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Thai-Dyed Seafood Soup

Whether the mercury is approaching 90 degrees and your goal is to get out of the kitchen fast, or it's a chilly autumn night and you crave some comfort food, this simple satisfying soup with its unmistakably Thai accent is at once filling and light and positively addictive. And what's more, despite its limited palette of ingredients and utterly unfussy preparation it boasts a beguiling complexity of flavors.

Cubes of rich moist salmon (added at the last moment) play against the almost austere, briny
sweetness of scallops. A small handful of fresh kaffir lime leaves provides just the right citrusy note (fresh lime peel is an adequate stand-in for the leaves, in a pinch). Used with a judicious hand, a dose of moderately hot jalapeno peppers turns up the heat a notch. If you're feeling a bit bold, a squeeze of Thai chile pasta (look for Sriracha brand) will turn the whole thing a flamingo hue and transform a subtle, relatively tame concoction into a bowl of red worthy of its name. This is soup in no Thai'mmm flat.

6 c. water
6 fresh kaffir lime leaves, each cut into halves
(or peel of 2 fresh limes, green part only)
1 2" piece gingerroot, peeled, cut into thin slices
1 bunch scallions, sliced into thin rounds
1/2 medium lemon, sliced into paper-thin rounds
2 medium jalapeno peppers, ribs and seeds removed, diced finely
1 lb. bay scallops
Salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
1/2 lb. fresh salmon filet, skin removed, cubed into 1/2" pieces

The garnish:

1/4 c. fresh basil leaves, sliced into long strips
Palm vinegar to taste (ordinary white distilled vinegar will do)
Optional heat enhancer -- red chile paste to taste

Bring the water, lime leaves, gingerroot, scallions, lemon slices, and jalapenos to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the scallops and simmer for 3 minutes more. Add salt and pepper to taste. Just before serving, add the salmon. Simmer for an additional minute just until the salmon loses its raw color. Do not overcook.

Ladle into heated wide shallow bowls. Garnish with basil. Serve with palm vinegar and chile paste as desired.

Serving Suggestions:

I like to serve this as a lead-in to Southwest by Southwest Sate, skewered boneless dark meat of chicken coated with a somewhat unorthodox but hauntingly memorable spice paste of roasted fennel seeds, cuminseed, and curry powder.

You Don't Have to Chiu This Chow

This dish is in some ways a translation of a translation with its roots in traditional Chinese cooking deeply buried. The Chiu Chow Chinese who can claim the original version of this dish are comprised of mainland Chinese who left their homeland and dispersed throughout all of Southeast Asia. In the l980's and early 90's many emigrated to American bringing with them hybridized styles of cooking influenced by the cuisine of their adopted country. In so doing, the best of Thai, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Laotian, Indonesian, and Malaysian flourishes and flavors have found their way into this Chinese-accented cooking. In restaurants, this kind of soup is variously served with an array of condiments to enable the diner to doctor the brew to taste at the last minute. Most commonly, an assortment of hot peppers (liquid hot sauces, dried pepper flakes, chiles in vinegar or in oil), ground white pepper, rice vinegar, soy sauce, and sugar are offered at the table.

In addition to offering these accompaniments, in my translation, I have prescribed a hefty pour of mellow homemade Tropical Vinegar to provide the right tartness to counterbalance the seeming richness of the dish. Wishing to keep fats in check, I use a mere three-quarters of a pound of lean beef to serve 4 and have substituted the coconut milk often found in the original version with cornstarch-thickened nonfat milk perfumed with coconut essence, with no sacrifice of flavor or body. Using a defatted Gingery Chicken Stock instead of one based on beef streamlines the fat profile even more. (Of course, you could indulge and use real canned unsweetened coconut milk, if you'd like).

