Saturday, February 2, 2013

Tell me a story...Zao's copycat Thai Curry Soup

Once upon a time there was a Zao's Noodle Bar. A lovely lady worked close to one in Palo Alto. Each day she would walk down to the joint with a growling tummy and be back with a huge bowl of Yellow Curry Soup full of flavors, vegetables and Noodles. She was so addicted, that she introduced it to her then boyfriend (now hubby), who got hooked on to it, despite vegetables (I had to crack this joke;)..Ahem.. Soon she no longer worked close to it, but the love for the Yellow Curry soup was very strong. Both morons would drive 20 min each way, at least twice a week for a take out, and it was the same freaking order each time..2 Yellow Curries! So much so, that the servers and staff would write the order down as soon as they heard 'This is Rao' over the phone.
That's a bowl of pure goodness!!
Soon they realized it wasn't a practical dinner option, so she decided to take the plunge and tried to make this at home. Alas, the soup did not taste well. Then Zao's closed down..their hearts ached..she tried again but failed terribly..then gave up...But one day..Let's just fast forward to 5 years, cos I don't intend to bore you with my terrible story telling anymore!

Story telling is an art I don't possess..My Dad, yes..Papa is the best story teller ever. Growing up, my sister and I have heard the best, most innovative and beautiful stories at bed time. He had a flair to produce these most beautiful characters with lovely personalities and strong values. These stories were not regular fairy tales..he created them from was his way to inculcate values and teach us some morals and life lessons. Today, my niece enjoys his wonderful stories at bed time and also tells me some with self-interpreted morals :). I am so thankful for those bed-time interactions. I have learnt to reflect on everything, try and learn from it and maybe better it next time. Thanks Papa!!!

The result, such gorgeous looking bowls of fulfilling soup!!! :D..The moral of the story, 'Try & try till you succeed (without breaking the my niece would say it!! ;).'
The color is vibrant and the gingery aroma so inviting.
The flavors are complex..begins a bit salty from the soy sauce, then a bit sour from the lime, spicy from all the chilli in there and ends sweet from the palm sugar/jaggery/brown sugar, just how I remember at Zao's. It's actually these 4 ingredients that when added in a balanced way, produces this flavorful soup. Be ready to taste and test as you go.

Look at the lovely colors of all the vegetables..who could possibly say no to that. These do look like a lot and there is a fair amount of chopping in this recipe. So, yeah if possible get some help. Vibes always helps, but I have done it all by myself and the whole meal from start to end took about 40 minutes, including chopping..not bad eh?

It's a very versatile recipe too. First, I use all the ingredients usually available at home. You don't have to run around to hunt for lemongrass or galangal or even palm sugar. Who needs another bag of sugar? (I have 4-5 different types..phewww) You can make it completely vegetarian or add your choice of meat to it.
This is a perfect recipe for people wanting Thai food without any meat interventions. I don't use fish sauce in the recipe. For the protein, I usually use Tofu..but don't think you have to be bound to eating it veg only. I have added shrimp and chicken instead of tofu and it tastes great. For the broth I use low sodium Veg or Chicken hard and fast rules.
This is a perfect one pot meal on a cold cold night. Definitely Growling Tummies APPROVED!!!!..actually it's also Growling Tummies Created..pat on the back ;)

Thai Red Curry Soup (Zao's copycat)
Recipe by Jyoti Choudhary © (I have tears rolling own recipe)
For the Broth
1 Bunch Green Onions, finely diced (dice both, the green and white portions)
1 1/2 tablespoons Fresh Ginger, finely minced
1 1/4th tablespoon Red Curry Paste (Available at Whole Foods. I have used many other, but the Thai Kitchen brand suited our tastes the best)
1 can unsweetened Coconut Milk (I use full-fat..Feel free to use the light version. I have tried it .,'s a nice lighter soup..but we love the full-fat version for this soup ;)
2 cups Water (Use the same can and add 1 1/2 can of water..Use less if using the light version of Coconut milk)
1/2 cup Low Sodium Broth (Chicken or Veggie, does not matter..but try to use Low Sodium)

