In general, I am a fan of cooking from scratch, though occasionally some of the recipes on here do use, and even benefit from, premade products or shortcuts. I try not to make it a habit when cooking, but every cook should have an arsenal of shortcuts at their disposal for those “last minute” meals, or when you just don’t feel like cooking and take out doesn’t sound appetizing.

Recently, my family has been eating a lot of this Chicken Coconut Soup that I’ve been making. It’s based on the Thai soup, Tom Ka Gai. I hesitate to call it authentic Tom Ka Gai, as I take a number of short cuts and add a few things of my own, although, like with so many “everyday” dishes, every family has their own version of this soup.

This is one of those rare soups that is perfect for year round serving. It’s light and fresh enough to serve in the heat of summer, but still rich and comforting enough to help chase away the winter blues. And the best part about it is, that from start to finish, you can be done in 20 minutes. Now, I am normally of the school of thought that a soup should cook for a considerable amount of time, anywhere from 1 to 4 hours, but not with this soup. It is done in 20 minutes, and in fact, suffers from prolonged cooking.

I have also found that this is a good way to introduce novices to the flavors of Southeast Asia. It has a number of exotic flavors in it but they are all relatively subtle and the whole concept is tempered by the fact that, at its very core, it is just chicken soup. Even my relatively picky 4 year old likes it, as long as we pick out the mushrooms.

The one thing that this soup contains that many people are afraid of is fish sauce. This condiment, found throughout Southeast Asia, smells horrendous, and if you don’t already know how it is made, you probably don’t want to know. But it lends a subtle richness and depth of flavor to foods and is used so sparingly that you would never know it is there until it isn’t. If that makes any sense. In many dishes it completely replaces salt or soy sauce and acts in the same way by enhancing the existing flavors while rounding them out and adding a certain indescribable quality to them.

Chicken Coconut Soup
serves 4-6

2 cans (approx. 14 oz. each) chicken broth
2 cans (approx. 13.5 oz. each) coconut milk (not Cream of Coconut which is a totally different product)
1 pound chicken breasts
8 oz. white mushrooms
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp. Green Curry Paste (I use Thai Kitchen brand which can now be found at most large grocery stores)
2 Tbsp. fish sauce
1 bunch green onions
2 each fresh Thai chiles or Serrano chiles
1/2 bunch cilantro

Thinly slice the mushrooms and place in a medium sized pot. Cut chicken into approximately 1/2 inch cubes and place in same pot. Add chicken broth and coconut milk. Bring to a simmer, but do not allow to boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Meanwhile wash your cutting board and finely slice the green onions and chilies, putting them each into separate bowls. Remove stems from the cilantro and roughly chop. Place in another bowl and set aside. After soup has simmered for 10 minutes add the curry paste, fish sauce and brown sugar. Simmer 5 minutes longer. Taste. If soup needs more salt either add more fish sauce or some soy sauce. Ladle into bowls and allow each person to garnish their own soup with the green onion, chiles and cilantro.

And there you have it. Soup, from start to finish in 20 minutes. Enjoy!!!!