Monday, October 14, 2013

Those lucky bastards

Welcome to Columbus Day, friends. One of my favorite days of the year. A day I've been counting down to since Labor Day, with anticipation just short of creating a paper chain. No, it's not that I love history or Christopher Columbus.

It's because I don't have to work! And everyone else does!

There are few joys in my world simpler and greater than not being at work when it seems like I should be. Two weeks ago, I had an 8 a.m. dentist appointment at an office near my apartment. Afterwards, I stopped at the nearby Whole Foods to grab a cup of coffee and extend my morning for a few extra minutes before driving into the office. As I pulled into the parking lot, I looked at the handful of people parking their cars and walking casually into the store.

Who are these lucky bastards? I thought. Who goes to Whole Foods at 9 a.m. on a Monday? Don't these people have to work?

Today, I am them. I am those lucky bastards.

On my agenda today:
1. Watch The Price Is Right
2. Buy myself a treat

Just those two things.

I'm also happy to take advantage of this gloriously empty, wonderfully gloomy morning to drink coffee in my pjs and tell you about this unbelievable soup I made over the weekend. This is it. This is the one. It is unbelievable.

We have a soup competition coming up at work. Last year, my team won first place with the original Butternut Squash Soup with Rosemary. Safe to say that was my proudest professional accomplishment to date. In planning for this year's competition, I've had coconut curry soup on the brain. We sold a really nice version of this at the coffee shop I worked at in Seattle - warmly spiced and creamy with coconut milk, with sliced veggies and lentils to round it out. My thought was that this soup would be unexpected and special enough to wow the tasters and stand out among the 10 versions of tortilla soup we'll see again this year. I did some poking around online to find a recipe that sounded similar the the version from the coffee shop - and signs pointed to this one, from chef Michael Smith. It sounded similar to what I was looking for, and the chef says right off the bat that it's the most requested recipe in his repertoire. I gave it a whirl on Saturday night.

I'll say it again: this soup is unbelievable. With layers and layers of flavor - the warm heat of curry, a slight tang of lemongrass and lime zest, the spicy punch of grated ginger, all held in a base of creamy coconut milk and spiked with a salty splash of fish sauce - it blows to shreds any idea I had of coconut curry soup. I ate two bowls, and couldn't keep my spoon out of the pot on the stove. And I can't stop thinking about the leftovers in the fridge.

Competitors, be warned: Team Soupremes is hangin' on to that golden ladle.

Coconut Curry Soup
Adapted from a recipe by Chef Michael Smith

Note: You could make this vegetarian by subbing in vegetable broth for the chicken broth, leaving out the chicken (cubed tofu or a handful of lentils would be a great substitute), and skipping the fish sauce - I would suspect you'd want to add a bit of soy sauce or extra salt in its place. Let me know if you try it.

2 14 ounce cans coconut milk
1 heaping tablespoon Thai red curry paste
half of the stems from one bunch of cilantro, rinsed well and finely chopped (leaves reserved)
2 cups chicken broth
2 carrots, sliced
4-5 small red potatoes, diced
4 oz or so of sliced cremini or white button mushrooms
2 stalks lemongrass, halved lengthwise
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 lime, zest and juice
1 small knob (about 1 inch or so) ginger, peeled and frozen
Shredded rotisserie chicken - 2-3 cups (I used the breast meat from one chicken)
Leaves from 1 bunch of cilantro

To serve: cooked brown rice, sliced green onion

Set a large saucepan over medium heat. Open one can of coconut milk, and scoop out the thick cream layer into the pot. [Note: the coconut milk I was working with hadn't separated into the two layers (thick coconut cream layer and thin coconut water layer) - so I just poured about half of the can into the pan and proceeded.] Add the curry paste to the pot and stir into the coconut cream. Continue stirring as it melts over the heat. When melted and combined, add the rest of the coconut milk (whatever is left of your first can, as well as the second can), plus the chopped cilantro stems, chicken broth, carrots, potatoes, mushrooms, lemongrass, fish sauce, lime zest and juice. Grate the frozen ginger into the pot using a microplane or fine grater. Simmer for 20-30 minutes, until the flavors have blended and the carrots, potatoes and mushrooms are tender.

Remove and discard lemongrass stalks, and stir in the shredded rotisserie chicken. Season with a good pinch of salt, to taste, and stir in most of the cilantro leaves. To serve, place a scoop of hot brown rice into a bowl, and ladle soup over. Garnish with a pinch of cilantro leaves and a few slices of green onions.

And try to pace yourself.

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