The Bulk (Veggies/Meat/Noodles)
Feel free to make any substitutions here. Let the creative juices and personal tastes flow :)
6-7 Crimini Mushrooms, finely sliced
1-2 Baby Bok Choy, chopped
1 small Broccoli Head
6-7 Baby Carrots, chopped
1/2 Red/Orange/Green/Yellow Bell Pepper, sliced lengthwise
1 Zucchini, sliced
1 Yellow Squash, sliced
1 Cup Baby Spinach
1/4 cup Water Chestnuts (optional, if you can find them)
8-10 Basil Leaves, add whole or chiffonade
1 packet Light Firm Tofu, cubed (if making vegetarian)
2 Chicken Breasts or 1/4th pound Shrimp, cleaned and cut into bite-sized pieces (if making non-veg)
Just a handful of Noodles (Divide a regular Stir-fry Noodle packet into 5..I use Brown Rice Noodles from Whole Foods)
1-2 tablespoons finely chopped Cilantro (optional for garnishing)

For Flavoring
1/4-1/2 teaspoon Fresh Lime/Lemon juice
1/4-1/2 teaspoon low sodium Soy sauce
2 - 2 1/2 tablespoons Jaggery/Palm Sugar/Brown Sugar
1/8 th teaspoon Turmeric Powder (optional)
1/4 th teaspoon Chilli powder (optional)
1 teaspoon Chilli Sauce (I use Ching's..but Sriracha should work too..Also, adjust per your taste)

Bring a pot of water to boil for the noodles and cook it to al dente as per the instructions on the box. I do this half way through the soup. I like to dump freshly drained noodles directly into the soup, so they don't get cold and sticky. So feel free to do so, this is just a reminder if using noodles at all.

Drain the tofu (if using) cut up into cubes. Heat a wide pan on medium flame and spray very lightly with Pam. Gently place the tofu on the pan and allow it to crisp up on low-medium flame. I never salt the tofu, but you can if you like to. Keep an eye on the tofu though. If using chicken or shrimp, you could either bake or pan fry them similarly with some salt and spices. Keep aside.

Meanwhile, in a separate deep pot on medium flame, heat a tablespoon of oil (I use olive can use any other). Add the minced garlic and saute until aromatic. Add the chopped green onions and saute for an additional 2-3 minutes.

Add the Thai Red curry paste to this and saute until aromatic. Add 1/4th teaspoon chilli powder and an 8th of teaspoon of turmeric powder. Saute for a minute and now it's time to add a cup of your fav broth. To this add vegetables that would need some time to cook. I like to add the zucchini, bell peppers, chopped baby carrots and squash at this point.

Add the can of coconut milk and use the same can to add a can and a half of water. Add all chopped vegetables of your choice, except spinach. I add baby bokchoy, broccoli, mushrooms and few basil leaves if I have any. Lower the flame.

Time to flavor the soup and taste test it. Begin with 1/4th teaspoon of Lime/Lemon juice and equal amount of Soy sauce (Soy sauce and lime juice are in 1:1 proportions). Then add desired amount of chilli sauce like Sriracha or similar. I use Ching's easily found in India grocery stores, and add about a teaspoon of it, sometimes more.

Finally add 1 1/2 tablespoon of Palm Sugar/Brown Sugar or Jaggery. Jaggery is easily found in Indian grocery stores. A full cube corresponds to 2 tablespoons of sugar. I usually cut 3/4 of the cube and throw it in. Now mix well and taste it. Adjust the flavors as per your liking. In my experience, the best combination is 1/2 teaspoon each of Soy sauce and lime juice with 2 1/4 tablespoon of palm sugar for the recommended amounts of liquid.

Once you are happy with the taste, you can add your protein in there. Tofu, meat and noodles go in the end. Give it a good stir. Add baby spinach or some cilantro leaves if you like and give it final boil. Keep stirring or the coconut milk does tend to curdle a bit..and I don't like that ;). Serve hot. This is a whole one-pot feel free to take 2 servings :D

It is a very rewarding soup once you master it. I always have left overs for lunch the next day and I savor every sip of it :)..Happy Chopping ;)

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