1 t. peanut, safflower, or soybean oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced, about 2 c.
6 cloves garlic, finely minced, about 2 T.
2 T. Curry Blend, or your favorite curry powder
1 large carrot, peeled and sliced on the bias into thin rounds, about 1-1/2 c.
2 quarts Gingery Chicken Stock plus any needed to thin the soup
1/2 recipe Mock Coconut Milk or 16 oz. canned unsweetened coconut milk
1/2 lb. fresh or dried wide rice noodles (known as gwaytio in Thai)
3/4 lb. boneless rib eye beef, well trimmed of fat
and sliced paper thin, cut into 1" roughly square pieces
4 t. Tropical Vinegar, or fruit-infused vinegar
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
(keep in mind last minute additions of soy and hot pepper sauces at the table)

The garnishes:

1/2 c. cilantro leaves
1/2 c. green part of scallions, thinly sliced
Array of hot pepper sauces, chinkiang vinegar, soy sauce,
sugar, shallot and garlic slivers fried in oil until golden, as desired

In a medium saucepan, heat the oil and cook the onion until tender but not browned. Add the garlic and Curry Blend and cook, stirring, until the mixture is fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the carrots and cook, stirring over low heat, for 2 minutes more.

Add the stock and simmer for about 10-15 minutes until the onions almost disintegrate.

Blend Mock Coconut Milk(or real canned coconut milk) into the soup. Cook, about 2 minutes more, stirring constantly, until the mixture coats a spoon, and if using the Mock Coconut Milk, has no raw starchy taste. Add the noodles and cook gently just until tender (fresh rice noodles only require heating through; the dried noodles will require 7-10 minutes of cooking.) Thin the soup with more stock if needed.

Add the beef and cook just until it loses its bright red color. Add the vinegar, salt and pepper to taste, and serve immediately in wide deep bowls, garnished with the cilantro and scallions.

Serving Suggestions:

This constitutes a light but filling one-pot meal when followed by a Toss-Up of Red and Yellow Peppers with Crisp Water Chestnuts. Finish with some crisp sweet Asian pears or persimmons, whichever look best in the market.

Thai-talian Peppers
Serves 6 as a small starter or side dish

Geography notwithstanding, Thailand meets Italy in a quick marinade. The heat, sweet, and tang from the Thai flavor palette softened with a pair of Italian standbys, fruity olive oil and Balsamic vinegar, produce an unexpectedly harmonious marriage of flavors. Each bite of meaty charred pepper is finely nuanced. Clear as a bell, ginger, garlic and lime, in rapid fire succession, announce their presence against the bass notes of olive oil and vinegar. A few slivers of those thin, long Thai hot peppers are peppered throughout to make matters just that much more complex and addictive. Let the tasters beware.

2 large red or green bell peppers, halved with seeds and ribs removed

The marinade:

1/2 c. balsamic vinegar
2 t. fruity olive oil
Juice and zest of 2 limes
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 3 inch piece gingerroot, peeled and sliced into very thin slivers
1-2 Fresh Thai chile peppers, roasted, peeled, seeded and slivered
Pinch sugar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

The garnish:

Wedges of 2 limes

To make the marinade, in a small stainless steel or crockery bowl, whisk together the vinegar, oil, lime juice and zest. Add garlic, gingerroot, and chile peppers. Add sugar, salt and pepper to taste.

In a 350 degree oven, roast the peppers on a heavy baking sheet, for about 25 minutes, or until evenly browned. Peel and then slice into large blocks. Place in a stainless steel or crockery bowl. There should be about 2 c. Pour marinade over peppers, turn to coat and cover. Marinate at room temperature for one hour. Then refrigerate overnight before serving. When serving, allow to come to room temperature. Taste again, just before serving. Adjust sugar, salt and pepper if necessary. Garnish with wedges of lime, if desired.

Nutty Chiffonade of Crunchy Cabbage

Take some garden variety cabbage, accent it with a shred of its purple relative and the somewhat more delicate white Chinese napa, and top it off with some irresistible candied walnuts, and the transformation from lowly vegetable to sparkling side dish is complete. These sturdy cruciferous vegetables can stand up to the fast, high-heat wilting given them here and retain their character even under the glaze of a strongly lime-scented chilled vinegar dressing.

