KUALA LUMPUR, June 18 — I would be the last person to claim the authenticity of my cooking.
From fried rice decluttering the pantry using Thai rice to a superfood salad of avocados, blueberries, Japanese natto and Korean kimchi, anything and everything goes in my kitchen.
As long as it’s tasty, of course.
Sometimes it is our desires that inspire us; that’s certainly what spurred my latest Weekend Kitchen adventure.
Recently back from Bangkok, I’ve been craving a bit of hot, sour and spicy tom yam. But not the usual kind.
On the one hand, rather than the typical tom yam goong made with shrimp, that would be closer to tom yam talay because it offers a variety of seafood. (talay means “the sea” in Thai.)
Frozen or fresh, any type of seafood would work in a ‘tom kha talay’.
Also, the bowl of tom yam What I like the most is not strictly the tom yam, which is a clear soup, but rather tom kha, a creamier broth thanks to the inclusion of coconut milk. make one tom kha talay if you want to be precise.
More ingredients, then. More flavors too. Sometimes more is more.
So what’s the secret to this sweet and creamy seafood? tom yam? Since I gave the surprise in the title itself, you already know it’s a dollop of Gula Melaka – but why?
As always, necessity is sometimes the mother of invention. I just didn’t have any sugar in the pantry, I had run out of it and never bothered to replenish it (something about a cleaner diet, but we all know how that usually happens…)
What I had lying around was a large block of Gula Melaka; thanks to my last trip back to my home town.
Essential herbs and spices for a “tom yam” include limes, lemongrass, and chili peppers.
Don’t waste, don’t want, I always say – especially when the exchange could produce worthwhile results.
Because there can be mysterious magic in the kitchen, when you play with your ingredients.
Even replacing one item with another can result in a subtle but memorable change in taste or texture. Call it the alchemy of cooking, if you will.
What I detect is a busy alley so I of Bangkok, where vendors stir up the storm over their woks, and the softer music of my childhood, of Peranakan parents making kuih-muih with the perfume Gula Melaka.
This is a bowl of tom yam (tom kha, to be more precise) which sings of the sea and the city, and the days when we grow up. You can’t get any sweeter than that, surely.
Sweet and creamy with fresh ‘santan’ (left) and ‘gula Melaka’ (right).
TOM KHA TALAY WITH GULA MELAKA
Besides the Gula Melakaanother crucial ingredient is coconut milk since it is a real tom kha.
This is where getting the produce fresh makes a big difference. Costs Santa Claus tastes richer without feeling stuffy, in terms of texture, and the resulting soup will also be smoother.
Other fresh ingredients required include limes and cilantro. Fresh seafood is delicious, although I’ve been known to use frozen seafood in a pinch.
If you don’t like squid or fish, you can make one tom kha goong and only use shrimp (or come on in Thai).
From the largest tiger prawns with the head and tail intact to frozen, peeled prawns: they all work.
Just add them closer to the end of the cooking time to prevent them from becoming tough and chewy.
I make it a complete meal in its own right – a single dish – by adding noodles, usually shirataki noodles.
These translucent, gelatinous Japanese noodles are made from konjac yam and are a zero or low calorie way to bulk up spicy Thai soup.
So you could consider this a Thai-Japanese-Malaccan fusion dish. I just call it delicious!
350ml coconut milk
200ml chicken stock
2 kaffir lime leaves, roughly torn
Small piece (about 4 cm) of galangal, crushed
2 stalks lemongrass, sliced diagonally
1 tbsp crushed Gula Melaka
1 tablespoon of fish sauce
80g of assorted mushrooms
300g fresh/frozen/mixed seafood
3-4 padi lashes
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
200 g shirataki noodles, cooked
Fresh coriander leaves, for garnish
Peeled prawns for a ‘tom kha goong’ (left). Fresh coriander leaves (right).
Add the coconut milk and chicken broth to a saucepan and bring to a boil. Once the broth has boiled, add the kaffir lime leaves, galangal and lemongrass. Bring to a boil again.
When the broth has come to a second boil, reduce the heat to low and add the Gula Melaka and fish sauce. Stir until the Gula Melaka completely dissolved.
Then add the mushrooms and simmer for another five minutes. Add the seafood last so it doesn’t overcook.
Finally, add the eyelash padi and fresh lime juice. Adjust seasoning to taste, using more lime juice, fish sauce or Gula Melaka if necessary.
Ladle the seafood soup into bowls already filled with servings of shirataki noodles. Garnish with cilantro leaves and serve immediately.
For more Weekend Kitchen and other slices of life, visit lifeforbeginners.com.