Autumn is the best season to whip up some tummy-warming soups. I often cook pumpkin and squash soup as they are in season and bountiful around this time of the year. Such as my Miso Butternut Squash Soup (this and this one), or this coconut pumpkin lentil soup. These velvety soups somewhat soothing for the stomach and satisfying at the same time. All of these soups are super easy and take relatively little time to prepare and can be made in a large batch for freezing as well (it is handy for a busy weeknight when you are too tired to cook). They are some of my favourite soups to make.
Today recipe though does not include pumpkin nor squash, but I find it equally comforting in this season – a Thai style coconut soup that is creamy, umami and full of goodness. The coriander, lemongrass and ginger perfume the soup in a subtle yet uplifting way, a classic trio in Asian (especially Thai) kitchen, infused in coconut milk, gives the soup base a unique flavour with a wonderful floral tone. The main seasoning is fish sauce, it creates a umami bomb which compliments neatly to the sweetness of the creamy coconut milk. It can also be easily made vegan by replacing the fish sauce with dried Shiitake mushroom and Kombu. This soup is also extremely versatile, you can use any types of vegetable (here I have mushroom and okra), or even meat, fish and vegetarian protein such as tofu and tempeh; served with rice or noodles for a more substantial meal.
The most exciting element in this soup is the crispy turmeric aubergine. Not only does it give the whole dish a delicious touch, but also provides a brilliant contrast of texture to the soup. I do recommend you to fry the aubergine after the soup is cooked and served as a topping immediately once cooked, because the aubergine will lose its crunchiness after a while. But the soft version is still absolutely delicious in the soup (because the next day my husband took the left over soup to work, I added in some mung bean noodles for a more satisfying meal for him. And he reported back to me that it was still wonderfully delicious especially with the noodles). I can assure you, whichever way it ends up, the taste of this soup will not be compromised.
Note: Try to find fresh coriander that still has its root attached as the root provides the most intense flavour. When preparing it, pick the leave, set them aside in a small bowl, then cut the root off, leave it whole; then finely chop the stems. But of course, if you can only find those ones that without the roots, it won’t be the end of the world, and it shouldn’t stop you making this soup. Although it will have less intense coriander flavour, but the result will still be amazingly satisfying.
Serves 4-5 as a starter
For the turmeric aubergine:
- 1 aubergine, halved lengthwise and then thinly sliced
- 1 tsp. fine sea salt
- 1 tsp. ground turmeric
- Vegetable oil for frying (about 250ml)
For the soup:
- 2x (400ml) can coconut milk
- 400ml Dashi stock (or vegetable stock or water)
- 1 (2cm) piece ginger, peeled and finely sliced
- 2 sticks lemongrass, trim the top and remove the first layer, cut into 2-3 pieces and bruise them with a rolling pin or your knife
- 1 small bunch of fresh coriander with roots (see note for its preparation)
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- a large handful of cherry tomatoes, 3-4 if they are the bigger ones, halved
- 250g chestnut mushrooms, brushed clean and cut into bite size pieces
- 1 large carrot, or 2 small, scrubbed and sliced (keep the top and end for the soup)
- 2-3 okra, sliced crosswise
- 3 tbsp. fish sauce
- A pinch of salt
- A pinch of coconut sugar
- 2 lime, halved then quartered (for serving)
- vegetable oil
Put the aubergine in a colander and sprinkle them with salt and ground turmeric, mix well and make sure the aubergine is coated with spice and seasoning evenly. (if you use your bare hand, beware that turmeric will stain your fingers for a couple of days, I use reusable food grade glove.)
let the aubergine sit in the colander for at least 10 minutes while you prepare the soup.
In a medium sauce pan, heat a tbsp. of vegetable oil and sauté the ginger, lemongrass, coriander stems and roots, onions, top and end of the carrot with a pinch of salt for about 1 minute or until fragrant. Carefully pour in coconut milk and the dashi stock into the pan. Covered and let it simmer for about 20 minutes. Then season with fish sauce (first add 2 tbsp. then add the 3rd if needed) and coconut sugar. Drain the soup with a colander and transfer the soup back into the pan.
Bring the soup back into simmer on medium heat, add sliced carrot and cherry tomato, cover and cook for about 5 minutes. Then add mushrooms and let the soup simmer for another 5-10 minutes while you are preparing the turmeric aubergine.
In a small sauce pan, heat about 2 cm deep oil (roughly about 250ml) until hot. You can check the temperature by carefully adding a small piece of aubergine, if it sizzles immediately, it means the oil in ready.
While you are waiting for the oil to heat up, squeeze out as much water as possible from the aubergine, then do your best to separate the pieces so that they are not stuck together. Fry them in the hot oil in batches. Once they turn golden brown, removed them from the oil with a kitchen tongs or slotted spoon onto a plate lined with kitchen paper. Set aside. Keep the oil for other use.
The soup should be ready by now, have a taste and adjust the seasoning if needed. Remove from the heat. Squeeze in the juice of quarter of a lime and add in the okra and a small handful of coriander leaves. Stir and mix well.
Ladle the soup into warm bowls and topped with the turmeric aubergine and more coriander leaves if desire, serve with another squeeze of lime juice just before serving.