What happens when I wing it

Magic happens. Last night was chicken. It was good. Tonight, more chicken (bulk package on sale!). I asked Jé as we were on our way home what we should do with it. “Korma?” he responded. It was tempting, and I was pretty sure that we had an extra carton of coconut milk at home. But I’d already planned to go test the new Indian restaurant near work with my colleagues tomorrow. Plus, korma needs to be accompanied by freshly baked cheese naans, and we certainly didn’t have the ingredients for those.

I had fantasized earlier in the day about a soup made of prawns poached in coconut milk (perhaps my next class at the Chef’s Workshop?), and of course had soup on my mind as the temperatures have dropped so drastically in the last few days. So, I did what I always do when I’m not sure what to make. I opened my Epicurious app, typed in the key words “chicken,” “coconut” and “soup.” The result was 15 different recipes, 10 of which were for a classic Thai chicken soup called Tom Kai Gai. It was perfect. It was neither Indian, nor korma, but with all of the basic spices and flavors that I love in those types of dishes. The only problem? I only had about half of the ingredients on the list. I looked at two or three recipes, mentally noted the staple ingredients, and went to work tearing through my cupboards to see what I could find.

The resulting soup was a-mazing. I largely prefer it to the korma that I’m used to making, it seemed ten times more flavorful, it was velvety and rich and filling. And I ate nothing but that soup. No rice, no cheese naan needed. It was just spicy enough, just creamy enough, the chicken was perfectly tender and melt-in-your-mouth delicious. The most incredible detail was that the coconut milk that I was sure I had, was nowhere to be found, already consumed in a dish weeks ago. I replaced it with a mixture of milk and chicken stock, and I think it may have been ever better than if I had used the original ingredient, which often overpowers the different spices in these kinds of dishes.

I boldly stated about halfway through my first bowl that I would be making this soup every week until the end of the winter. And I don’t even think I was exaggerating that much. This soup even made me feel silly about yesterday’s post, because who would ever make garlic sauteed chicken with bacon when they could make this mouth-watering Asian-inspired chicken soup? A little bit Thai, a little bit Indian, it is simply fabulous.

Asian-inspired coconut chicken soup

Chicken breasts, diced into bite-sized cubes (I used three, for two people and a little left-over soup)
2-3 T butter
1-2 small onions, finely chopped
1/2 C shredded coconut
1/4 C slivered almonds
3 T ginger (fresh or ground; I used ground, but I bet fresh would be way better)
2 T curry powder
1 T colombo spices (a mix of ground coriander, curcuma, cayenne pepper, cumin, fenugreek and ginger; if you don’t have this, just add something good and spicy, a little bit of any of the spices listed above, or a double dose of curry)
3 small dehydrated chiles, crushed
2 C milk
2 C bouillon or stock
2 T soy sauce
2 T cornstarch or flour, for thickening the soup if you like
1 can of soy sprouts (if you have them; mine had been lying in a corner of our cupboard for two long… If not, carrots would be a good addition)

Optional (for garnish):

2 T Crème fraîche or heavy cream
A very small pinch of cayenne pepper
A normal pinch of ground ginger

Melt the butter in a large pan over high heat. Add the onions, and cook them until they begin to brown, about 3-4 minutes. Add the coconut and almonds, along with a little butter if necessary (the coconut will absorb a lot of it, fast). Once this fragrant mixture is lightly colored, add your milk and stock. Next come the spices: all at once. Don’t forget the chiles! Add a bit of salt and pepper and the soy sauce. This is your flavor base, and your chicken will slowly but surely cook to perfection once added, absorbing all of these lovely flavors!

Now add the chicken. That’s pretty much it! Turn the heat down to low-medium and let the chicken do its thing. After about 25-30 minutes of cooking time, sift in the cornstarch if needed to thicken the soup slightly. Toss in your canned vegetables (or add them with the chicken if you’re using fresh), cook for another 3-5 minutes and you’re ready to eat! Garnish with a little spicy cream (by mixing the cream, cayenne and ginger) if you want to give the soup a little extra spice and creaminess.


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