It was a hot and muggy December day in Phuket, Thailand when our server brought us a bowl of tom yum soup. Hot soup was the last thing I wanted on a sweltering day, but he assured me it would cool me down. A few sips of the spicy hot broth and the endorphins kicked in, causing the perspiration to bead up just enough to for me to feel, dare I say, refreshed and indeed a bit invigorated. Since that day I have been making tom yum soup year-round. As much as it cools you in the summer, it warms you up and keeps you satiated in the winter. It's an easy soup to make and the variations are abundant. Try it with chunks of firm fish like cod or even salmon for a Pacific Northwestern version, tofu and vegetables make it a great vegetarian (or vegan if you use vegetable stock) meal, and shredded chicken breast is also delicious. If you can stand a lot of spice, go ahead and jack up the chiles for a good sweat!
Tom Yum: Thai Sweet and Sour Soup With Shrimp
2 fresh red chiles, seeded and coarsely chopped
1/3 cup rice vinegar
5 cups vegetable or chicken stock
2 lemongrass stalks (tender green parts only), halved
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon palm sugar or brown sugar
Juice of half a lime
1 pound shrimp (or about 5 per person)
15-ounce can straw mushrooms, drained
Cilantro for garnish
Fresh lime wedges for garnish
Mix the chiles and vinegar together in a nonmetallic bowl, cover, and let stand at room temperature for 1 hour.
Meanwhile, bring the stock to a boil in a medium size saucepan. Add the lemongrass, soy sauce, sugar, and lime juice. Reduce heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes. Add the chiles and vinegar along with the shrimp and mushrooms and continue to simmer on low for another 5-7 minutes or until shrimp are pink.
Divide soup among four bowls and garnish with fresh cilantro. Serve immediately.
Variations: Chicken or a firm white fish such as cod is also excellent in this soup. For a vegetarian version, use firm tofu and/or an assortment of vegetables like shredded bok choy or napa cabbage.