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Thai Shrimp and Lemongrass Soup

Thai Shrimp and Lemongrass Soup
Lemongrass, a long, fibrous, grayish green grass with a paler bulblike base and a mild lemon fragrance, is a staple herb of Southeast Asia, where it is used to flavor soups, curry pastes and other preparations. To use it, peel away any dry leaves from the base and trim off the grassy top section. To maximize the citrus flavor, crush the base and stem with the flat side of a chef's knife or cleaver before slicing or using. If using lemongrass in large pieces, remove it before serving the dish.

Ingredients:

  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 2 green serrano chilies, seeded and chopped
  • 3 Tbs. chopped fresh cilantro stems
  • 1 1/2 tsp. peppercorns, coarsely ground
  • 8 to 10 fresh shiitake mushrooms
  • 3 lemongrass stalks
  • 4 fresh galangal slices, each 1/4 inch thick
  • 2 Tbs. canola or peanut oil
  • 4 shallots, thinly sliced
  • 8 cups low-sodium chicken stock
  • 1 1⁄2 tsp. finely grated lime zest
  • 1/4 cup fish sauce
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • 1 Tbs. chopped palm sugar or brown sugar
  • 1 lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1/4 cup shredded fresh Thai basil
  • 1/4 cup shredded fresh cilantro

Directions:

In a mortar, combine the garlic, chilies, cilantro stems and pepper and grind together with a pestle until a thick paste forms, adding 1 Tbs. water if needed to facilitate grinding. Alternatively, combine all the ingredients in a mini food processor and process to a paste. Set the chili paste aside.

Remove and discard the stems from the mushrooms. Thinly slice the caps. Trim and crush the lemongrass stalks. Smash the galangal slices with the side of a chef's knife.

In a stockpot over high heat, warm the oil. Add the mushrooms and sauté until they begin to brown, about 2 minutes. Stir in the lemongrass, galangal slices and shallots and sauté until fragrant, about 2 minutes more.

Pour in the stock, add the lime zest and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium, stir in the chili paste and simmer for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the fish sauce, lime juice and palm sugar and stir to mix well. Simmer for 5 minutes to allow the flavors to develop.Just before serving, stir in the shrimp. As soon as they begin to turn color and are opaque, after about 3 minutes, remove the soup from the heat. Ladle the soup into individual bowls, garnish with the shredded basil and cilantro and serve immediately.
Serves 6.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Collection Series, Asian, by Farina Wong Kingsley (Simon & Schuster, 2003).