Here’s a Lao recipe for a refreshing soup that goes well when a deep-fried dish is part of the meal. Soups (gaeng or keng) are eaten as the same time as other dishes, not served first.
½ small chicken, chopped into soup pieces (or thigh and wing piece)
1 l (5 C/ 2 pt) water
2 C green pumpkin, cut into bite-size chunks (substitute any firm squash)
1 C straw mushrooms (or torn oyster mushrooms, button mushrooms)
3 cloves garlic
1 t salt
2 stalks lemongrass, cut into 10 cm (4 in) lengths and roughly bruised to release flavour
2 – 3 slices galangal
5 small kaffir lime leaves
3 limes, juiced
2 – 3 T fish sauce (or to taste)
3 small spring onions, washed and trimmed of old leaves
3 small coriander plants, washed and trimmed of old leaves
- In a medium pot, bring the water to the boil. Add the chicken pieces and return to the boil. Skim scum. Lower the heat and simmer the chicken for 5 minutes. Add the pumpkin, lemongrass, galangal and the kaffir lime leaves. Continue to simmer gently.
- In a mortar, pound together the chillies and the garlic. Stir into the soup. Simmer for 10 minutes.
- Add the mushrooms. Continue to simmer until the chicken is tender and the pumpkin is cooked. Add the lime juice and fish sauce. Taste and adjust flavourings, adding possibly more salt or lime juice. The predominant taste should be sour with a contrast of sweetness from the pumpkin and nuttiness from the mushrooms.
- Remove the pot from the heat. Chop the spring onions and coriander together and stir them into the soup. Transfer the soup to a bowl and serve.