After receiving a few complaints about the fact that my sweet tooth is coming through too much in my recipes (and how could it not, given that we've only just left behind the most indulgent weeks of the year and I am also now a Daring Baker), here's an altogether different recipe for you. Not that it is any less satisfying: indeed, it has become my very latest food addiction.
I used to be into soups in a major way, completely immersed in them during my student years, with hardly anything else in my kitchen,trying to make it through the harsh winters we get and of course, not a penny in sight in those times just after the war as we like to complain to our daughter (who seems to think that being a teenager and in love with the Jonas Brothers is the toughest job on earth). Ah, the hardships of student life!
This winter, I haven't been craving soups much and for no apparent reason. It's not for lack of being immersed in books with exams approaching at full speed, so maybe it's due to the fact that around here, winters don't actually get that cold anyway - true, the cold sort of creeps in on you with the weather always being so damp, but it's not like we're approaching zero on more than 3 days a season...
But I have recently re-discovered my love for Asian soups and it is a rekindled romance that I now indulge in with a passion without par, I have been having this soup at least once a week since the start of the year and I am far from growing tired of it. If I have made one resolution for 2008, albeit a rather loose one and nothing as commendable as losing a stone or running a marathon or putting an end to the crisis in the Middle East, it would be to slowly diminish the stack of food I have been amassing in our kitchen cupboards because I am too lazy to check what we have at home before heading to the shops. I don't really cook Asian food all that often, but every time I go I seem to buy oyster and fish sauce, tamarind paste and palm sugar... and luckily, this recipe calls for all of the above.
The soup base is always the same, but I play around with the "trimmings" as my vegetable drawers or the offers of the day dictate - more often than not - just because that's the combination I like the most - it'll be Japanese buckwheat noodles with tenderstem broccoli, shitake mushrooms and thin slices of salmon fillet dropped in at the very end so they only lightly cook as the bowls are brought to the table. But you can use anything that you happen to have at home: some greens (asparagus, mange-tout, chard), some protein (fish, prawns, even chicken, if you like), then add some noodles (any Asian type, really, but I love the Japanese buckwheat noodles above all) and mushrooms, if you like. The only thing that is non-negotiable for me is a generous helping of spring onions and coriander - and of course, tons of ginger and lime juice - which is just as well, as they're a real boost for your immune system.
Tom Pla style soup with salmon and asparagus
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 medium onion (peeled)
50 g fresh coriander
900 ml vegetable stock
½ tsp shrimp paste
3 tbsp nam pla (fish sauce)
1 heaped tbsp brown sugar
3 tbsp tamarind paste
100 g asahi soba (Japanese buckwheat noodles)
100 g fine green asparagus
4 cm root ginger (cut into thin match sticks)
juice of 1 lime
3 spring onions (thinly sliced in the diagonal)
300 g salmon fillet
In a food processor, combine the onion and the stems of the coriander. Reserve the leaves for serving.
Chop finely to use as the basis of your soup.
In a medium-sized stock pot, heat the oil and fry the onion & coriander until fragrant and soft. Add the vegetable stock, shrimp paste, fish sauce, sugar and tamarind sauce and bring to the boil. Add the soba noodles and cook to package instructions.
2 minutes before the noodles are done, add the asparagus and ginger to the soup. Finish cooking (for 2 minutes), then stir in the lime juice. Place the salmon, spring onions and coriander leaves in the pot, stir through and serve immediately - the fish will cook enough in the time it takes to serve the soup.
Season with additional lime juice to taste.