Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Should have tried this years ago.

I have a pretty extensive recipe collection. I’m always hoping to get better at making things up, and I think I’ve come a long way. But the reality is that recipes are where I learn, and where I can flex my creativity within the confines of a formula I’m reasonably sure will work.

The collection is divided into “waiting to try” and “tried and true”, organized by season, bound with giant paper clips and snuggled into an indestructible mailing envelope that will never crumble or disintegrate amidst the slings and arrows of my outrageous cookbook drawer. When it comes time to trade out a fading season’s recipes for a season just dawning, I get ridiculously excited. With the start of March I got out my spring recipes, and it was nice to see them again.

But before I stashed the hearty winter recipes away, I tried one that has been sitting in my collection for 3 YEARS. Crazy. I found this recipe in January 2008 in Bon Appétit, and somehow have been sitting on it all this time. It’s a ridiculously amazing Thai chicken soup with curry, sweet potatoes, snow peas and coconut milk. The curry broth starts out with a gorgeous Asian mirepoix the fragrance of which will knock your socks off. The whole shebang is served over chewy rice noodles and topped with fresh chilies, red onion and lime.

I can’t believe it took me so long to get around to trying this sensational dish – I suppose the one deterrent is that there are 20 ingredients and most of them you won’t likely have on hand unless you have a pretty beefy Asian pantry (sambal oelek, fish sauce, curry paste, curry powder, coconut milk, lemongrass, etc). I think it always sounded like a pain to me. But sometimes those recipes turn out to be the very best.

Spicy Curry Noodle Soup With Chicken and Sweet Potato
adapted from Bon Appetit

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons chopped shallots
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tablespoons minced lemongrass (from bottom 4 inches of about 3 stalks, tough outer leaves discarded)
2 tablespoons minced peeled fresh ginger
2 tablespoons Thai curry paste (I used red because I couldn't find yellow, and would use it again)
2 tablespoons curry powder (I used yellow)
1 teaspoon hot chili paste (such as sambal oelek)
2 14-ounce cans unsweetened coconut milk
5 cups chicken broth
2 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 teaspoons sugar
3 cups snow peas, trimmed
2 cups 1/2-inch cubes peeled red-skinned sweet potato
1 pound dried rice stick noodles
3/4 pound chicken breast, thinly sliced (*using my special technique)
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
1/4 cup thinly sliced green onion
3 red Thai chilies thinly sliced (If you can't find these, red Fresno chilies work just fine)
1 lime, cut into wedges

Heat oil in a heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add next 4 ingredients, stir until fragrant, about 1 minute. Reduce heat to medium low. Stir in curry paste, curry powder and chili paste. Add 1/2 cup coconut milk, scooped from the thick liquid at the top of the can. Stir until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add remaining coconut milk, broth, fish sauce and sugar. Bring broth to a boil. Keep warm. (Or do 1 day ahead and refrigerate.)

Cook snow peas in a large boiling salted pot of water until bright green - about 20 seconds. Using a strainer remove peas from pot and rinse under cold water. Bring water in same pot back to boil, then add sweet potato and cook until tender, about 7 minutes. Remove using strainer and rinse under cold water to cool. Bring water in same pot back to boil and cook noodles until just tender but still firm to bite, about 6 minutes. Drain, rinse under cold water to cool. Let stand at room temperature. (Can be made 1 hour ahead if desired.)

Bring broth to a simmer. Add thinly sliced chicken, simmer until chicken is cooked through. (If you cut the chicken my way, this will take 1-2 minutes - thicker chicken strips will take up to 10). Add sweet potato and snow peas and stir to heat through, about 1 minute. Heat noodles if they're not already warm and divide among bowls. Divide hot soup among bowls. Scatter red onion, green onion and chilies over soup. Garnish with lime and serve.

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