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Tom yum goong (sweet and sour soup, usually made with shrimp, galangal, and lemongrass) is a very popular Thai dish, but it’s not a dish that Chef Nuit Regular – credited with transforming the Toronto’s Thai food scene with bustling restaurants like Pai and Kiin – ate very often while growing up. Until she learned to cook it on her own, of course.
A key ingredient in the soup is nham prik pao (tom yum paste), a chili paste made from shallots and Thai garlic, but it wasn’t the easiest to find at Regular in the north of Thailand – and when they could find it, it was often too expensive to buy. So when a young Regular (she estimates to be around seven years old) stumbled upon a dough recipe in a book she had chosen by chance, she became determined to make it on her own.
She did it, with ease – and then she used it as the base for her first tom yum goong, with vegetables straight from her mother’s garden. “I remember it like it was yesterday, oh my god. I can still smell the shallots, ”Regular says. “It’s sour, spicy, sweet and salty. The dough itself makes a nice broth, especially when you add lime juice and fish sauce. And the soup is bright red because we use dried chili peppers to bring out a smoky flavor.
Today, Regular made tom yum goong his own (she even included his recipe in her cookbook, “Kiin: Recipes and Stories from Northern Thailand”, which came out last year). Her current version has more umami, thanks to the dried shrimp in the batter, which she says gives a very bold and ‘wow’ worthy flavor.
As for her mother’s reaction to Regular’s first attempt at soup? That memory, says the chief, has faded. Her happy sense of accomplishment, however, is a feeling she won’t soon forget.
Tom Yum Goong de Nuit Regular (Spicy and sour soup with shrimp and Tom Yum paste)
2 cups (500 ml) the water
2 lemongrass stems, lightly bruised and cut into 2-inch pieces
5 thin slices of galangal
9 unpeeled Thai garlic cloves (or 3 regular garlic cloves peeled), slightly bruised
3 medium shallots, halved and lightly mashed
5 fresh makrut lime leaves
1/3 cup (80 mL) tom yum paste (recipe follows)
ten fresh or thawed frozen medium shrimp (size 21-25), peeled, deveined and halved lengthwise
6 ounces (170 ml) oyster mushrooms, roots cut, torn in half lengthwise
5 cherry tomatoes, cut in half crosswise
1 tablespoon (15 ml) tamarind paste
1 tablespoon (15 ml) thai cane sugar
2 tablespoons (30 ml) thai fish sauce
2 tablespoons (30 ml) fresh lime juice
1/3 cup (80 mL) coarsely chopped fresh cilantro leaves and stems
2 green onions, cut into 2 inch pieces
1 fresh sawtooth cilantro stalk, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 to 3 fresh bird’s eye chillies, lightly bruised
In a medium saucepan over high heat, bring water to a boil. When the water boils, reduce the heat to medium and add the lemongrass, galangal, garlic, shallots and lime leaves. Boil for 5 minutes. Stir in the tom yum paste and boil for another 5 minutes. Without stirring, add the shrimp, oyster mushrooms and tomatoes. Increase heat to high and cook, without stirring, 2 to 3 minutes or until shrimp are pink and opaque. Be sure to wait until the shrimp have had time to cook before stirring.
Stir in the tamarind paste and cane sugar and cook for another minute. Stir in the fish sauce and lime juice. Remove from fire. Stir in the cilantro, green onions, sawtooth cilantro and peppers. Pour into bowls and serve. For 2.
Nham prik pao (tom yum paste)
1/4 cup (60 mL) large dried shrimp
1/4 cup + 1 C. (75 mL) sunflower oil, divided
3 to 5 large dried red peppers
3 tablespoons (45 ml) unpeeled Thai garlic cloves or peeled and thinly sliced plain garlic
3 tablespoons (45 ml) shallots, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon (15 ml) paprika
1 tablespoon (15 ml) tamarind paste
1 tablespoon (15 ml) coconut sugar
In a small food processor, combine the dried shrimp until they appear stringy, almost like dental floss. Put aside. In a small saucepan over medium heat, heat 1 tablespoon of sunflower oil. Add the chilies and cook until the chilies turn dark red and the skin begins to swell and appear smooth, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer the peppers to a stone mortar and pestle. (You can also use a small food processor.)
Return the pan to medium heat. Add the remaining 1/4 cup of sunflower oil and heat for 1 minute. Add the garlic and shallots and cook, stirring frequently, until cooked but not crisp, 2 to 3 minutes. The shallots will start to appear transparent. Remove from fire. Using a skimmer, transfer the garlic and shallots to the mortar with the peppers. Leave the oil in the pan.
Reduce the garlic and shallots to a fine paste. Add the paprika and mash to combine.
Return the pan to medium heat and let the sunflower oil heat for 1 minute. Remove the dough from the mortar, add to the oil and cook, stirring frequently, for about 2 minutes. Add the shrimp silk, tamarind paste and coconut sugar. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until the sugar is completely dissolved, 1 to 2 minutes. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Makes 1/3 cup (80 mL).
Recipes taken from “Kiin: Recipes and Stories from Northern ThailandBy Nuit Regular, reproduced in agreement with Penguin Canada, a division of Penguin Random House Canada. Copyright © 2020 by Nuit Régulière. Photography copyright © 2020 by Michael Graydon and Nikole Herriott. All rights reserved.