Coconut Soup with Chicken, Lime, and Spring Vegetables

A few weeks ago, Diana, my talented assistant, arrived at work with a container of coconut soup with chicken and lime she had just made. Although it was early in the morning, the fragrant aroma of this ivory-hued potage studded with bits of green was so tempting that I took a quick sip. Light in texture yet vibrantly flavored with assertive Southeast Asian accents, it was irresistibly delicious! “Can you share the recipe?” I asked. “Nothing to it!” she replied, promising to email the directions for her new creation.

When the recipe arrived I could see that it was indeed a simple preparation. A base of coconut milk scented with lemon grass, ginger, fish sauce, fresh lime, and a hint of red pepper flakes was simmered for several minutes to infuse the flavors, then paper-thin sliced chicken and vegetables were added and cooked for a few minutes. Julienned basil complemented bowls of the warm broth beautifully.

You could serve this soup as an opener followed by roasted or grilled lamb, or offer it as a light entree for a spring lunch or supper along with a watercress and cucumber salad tossed in a citrus dressing. Thank you, Diana!

3 cups chicken stock
2 cans (13.5 ounces each) whole not light coconut milk
1/3 cup finely chopped lemon grass (See note.)
3 tablespoons Thai fish sauce
1 teaspoon grated lime zest
2 1/2 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast cut into very thin strips about 3 by1/2 inches
6 ounces white mushrooms, cleaned and sliced very thinly through the stems
Kosher salt
1/2 cup chopped green onions, including 2 inches of the green stems
4 ounces snow peas, trimmed and cut on the diagonal into 2 to 3 pieces
4 ounces fresh or frozen peas
1/3 cup julienned fresh basil

1. Combine chicken stock, coconut milk, lemon grass, fish sauce, lime zest and juice, ginger, and red pepper flakes in a large, heavy nonreactive saucepan. Stir well to combine and place over medium heat. When mixture comes to a simmer, add the chicken and mushrooms. Simmer until the chicken is cooked through and mushrooms are tender, for about 4 to 5 minutes. Season soup with 1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste. (Soup can be prepared 1 day ahead; cool, cover, and refrigerate. Reheat over medium heat.)

2. Add the green onions, snow peas, and peas and cook until vegetables are just tender and bright green, for about 3 to 4 minutes. Season with more salt if needed.

3. Ladle soup into 6 bowls and garnish each serving with some fresh basil. Serves 6.

Note: Lemon grass, long slightly woody, grayish-green stalks about the size of green onions, can be found in the produce section of many groceries and in Asian markets. Lemon grass, with its slightly sour-lemon taste, is an important ingredient in Thai and Vietnamese cooking. Store the stalks in a plastic bag for up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator. When using, remove and discard the tough outer layers, and then chop stalks finely.

© Copyright Betty Rosbottom 2012

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