Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Thoughts that Run Around in My Head
What’s cooking? Thai Curry Soup with Broccoli, Spinach, and Cilantro

Even after last summer’s season ended in New Jersey, my hubby and I stayed north for a month to attend a couple of weddings. With the swimming pool closed and my granddaughter in pre-school, I had some slow days, and spent much of the time transitioning to a new laptop. The process encouraged me to put at least a modest effort toward cleaning out my email files, slashing and burning the ones that went back and forth to make lunch dates from three years ago, the obligatory deluge from Facebook and LinkedIn, or sale notices from Staples or the lighting company I bought a lamp from last year. I'm not sure what the retailers are thinking about: it seems like if you just bought a lamp or a printer cartridge, you’re probably not in the market for another just yet.

Among the curiosities I noticed was a series of emails from Microsoft between August 26 and December 15 of last year, no fewer than 12 of which were reminders that my Microsoft Office “trial” (which I put into quotes because I had already bought the package through amazon.com, where it was cheaper) was either “almost over” or “ending soon.” And at least four of those were “last chances.” So I wondered if they just think I didn’t notice, or if Microsoft is like the rug dealer in my town in New Jersey who was always going out of business.

So being a writer carries its own form of curse: you notice things that completely escape most people. Or at least I think they do. Having managed to eliminate more than 1000(!) priceless missives from my email files, I decided to get some air. The fall weather in Jersey City had hit one of those beautiful, crisp periods that practically push you outside, so I headed out for a walk around the neighborhood. Along the way, I found a number of cute, new restaurants in our area. One that looked particularly interesting offered outdoor seating, which is always fun in nice weather, so I went a bit closer to check out the menu. And right near the sidewalk tables was a large sign that read, “Please ask host to be seated.” I’m not sure anyone else got the unintended meaning, but I laughed all the way home.

On a slow day, I almost always feel like cooking, and on one of those days recently, I needed to come up with something to feed my book group. As a subscriber to regular emails from epicurious.com, I’d received a recipe for a puréed broccoli soup accented with Thai green curry paste and coconut milk. Mmm... the Kitchen Goddess was intrigued. As it happened, I actually had Thai green curry paste in my fridge – the remains of a jar I’d bought to make a perfectly wonderful hors d’oeuvre, Thai Meatballs and Green Curry Sauce, that I adapted from the CIA. I took it as a sign from the universe.

Kitchen Goddess note: Let me just say here that Thai green curry paste is one of those indestructible ingredients. If you buy the canned version, once you’re done, remove what’s left and store it – refrigerated – in either a zip-lock bag with the air squeezed out, or in a tightly lidded jar. According to the sources I found online, the stuff will last “a few months,” “about 5 years,” or simply “ages,” depending on who you ask. I know I’ve had mine for a couple of years, and as long as you don’t find any mold on it, it should be fine. Mine even retained all the original heat. So glad I never threw it out; and now that I have this delightful soup recipe, I may even have to buy more.

As with any recipe from epicurious.com, the Kitchen Goddess checked the reviews before diving in. The ratings were outstanding – 4 forks (top rating) from 48 reviewers, and ALL of them would make it again. But – again as with many of the offerings on epicurious – the ratings hid a number of recommendations to “fix” the original. So this version incorporates several of the more popular suggestions. The Goddess is not a lover of spicy heat, and while the first batch she made was delicious, the spiciness very nearly set her hair on fire, so she cut way back on the curry paste for the second batch. Feel free to add extra curry paste if you are a heat freak, but do so sparingly – remember, you can always add more. The KG also found the original soup to be a bit thin, so she added some cream.

This soup is not an entrée soup. Like many Asian foods, it might fill you up, but not for long. On the other hand, it makes a great lunch, and can easily work as a side dish for dinner. Also, it is chock-a-block with green veggies, simple to cook, and damn good either hot or cold. You can ask my book group, who devoured it.

One final note: The crispy shallots are a definite enhancement. The original recipe called for store-bought (canned!) crispy shallots or onions, but that is not the Kitchen Goddess way. The real thing is ridiculously easy to produce, but you must make your own decision on that. Instructions on making your own crispy shallots follow the recipe below.

Thai Curry Soup with Broccoli, Spinach, and Cilantro

Adapted from Donna Hay Magazine, October 2015

Serves 4-6.

2 tablespoons Thai green curry paste
1 can (13.5 ounces) lite coconut milk
3 cups chicken stock
½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound broccoli florets, chopped
2 cups baby spinach leaves
1 cup cilantro leaves
Juice of 1 lime (about 2 tablespoons)
½ cup heavy cream (can use light cream)

– Crispy shallots (see below)
– Cilantro leaves
– Shredded scallions

In a large saucepan over medium heat, stir the curry paste with a wooden spoon for about 1 minute, or until fragrant. Stir in the coconut milk, chicken broth, and salt and pepper until smooth and bring the mixture to a boil. Add the broccoli, cover and adjust the heat to a hard simmer. Simmer until the broccoli is tender, about 10 minutes.

When the broccoli is tender, remove the mixture from the heat and immediately stir in the spinach leaves, the cup of cilantro, and the lime juice. Continue stirring until the spinach wilts completely.

Using either an immersion blender or a standalone blender, blend the soup 2-3 minutes or until smooth. If serving hot, return the soup to the saucepan and add the cream. Heat on medium-low until the soup is hot.

Serve in small bowls or cups garnished with cilantro, scallions, and crispy shallots.

Crispy Shallots

4-5 shallots, peeled and sliced into thin rings
¼ cup vegetable oil (or canola oil or grapeseed oil)
Sea salt, finely ground

In a 10-inch frying pan, heat the oil at medium-high until it begins to shimmer. Add the shallots, reduce the heat to medium, and cook 5-10 minutes (I know that’s a big range, but it all depends on how brown you want the shallots to get), stirring occasionally to let the shallots brown evenly. When they reach a color you like, remove them from the oil with a slotted spoon and drain them on paper towels. Dust lightly with fine sea salt and store at room temperature in an air-tight plastic container. The crispy shallots will keep that way for several days.

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