Now that Baton Rouge is growing (somewhat) cooler, I’ve been making soups more often as a way to embrace seasonal change.
Easy to throw together and requiring very little work, soups are a wonderful way to prepare family-size dinners (and workday lunches, when there are leftovers) any night of the week. Simply boil your ingredients and let the heat of a warm broth blend the flavors together for you.
Recently, a friend had been telling me about his favorite Tom Yum Soup from Baton Rouge’s Taste of Asia (now closed). In a desire to feed his nostalgia and my love of eastern cooking, I returned to one of Baton Rouge’s most extensive Asian grocery markets, Vinh Phat on Florida Boulevard, for necessary ingredients like shiitake mushrooms, bean sprouts and kaffir (lime) leaves.
At first, I wasn’t sure what made this soup so special besides the closing of a popular restaurant. Yet the Thai dish is really quite famous for a complex broth that translates well to people of all food backgrounds and cultures. Filled with a combination of curries, chilies, coconut and more, Tom Yum Soup derives its name from the Thai words, “Tom,” and “Yum,” meaning a “boiled spicy and sour soup.”
Americans often mistranslate this name thinking it means the common exclamation, “yum!” but not at all. But I can attest that this soup is quite yummy.
What I like best about this broth is the sophisticated way in which no one ingredient overpowers the others. Cooking in a cuisine that is, quite literally, foreign to you requires a quick and steady learning curve that knows when to cut, adapt and refrain from substitutions.
Because the base for Tom Yum Soup is primarily chicken broth, the helping of coconut milk doesn’t overpower with its sugar and cream and the other spices — whether curry, red chilies or other Asian sauces — blend harmoniously. It is this kind of fragrant balance one must learn when cooking outside one’s culture, and Tom Yum Soup offers a wonderful introduction to a more advanced blending of eastern spices.
And the soup is easy, too. Simply boil the ingredients in two separate infusions for an addictive complex dish that’s incredibly delicious in cool weather or not.
Helena Brigman is a food writer, photographer and cookbook author. She can be reached with daily recipes at http://clearlydeliciousfoodblog.com or via email at email@example.com.