I usually have a list of blog posts that I want to write, stacking up like airlines waiting to land. And, sometimes, I get to them as planned and sometimes I don’t. If life gets in the way, either the post I was thinking about will be pushed down the list by another, or nothing gets written at all.
This week, for example, I spent three days in bed and, though I had planned to try a few vegetarian recipes for a dinner with friends, both the cooking and the dinner were cancelled thanks to not being very vertical. I have had no appetite, and no interest in recipes. I knew I was feeling better when I started craving something other than glasses of water, when I started to think about what would make me feel well again.
What I wanted was a Thai soup, Tom Kha Kai, a lovely combination of coconut milk, chicken and spices which, with a few additional mushrooms and tomatoes, is full of warmth, goodness and enough flavour to beat the most virulent of stuffy noses. It is also very fast, which is helpful when standing up for more than ten or 15 minutes makes you feel a bit woozy. I used to make this a lot, but have got out of the habit; however, every time I am ill, it’s one of the first things I turn to. You will too, once you’ve tried it. Who needs Night Nurse?
Tom Kha Kai
Makes enough for 2-3
Note: I use chicken thighs on the bone for this (thighs, I was taught on my one-day Thai cooking course, are more traditional and have much better flavour). And, having spent years carefully trimming off the meat, putting it raw into the soup as taught then worrying if the meat was properly cooked through, I now cook it in two stages, poaching it first, which also creates a nice stocky broth for the soup, then adding it to the soup in small pieces to finish off. This, I find, makes it much easier.
Cupboard (or things you may already have)
a few black peppercorns
salt, to taste
chicken thighs, 4
lemon grass stalk
small bunch of coriander, roots too if possible (wash them thoroughly)
cherry tomatoes, a handful (about 6)
button mushrooms, a handful (again, about 6)
bird’s eye chillies, 6
coconut milk, 400ml tin
lime leaf (which means two, joined)
lemon juice, 1 tbsp (about half a lemon)
fish sauce, a dash
1. Put the bay leaf, peppercorns and chicken thighs into a saucepan, cover with cold water and bring to the boil. Lower the heat, then simmer for about 8 minutes (this will depend on the size of the thighs) or until almost done (so red, not fine, slightly pink, fine, completely white, overdone).
2. Whilst the chicken is cooking, trim and thinly slice the lemon grass, separate the coriander into roots (if using; it doesn’t matter if you don’t have any) and leaves and chop both, halve the tomatoes and quarter the mushrooms. Finally, smash the chillies with the blade of a knife but leave whole.
3. Once the chicken is about ready, remove it from the broth and, without burning yourself (I tend to hold it down with a fork whilst I work), discard the skin if necessary then chop the meat into small pieces. I do this with a knife at first, then kitchen scissors for fiddly bits.
4. Put the lemon grass, coriander roots, coconut milk and lime leaf into another saucepan. Put a sieve over the top then pour in a ladle or two of the chicken poaching broth (the sieve stops the bay and peppercorns getting in). Bring to the boil for a few minutes.
5. Add the chicken pieces, tomatoes and mushrooms to the soup and bring to the boil again. Leave it to cook at a high heat for a couple of minutes, until the chicken is done and the vegetables are softer (the time for this will depend on size). Note that the tomatoes will collapse quickly, the mushrooms may take a minute or two more, but they don’t need to be completely soft, just not raw and crunchy.
6. Finally, stir in the chillies and lemon juice, season with salt and fish sauce to taste and sprinkle over the coriander leaves.