, schedule a field trip and explore your local Asian market.  You can probably make it a one stop trip and get everything you need, not just the exotic aromatics.  We’ll even describe some items, tell you what flavors they’ll bring to your soup pot and help you locate them in the market.

Start in the produce section.  That’s where our market has fresh herbs of all kinds.  Pick up the kaffir lime leaves.  Inhale those little guys – wonderfully tangy and limey.  If there are no fresh ones, check out the frozen food section. You can also occasionally find dried ones in the bottled spice section.

Grab a bunch of fresh Thai basil or cilantro and snag some lemon grass stalks.  Thai basil is one of my favorites – tastes like Italian basil with a kiss of anise.

Galangal might be in the fresh produce section or in the freezer.  It’s a member of the ginger family, looks like ginger but is kind of pinky-yellow with dark reddish-brown rings.  It might be labeled “Thai ginger”.  Galangal will add kind of a spicy, peppery, gingery, slightly sweet/sour accent to the soup (think ginger mixed with pepper).  When you use it, you’ll find that it has a somewhat woody interior.

Now, go and explore the aisles for chunks of tamarind paste.  You want a pliable reddish-brown block that is usually wrapped in plastic.  (See photo.)  Tamarind lends a kind of fruity sweet and sour quality to the soup.  Just add the required amount to the soup and let it dissolve as you cook.  Store it in a cool, dry place wrapped in plastic.

Our market has an overwhelming section of chili pastes and that’s where I spent a chunk of time looking for the Namprik Pao.  (I’ve posted a photo of the brand that I found so you can ID it without too much trouble.)  Here’s a tip: make a list of foreign ingredients, or take a photo of the way they are spelled.  If you can’t find them, you can show store employees what you’re looking for.  They will get you to the real deal.

Back to the Namprik Pao:  this condiment will impart that sweet, sour, salty and chili hot depth so recognizable in Thai food.   Namprik Pao is a roasted chili paste made of dried shrimp, onion, garlic and dried chili.

Hey, why not throw some ready-made egg rolls into your cart?  You can just heat them up while the soup is burbling and you’ve got a hearty meal.  That cart is now just a part of the symphony of scents and flavors waiting to hit that soup pot.

Head home and start the stock.  As soon as you toss the shrimp shells, lime leaves, lemon grass, galangal, shallots and garlic into the pot, you’ll inhale the citrusy, pleasantly fishy-garlicky aroma that says this is gonna be awesome!  We’ve divided the recipe into the stock then the actual soup.  You can make the stock a day ahead and refrigerate it.

We think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the complex flavors you achieve with a few simple ingredients.  All it takes is a trip to your local Asian market.  You’ll be amazed at what you’ll find there.  Go explore and have fun!

Asian Hot and Sour Soup

Make  the Stock
16 large shrimp, shell on with heads
2 kaffir lime leaves
2 stalks lemon grass
1-inch piece galangal, peeled & thinly sliced
2 large shallots, thinly sliced
2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
8 cups chicken broth
18-ounce tin diced tomatoes, drained (both juice and tomatoes reserved)

  1. Remove heads and shells from shrimp, leaving tails on.  Reserve the heads, shells and shrimp meat.
  2. Cut off and discard the tops of the lemon grass, leaving about a 6-inch piece at the white bulbous end, then smash them.
  3. Heat the oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Toss in the shrimp heads and shells, lime leaves, lemon grass, galangal, shallots and garlic. Cook and occasionally stir until shallots are soft, about 10 minutes.
  4. Pour in the chicken broth and ¼ cup of the reserved tomato juice.
  5. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and simmer for 20 minutes.
  6.  Strain the stock into a large sauce pan. Press hard on the solids to extract all of the flavors.  Discard solids and return stock to the original soup pot.

You can continue to make the soup, or refrigerate the stock until ready to use.

Make the soup
2 kaffir lime leaves
2 Thai chili peppers, thinly sliced
1-inch piece galangal, peeled and thinly sliced
1-inch piece ginger, peeled & thinly sliced
2 large shallots, thinly sliced
2 stalks lemongrass
2 tablespoons tamarind paste
Reserved diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast, thinly sliced
2 large oyster mushroom, roughly chopped
5 shiitake mushrooms, roughly chopped
Reserved shrimp
6 fresh snow peas
6 cherry tomatoes, cut in half
2 tablespoons Namprik Pao
Juice of one lime
Handful of Thai basil or cilantro, thinly sliced

  1. Bring stock to a boil over high heat.
  2. Reduce heat to medium and stir in lime leaves, chilies, galangal, ginger, shallots, lemongrass, tamarind paste, diced tomatoes and fish sauce.
  3. Bring to a boil over high heat, then decrease heat to medium and toss in chicken. Simmer until chicken is almost done.
  4. Stir in mushrooms, shrimp, snow pea, cherry tomatoes, Namprik Pao and lime juice.
  5. Cook and stir until shrimp are cooked through.

Serve topped with Thai basil or cilantro.

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Posted in Asian cooking, Main Dishes, Soups | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

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