Ohhhhhhhhh, how I love this!
Lush and slightly sweet from the coconut milk, fragrant with lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves, this soup is elegant comfort food at its best.
And – it’s really simple to make!
The original recipe, keng bouad mak fak kham, is made with pumpkin and includes cilantro. I’ve seen a couple of versions – the one we use calls for leaving the pumpkin (or butternut squash) in pieces, and in the other recipe the pumpkin is pureed.
Bill gave this recipe a try a few weeks ago, and since we didn’t have any fresh cilantro at the moment, he substituted lemon grass stalks and kaffir lime leaves to get a similar bright green flavor. The result was incredibly good and we pretty much devoured it before I could take a picture.
Last night I made it for our dinner, and I tinkered with the recipe a little bit more. We had a little fresh red chili pepper that was starting to shrivel and dry, so I used that, and we had some shrimp in the freezer so I threw that in as well.
Bill and I ate a late dinner, after the kids had gone to bed, and we really, really have to remember to double this the next time we make it. It’s that good.
Anyway, here’s what I did, and the recipe is at the end of the post.
First, I cut a large onion into quarters (skin still on), and dry roasted it on a cast iron skillet, turning the quarters over periodically until they were dark brown on the outside and softened.
While the onion pieces were roasting, I trimmed, peeled and cubed my butternut squash. I used the two smallest ones we had (these are from our garden last summer. We’ve got two more left.), and they weighed, together, a little over two pounds before I took my knife to them.
I ended up with roughly 5 cups of cubed squash.
And, while all this was going on, I was thawing two cups of chicken stock.
And I opened a can of coconut milk. The can was 13.5 ounces, if I remember correctly. I added a little water to bring it up to 2 cups.
Next, I peeled the dried outer leaves from a stalk of lemongrass,
…trimmed the ends, cut it into four pieces and bruised them by placing the broad side of a chef knife on each piece and whacking it – hard – with my fist.
Cooking can be cathartic!
Next, I tore a few kaffir lime leaves in half. We buy these at our local Asian market and keep them in the freezer.
And then I seeded and chopped a little red chili pepper. If you want a spicy soup, you can use a few more peppers. I just wanted to use up the pepper and add just a hint of heat.
Another important ingredient – fish sauce. You can find it in Asian markets, and in some grocery stores. It adds saltiness and flavor.
Finally, I peeled the cooled onion and sliced it into strips.
Time to put it all together!
I put the chicken stock, the coconut milk (and a little water), the squash, onion, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, chopped chili pepper, and a little salt in a pot.
I brought everything to a boil and then turned it down to a simmer and let it cook for about ten minutes.
While the soup simmered, I thawed and peeled the shrimp. I didn’t have much – maybe a quarter of a pound or a tiny bit more.
Here’s a look at the soup before it boiled. The frozen chicken stock hasn’t completely melted yet, either – it’s that brownish shiny thing over on the right.
It’s come to a boil, and now it’s simmering…
After ten minutes, the squash should be tender enough to pierce with the tip of a knife, but not so soft that it turns to mush.
At this point I added a couple of tablespoons of fish sauce, let it simmer a couple more minutes, and then added the shrimp. I stirred again, and within two minutes, the shrimp was cooked.
At this point I just shut off the heat and let the soup sit for an hour or so. I tasted it again, added a little more fish sauce, and warmed it all up again, and served, with a few lime wedges for garnish. (The soup didn’t need any lime, in our opinion, but you might feel differently.)
And then we dined.
Here’s my version:
Silky Coconut Butternut Shrimp Soup
1 large onion, quartered
2 lbs butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2-3/4” cubes
2 cups chicken stock
2 cups coconut milk
1 stalk lemon grass, trimmed, cut into 4 pieces, and bruised
3-4 kaffir lime leaves, torn
1-2 small red chili peppers, minced
1/2 tsp salt
2-4 tablespoons Thai fish sauce, to taste
1/4-1/2 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined
black pepper to taste
What to do:
In a heavy skillet, dry roast the quartered onion, turning periodically, until the sides blacken and the onion softens. Remove skin, slice lengthwise, and set aside.
Combine chicken stock, coconut milk, onion, squash, lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves, chili pepper, and salt in a large pot. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the squash is tender, about ten minutes.
Stir in the fish sauce to taste and cook for another couple of minutes. Add shrimp and simmer, stirring, until shrimp are just cooked – another minute or two.
You can serve now, with some ground black pepper and a squeeze of lime to taste, but if you let it sit for an hour or two, or even wait until the next day, the flavor will be even better.