1 c. walnut halves
1 egg white, lightly beaten
Confectioners' (or powdered sugar) to coat the nuts heavily before candying
Coarse granulated sugar or crystal sugar to coat nuts after roasting
The chile dressing:
2 fresh jalapeno chiles, halved
2 Thai red chiles
1/4 c. rice vinegar
1/4 c. freshly squeezed lime juice
Zest from 1 lime, bruised to release its essential oils
1 T. honey
4 large cloves garlic, crushed and roughly chopped
1/2 t. salt
2 T. walnut oil or fruity olive oil

1 small head green cabbage, core removed, thinly shredded
1 c. red cabbage leaves, thinly shredded
1 c. Napa cabbage leaves, thinly shredded
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat the walnut halves in the egg white thoroughly, allowing any excess to drip off. Place the nuts on a lightly oiled heavy baking sheet. Dredge heavily with a coating of the sugar. Bake for approximately 15 minutes, or until the nuts look evenly browned and the sugar has all melted. With a metal spatula turn the nuts over halfway through the roasting process. Watch carefully during the last few minutes of roasting to avoid burning. Remove from the oven, release the nuts from the pan onto a plate of granulated sugar. Roll the nuts into the sugar to coat evenly and place on a cooling rack to dry. Set aside.

Make the chile dressing by combining chiles, vinegar, lime juice and zest, honey, garlic, and salt and allow to steep for 15 minutes before serving. Sieve out solids. Taste carefully for heat and salt. (If too hot, dilute with more lime juice, vinegar, or water, or a combination of the three. Adjust salt accordingly.) Blend in oil and set aside.

In a large heavy skillet, heat the oil and cook the cabbage in batches just until slightly wilted. Place in a decorative bowl. Pour the dressing over the cabbage, toss lightly, and garnish with the candied nuts. Top with a generous grinding of freshly ground black pepper.

Serving Suggestions:

Try this with the Chinese Village Baked Chicken for an assertively heartwarming meal on a wintry night. To cap things off, pursue a course of least resistance and serve store-bought almond cookies lifted beyond the ordinary with a Kumquat Dipping Sauce.

White Bean Potage with Sorrel Swirl

Here's a protein-rich bowl to nourish the body as well as the soul. Taking its cue from the Tuscans whose zuppa di fagioli starts many a meal, this vegetarian version plays the soft flavor of long-cooked Great Northern beans against the sharp tartness of fresh sorrel, with fruity olive oil creating a link between the two. To add some contrasting crunch, I like to top the soup with well-crisped croutes of caraway-studded pumpernickel.

1-1/2 lbs. dried Great Northern beans
4 quarts Root Stock, or vegetable stock plus additional for thinning the finished soup,
as needed
6 whole cloves
4 bay leaves
1 t. juniper berries
1 t. dried oregano
1/2 t. dried thyme
Fruity olive oil
1 large onion, roughly chopped
6 cloves garlic, crushed and finely minced
1 medium bulb celery root, peeled, roughly chopped
2 large carrots, peeled, roughly chopped (about 2 c.)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

4 c. pumpernickel croutons, about 3/4 inch square, made from
crustless fresh bread

The Sorrel Swirl:

1 bunch fresh sorrel leaves, well washed, stems removed, about 2 c. lightly packed
(lacking these, fresh watercress leaves would produce an equally tart puree,
with a somewhat different personality)
1 to 2 c. (approximately) cooking liquid from the beans

The garnish:

Fruity olive oil

Soak the beans at room temperature in water to cover overnight. Drain beans and reserve (discard the soaking liquid.)

Over low heat, simmer the beans in the stock with the cloves, bay leaves, juniper berries, oregano and thyme until tender, about 1-1/2 hours. Add water, as needed, to keep the beans floating freely as they cook. Remove and discard the bay leaves. Remove 2 c. of the cooking liquid and reserve.

In a large heavy skillet, over medium heat saute the onion, garlic, celery roots and carrots in enough olive oil to lightly coat the bottom of the pan. Stir frequently and continue cooking until the vegetables are tender but not browned. Add the cooked vegetables to the beans and simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Puree in a blender or food processor until smooth, thinning with additional stock as necessary to coat a spoon lightly. Add salt and pepper to taste. Keep the soup warm while the croutons are being made.

Place the croutons on a baking sheet lightly coated with olive oil. Toast in a preheated 350 degree oven until crisp, about 10 minutes. Set aside.

Make the Sorrel Swirl by combining the sorrel leaves with enough of the reserved cooking liquid as necessary to make an easily pourable mixture.

Divide the soup among 8 shallow, wide heated serving bowls and spoon a circle of the sorrel
mixture over the soup. Scatter some of the croutons one each serving. Serve with a cruet of olive oil.

Serving Suggestions:

This is filling enough to become the centerpiece of a meal. Follow it with a salad of mixed greens with a Rainbow of Peppers on the side.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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