Thai Me Up
Enough to Thai'd You Over
OK, I'll stop.
The inspiration for this week's blog was meeting new people. A few friends from my work and few friends from my roommate's work got together for some wine and some autumnal riffs on Thai cuisine. These are my awesome friends Justin and Kelly:
This was a particularly challenging episode because of the number of guests - I had to find a way to feed a lot of (6) people on not a lot of moolah. It dawned on me that soup would be the perfect way to fill everyone up, and as the leaves are turning here in Chicago, soup just seemed perfect. I had been thinking about a Thai-inspired soup for some time, so I got some coconut milk and went with it.
I have to preface this with a confession:
For this dinner, I got really stressed out! I may be fearless, but I'm still human. I worked later than I intended, and in my haste once I began cooking, I kept forgetting to take pictures (duh!). There are still plenty of pics to guide you through, and the preparation for these dishes is simple anyway. Thanks for hanging in there with me.
Ingredients for Soup:
2 fresh large chicken breasts
4 48-ounce cartons chicken stock
3 cans light coconut milk
2 red bell peppers
1 head broccoli
1 T. butter
1 T. olive oil
1/2 c. chopped leeks, white and light green parts only
Juice of 3 limes
1 T. minced ginger (from a jar)
A few pinches turmeric
A few pinches hot curry powder
Some salt and pepper
A handful chopped fresh cilantro
Ingredients for Salad:
A mix of chopped romaine lettuce, baby spinach, and spring mix
1 1/2 lbs. Shrimp
A few pinches hot curry powder
2 T. olive oil
Roasted, unsalted peanuts
Ingredients for Salad Dressing:
Juice of 5 limes
3/4 c. olive oil
3 T. chopped fresh cilantro
2-3 T. honey
pinch hot curry powder
NOTE: I was cooking for 6 people, so I made a lot of food. We only ate about half the soup, but most of the salad got eaten. But I definitely made too much soup. Not a problem since soup universally freezes well, but something to keep in mind.
Halve and thinly slice leeks. In a large soup pot, melt 1 T. butter. Sautee the leeks until they soften a bit, about 2-3 minutes. Add a couple pinches turmeric and a couple pinches hot curry powder. Add the ginger and sautee for another minute.
Pour all chicken broth and coconut milk into the pot. Crank up the heat to begin to bring it to a boil while you chop the rest of the ingredients. Slice the red peppers and then cut the slices into 1-inch pieces and add to pot. Rinse broccoli, and chop the fluffy green tops off, discarding the tough stems. Chop it into pretty small pieces, tearing it into smaller pieces if neccessary while adding it to pot. Throw it in the soup.
Cut the chicken breasts into small (bite-sized) pieces. Heat 1 T. olive oil in a skillet, and add chicken. Add salt and pepper. Sautee until chicken turns white, but do not overcook. When done, add it to the soup. Halve 3 limes, and squeeze the juice into the soup. At this point, taste the soup. If it needs more seasoning (i.e., more curry powder, salt, or pepper), add more until you think it tastes good. It's hard to overseason this much soup, so don't be scared. Curry powder is a mild seasoning, it won't ruin it.
Chop the romaine lettuce, and otherwise prepare the rest of the salad (which in my case means opening various bags). I just piled all the lettuce on a large serving platter (that my roommate got at Jewel for $1 - best dollar we ever spent), sort of tossing it around as I went. Sprinkle some carrots on top. Slice the cucumbers and tomatoes and put those on top too.
For the dressing, pour the olive oil into a medium mixing bowl. Halve the limes and squeeze the juice into the bowl. Chop the cilantro and add it in, then put in the honey, and add a pinch of curry powder. Whisk it all together.
In a skillet, heat about 1 T. olive oil in a skillet. Place the raw shrimp in the pan, and sprinkle them with salt, pepper, and a few pinches curry powder. Cook for about 2-3 minutes on one side, then flip them and cook them about 2 minutes on the other side (you don't really need to season this side, since they'll just soak up what fell off in the olive oil). I had to do two batches of shrimp since I had so many, so cook more if you need to. Place the shrimp on top of the salad. Drizzle the salad dressing over the top of everything.
Since I had a small crowd, I just set the salad out and let everyone serve themselves, while I put the soup in bowls. It seemed to work.
My judges for this dinner were my lovely guests Justin, Kelly, Sarah, Taylor, and Ross. Here's what they all had to say:
TAYLOR: I really liked the soup. It reminded me of Panang Chicken Curry, which I like. But it also wasn't too heavy, like Panang tends to be.
SARAH: Yeah, it was light. It seemed really healthy. I love Thai food, so I really liked it.
JUSTIN: I really liked the soup, but the chicken in the soup seemed like it could've used a little more seasoning. The shrimp in the salad were seasoned perfectly, though. But I think the salad could've used more dressing. Overall, I really liked it.
KELLY: Me too, BUT...I think it was too hot out for soup! This would be great if it were a little more like Fall outside.
ROSS [the next morning]: I think that soup gave me a stomachache.
Thanks so much to my guests for coming by on a Monday night! I had a great time, and I hope you really did enjoy yourselves. Great feedback!
TOTAL TIME TO MAKE: About an hour.
Level of difficulty: 1 out of 5. If you can open cans and chop vegetables, you can make this. But give yourself more time than I did. Stress adds nothing to the dish.
MY VOTE ON MY DISH:
I'd give it a 6 out of 10. I really liked the salad, but I agree with Justin that for the amount of salad, the dressing may have been sparse. Or rather, it just sunk to the bottom - next time I might toss the salad leaves in the dressing first. The soup didn't turn out exactly as I had envisioned. In order to achieve the consistency I was looking for, I would've had to drastically reduce the amount of chicken stock and increase the amount of coconut milk, although my guests seemed to appreciate that it wasn't too creamy or heavy. I think the best part was the shrimp - they were fresh, well-seasoned, and for once I didn't overcook them. Although next time I might remove the tails - I really like how shrimp look with the tails on, but in salad, it would just be easier to spear a bite without having to deal with getting the tail out of the way first. Overall, the dinner was certainly far from a disaster, but stressful enough to keep my culinary ego in check!
We drank some Yellow Tail Shiraz, and Justin even brought some Carmenere, found only in Chile! A special wine for sure. Although after 3 glasses, who can tell, right? Thanks for the wine, guys!
Kelly also brought over some awesome brownies - she replaced the oil with applesauce to make them lower fat, and they were great. We ate the entire pan.
A FEARLESS COOK LESSON LEARNED:
It's a lot easier to be "fearless" when your group is small - cooking for one or two people is no sweat. Six is another story. That's when planning comes in handy. You can still go recipe-free, but it definitely helps to at least have an idea what you're going to feed your friendly little army. I actually can't believe I pulled it off! Whew, another meal conquered.
I'll be back next week with another fearless kitchen expedition. Thanks for reading, everyone!