Right now, I’m sitting here with a streaming nose and stuffy head. It’s not swine flu, it’s hay fever. And there’s one sure-fire way to nip a stuffy head in the bud: tom yum. This hot, sour Thai soup is flavoured with some of the world’s most powerful aromatics, spiked with tongue-numbingly hot chillies and should be served hot enough to melt your spoon. Fantastic stuff.
You’ll need to make a trip to the Chinese supermarket for most of the ingredients here. To save yourself time when making soup later on, you can freeze any leftover kaffir lime leaves, chopped galangal and lemongrass in airtight containers.
To serve two, you’ll need:
1 litre homemade stock – pork or fish stock both work really well here
1 tablespoon tom yum soup paste (available at Chinese supermarkets and some Western ones too)
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 lemongrass stalks
5 kaffir lime leaves
2 inches galangal
2 small shallots
3 bird’s eye chillies
12 fresh shitake mushrooms
8 fresh prawns (with shells and heads if possible – as usual, none of my local shops had any with shells on, which elicited loud cursing from me)
1 handful beansprouts
1 handful coriander
Juice of two limes
Wallop the lemongrass stalks with the end of a rolling pin until they are ragged, slice the galangal into thin coins, and remove the central stalk from the lime leaves. Slice the shallots finely, chop the chillies, dice the tomato, chop the carrot into julienne strips and slice the mushrooms. And breathe. Once you’re done with the chopping, you’ll be pleased to hear that you’ve done most of the work.
Bring the stock to a simmer, and stir through the tom yum paste and fish sauce. Add the lemongrass, galangal, chillies and lime leaves, and simmer for five minutes. Drop the tomato, shallots, mushrooms and prawns into the bubbling stock and cook for another five minutes.
While the tom yum is cooking, squeeze the juice of one lime into each of two soup bowls. Divide the raw beansprouts between the two bowls. When the five minutes are up, ladle the soup, aromatics and all (some people like to remove the lime leaves, lemongrass and galangal from the dish, but they will continue to flavour the soup once it’s in the bowls) into the bowls. Garnish with generous amounts of coriander and serve immediately.