Most days in Boulder are glorious now; sunny, almost too warm to wear socks and shoes, and gone is the chill that requires soup for dinner. So really, the only reason to whip up this favorite dish of ours is that I can ride my bike over the asian grocery store in sunglasses and flip-flops, pick up a basket of groceries for less than $20, and ride back home again inspired and feeling like my day is completely charmed.
It hasn’t been since we lived in Okinawa, Japan almost 7 years ago, that I had access to such a great Asian market. I wish I could say that we planned the purchase of the house this way, but that’s not at all true. None the less, it’s one of my favorite parts of living where we live. The moment I walk into the store, I feel like I’m back in Japan; I can’t read much on the cans or bottles or jars. The store smells like cilantro and rice, and I have to squeeze between the crates of baby mangoes, dragon fruits and limes to get to the soba noodles. Whenever I’m looking for something particular, I ask the woman who owns the shop for help and she quickly dismisses me, somewhat rudely, and tells me that it doesn’t exist, or that I don’t know what I’m talking about. “Crazy foreigner.” I love it.
Her husband makes his own xiao long bao, and Chinese pastries even though they’re from Vietnam. I keep hoping that they’ll start carrying my favorite green tea ice cream sandwiches that we used to only be able to get in a few vending machines around the island, but that probably won’t happen. Even still, I check the freezer each time I go to the store. And, every time I leave, I return home with the ingredients we need to make this great soup on a whim.
So, this lemongrass soup. I don’t actually remember the recipe of inspiration came from, but it was likely something that I looked up in a cookbook when we were living in Asia, and have tweaked tweaked tweaked to fit the way we shop and eat back here in the U.S. It’s fresh, fast, and gets us outside of the typical flavor boxes that get painted when weeks get crazy and I start grabbing whatever is in the refrigerator. I love this soup because it pulls from all of my favorite Southeast Asian flavors, and we just feel so clean and cultured eating it.
We make it two ways – one with noodles, and one with rice, depending on what I have on hand; the bright, flavorful broth is excellent with either. The most enjoyable part about this soup is that it’s warming in the winter, and cooling in the summer, and you can the feeling of the dish up with the vegetables you use to go with it. Typically, while the fresh lemongrass + ginger spices are simmering, I slice up fresh vegetables – whatever the shop owner has on hand at the market (Thai basil, bean sprouts, limes, cilantro, shredded carrots, daikon etc)- to toss in. Watermelon radishes (yay!) have popped up lately and they’re just delicious sliced thinly, along with a few thick slices of buttery avocado. I don’t even cook these veggies because I love the crunch they offer. In the deep winter, the selection is more sparse and so maybe we have only carrots, baby bok choy but still, the broth is fragrant and fresh enough to brighten the day. Then, I add some unsalted roasted peanuts, some sriracha, maybe a drizzle of Bragg’s Liquid Aminos and some sesame oil and VOILA! Dinner.
Enjoy this one – I hope it’s being used to fuel some bike adventures as the winter thaws, and for those of you who can’t quit winter yet, I hope it is thawing YOU! Hang tough, spring is coming (I promise!) and it’s glorious! – xo L
- 4 cups / 1 liter vegetable broth
- 2 stalks lemongrass
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled
- 2 inches / 5 cm fresh ginger, peeled
- 1/2 small chili, seeds removed
- 1 tbsp honey
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1 container of firm tofu, 2 breasts of chicken, or 1 pound of shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 1 can (400 ml) full fat coconut milk
- whole grain rice, or buckwheat soba noodles (4 servings)
- 2 limes, cut in wedges
- 1 handful each bean sprouts, cilantro sprigs, thai basil sprigs
- sliced avocado, shredded carrots, sliced watermelon radishes, sliced red peppers, shredded asian greens, sliced green onions as you like
- Prepare the vegetable broth in a large stockpot. Chop lemongrass, garlic, ginger and chili very finely and place in a mortar. Give them a few pounds with the pestle to release the juices (or use the back of a chef knife). Pour in the fresh spice mixture into the broth, add the honey and salt and let simmer, covered, for 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, prepare your vegetables for serving - chop, shred, and slice.
- When the broth is fragrant, strain the broth to remove the spices. Slice the tofu or chicken into 1 inch / 2 cm pieces and add to the broth. (You can add peeled + deveined shrimp whole.) Add coconut milk and let simmer for a few minutes on low heat to cook the meat completely. When the meat is cooked, turn the heat off the broth. Meanwhile, cook the noodles in a separate pot, according to the instructions on the package.
- Drain and divide the noodles equally into 4 serving bowls. Cover with broth and . Squeeze lime juice over each bowl and garnish with fresh vegetables, sprouts, lime and herbs. Eat immediately.