Friday, February 1, 2013

Soup Story--Khau Swe

Two years ago my sister and I went on a spring fling to Thailand. Both of us were very excited as we had never vacationed together. Just the two of us! She had never gone on a girls vacation before. As for me, a mini holiday with my girlfriends is as important to me as eating oatmeal for breakfast. It's a lifesaver! As we had seen and done Bangkok before,  Chiang Mai looked promising. Once there, ensconced at the beautiful Yaang Come Village hotel, we made our way through the tuktuk laden roads. The town was quaint, rustic, and charming. Buddhist temples sprouted along tiny lanes. Street vendors hawked banana roti, fish balls on a stick, and som tam, that ubiquitous papaya salad that Thais are known for. We bargained for china, bought enough scarves to make a whirling dervish envious, took a cooking class, walked through many bazaars with exotic fruit and vegetables, and ended our days with exquisite massages.  It was a sensory overload we reveled in. Our evenings were spent looking for authentic  Northern Thai cuisine, especially Khao Soi, or Khau Swe as we called it. 

Khao Soi is the Thai version of a coconut broth simmered with chicken or lamb, served with a slew of toppings . It's a dish that originated in the Golden Triangle that is Northwest Thailand and Northeast Burma or Myanmar as it's called today. The Burmese version is a thicker broth also presented with many toppings. Chiang Mai has restaurants devoted entirely to its preparation. We ventured into one not to be disappointed. Aprons instead of napkins! The chef brought out a veritable palate of flavors.

Khau Swe

Serves 4 hungry people

2 Medium yellow onions
4 Garlic cloves
1 teaspoon Ginger, grated
1 teaspoon Thai or Malaysian Shrimp paste (belachan)
1 tablespoon Water
2 tablespoons Canola oil
1 teaspoon Sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon Turmeric powder
1/2 teaspoon Chile powder
1 1/2 pounds Boneless, skinless Chicken Thighs
1 14 oz can Coconut Milk
1 cup Water
2 teaspoons Kosher Salt
1 packet Rice Noodles
1/2 cup Crisply fried Shallots
3 Eggs, boiled and chopped
2 tablespoons Chile Powder
2 tablespoons Coriander, chopped fine
2 Limes, quartered

Peel and chop the onions and garlic cloves into chunks. The size doesn't matter as they are to be ground.
Place the onions, garlic, ginger, shrimp paste, and water in a blender or food processor. Pulse well till you have a smooth paste.

Clean and chop the chicken into bite size pieces. Wash well and drain.
Heat canola and sesame oils in a deep saucepan.
Add the onion paste and sauté for 3 to 5 minutes to get the rawness out of the onions.

Add turmeric and chile powders. Stir to incorporate them into onion mix.
The chicken goes in next. Sauté the chicken for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring well to coat with spice mixture.
Add coconut milk and water. Stir well and bring the soup to a boil.
Lower the flame, let the soup come to a simmer.

Cover the saucepan and let the soup simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Fill a large pot with water and bring to boil on a high flame.
Add rice noodles to the boiling water. Turn off the heat and let noodles steep in water for 20 minutes. Drain well and keep aside.
Meanwhile, slice shallots into slivers. Fry in canola oil until crisp and drain on a paper towel. 
Assemble the soup with a large helping of rice noodles in a soup bowl. Top with ladlefuls of soup. The noodles should swim in coconut broth. Add pieces of chicken. Garnish with fried shallots, chopped egg, a sprinkling of chile powder, some coriander and a large squirt of lime juice.

 I prefer the Burmese version and my sister likes the Thai... everybody's happy.