Thai Curry Paste Episode XI: Authentic Thai Sour Curry with Shrimp, Kaeng Som GoongPosted: December 14, 2013
I hope that you all are aware that there is a big protest going on in Thailand. It is the biggest in our history, and involves purely citizens, with no military involvement. We protest to eliminate the corrupt government which, through the parliament, is trying to pass a law that only benefits one particular individual and not the majority of the citizenry, and also violates constitutional rights.
That actually serves as a good excuse for me to not blog for three weeks, right? Well, if you are my personal Facebook friend (not the highheelgourmet page), you would have already seen my Thai gibberish every day on the updates, plus news, pictures about the protest, etc. (I don’t recommend becoming my personal Facebook friend right now if you don’t care about that stuff.) I just wanted to tell you that I am busy, even though I’m a disappearing blogger.
I’m not only busy beyond belief, but also stressing out about the whole situation. My friends and my family members are out there on the street protesting. The policemen used tear gas and some real bullets, believe it or not! I am very worried about them.
What can I do? I am here six thousand miles away. So I cook!
Well, what I craved is my comfort food. In the last post I gave you a recipe for a curry that had a very strong influence of middle Asia, Massaman curry. However, you would not see that on the dining table of a Thai household anywhere near often as the one I’m going to write about this time, Kaeng Som.
Looking at the ingredients, you probably can tell this is truly Thai, with no influence from anyone else. Kaeng Som is the staple Thai soup. However, Kaeng Som isn’t as popular outside of the country as much as the other curry soups with a coconut base.
Yes, Kaeng Som doesn’t contain any coconut milk. Is this the first non-coconut milk curry that I’m introducing to you?
Let’s start with the name. Kaeng=soup, Som=the color orange, and also sour taste. If you guessed that Som in Kaeng Som is because it’s orange in color, you are only half right. Kaeng Som also has a sour taste as well.
Kaeng Som is eaten all over the country, from the north to the northeast, central and the south. Each region has their own version that is slightly different in both curry paste and the ingredients in the soup itself. This time I’m going to give you the recipe for the Central Kaeng Som.
I mentioned Kaeng Som in the second episode of the Thai curries. Remember, there are 3 types of curries in which I NEVER use pre-made curry paste—Kaeng Kheaw Wan (Green curry), Kaeng Som and Kaeng Lueng (actually called Kaeng Som in the south)—because they rely heavily on the freshness of the curry paste ingredients.
The basic ingredients of Kaeng Som curry paste are simple: chilies, either fresh, dried, or both; shallots; shrimp paste; salt. There are some optional ingredients such as garlic, fingerroot (Krachai or Chinese ginger), galangal, cilantro root, white pepper, lemongrass, shrimp, fish, and cooked rice.
Warning: Before we go even further, I have to warn you that this dish is very, very Thai. This is not one of the dishes I recommend to people who don’t like seafood. Or, if you are still a novice about eating Thai food, you might want to keep this to the last. My husband can’t even pull himself together to swallow this curry past his throat. Yes, he had to spit it out! It has a very strong taste and highly fishy smell, but it is so healthy. A lot of cooked vegetables with seafood, spicy, hot and sour. It is so precious to me in a cold climate. It’s best served extremely hot with fragrant jasmine rice and a Thai-style fried omelette.
Ingredients for Kaeng Som curry paste (for 2)
Dried chilies 3 big pods of California chilies (If you like spicier curry, use a different type, or add fresh chili such as bird’s eye chili)
Shallot 1 big bulb, about 1.5”-2” in diameter, or about 1/4 cup when chopped up
Salt 1/2 teaspoon
Shrimp paste 1 teaspoon (roughly, depending on the shrimp paste)
Optional ingredients that I used
Garlic 4-5 cloves, or about 1.5 – 2 tablespoons sliced
Cooked shrimp or cooked fish 1/2 cup
Note: If you are vegan, substitute the shrimp paste with Vegemite and use cooked rice instead of cooked shrimp.
The cooked shrimp or cooked rice is to thicken the soup. If you like thinner soup, you don’t need to put it in. You can always use cooked fish instead of cooked shrimp, but if I use cooked fish, I would add half a teaspoon of galangal to cover up the fishy smell. (haha…don’t say that I’m acting like shrimp paste doesn’t stink. It doesn’t to me!)
This is the easiest method for making the curry paste:
1) Rinse and soak the dried chilies in water (hot or cold, doesn’t matter)
2) Cut all the ingredients into smaller pieces, unless you have a powerful blender, then you might not need to.
3) Roast the shrimp paste in a foil packet, unless you have banana leaf, then use that instead.
4) Put all of the ingredients in a blender with the chili soaking water and puree them.
Once you’ve got the curry paste, then you are ready to make a pot of Kaeng Som. The ingredient list for Kaeng Som is wide open and mostly depends on what you have on hand. Most Kaeng Som contain vegetables, lots of them. You can mix the vegetables together, too. Choice of vegetable is unlimited. You can even use fruit in Kaeng Som, too.
The choice of protein, on the other hand, is limited. I’ve never had Kaeng Som with land animal protein in it. Although I’ve seen recipes for Kaeng Som with pork legs, I’ve never eaten it. In my little world, Kaeng Som is made with fish or shrimp, or tofu for the vegans, and that’s it.
In Thailand, some households will use the fish or shrimp only in the curry paste and never put chunks of them in the soup itself, but my family is from the south, so we emphasize the protein in this type of curry.
Ingredients for the soup
All of the curry paste above (about a cup, but this is based on how much water you added in when pureeing)
Water 4 cups
Shrimp 1/2 cup
Vegetables, as many kinds as you like, together should be approximately about 2 cups (I used Ong Choy, water spinach and Cha-om omelette, Acacia pennata fried with eggs in one and use mixed vegetables, cabbage, kale, pumpkin in the other)
Salt 1 teaspoon
Fish sauce 2 tablespoons
Tamarind paste 3 tablespoons
Palm sugar 1 tablespoon
1) Put the water in the pot together with the curry paste and set it over high heat. Once it reaches the boiling point, lower the heat to medium high and let it bubble for five minutes.
This is a curry paste that doesn’t contain a lot of herbs and no spices, so you don’t need to cook it in oil like other curries, but you want to make sure that you cook it well, or the taste will be quite unpleasant.
2) Add all the seasoning and taste. Adjust the taste to your preference. I only gave you the approximate amounts. It should taste sour but salty, with only a hint of sweetness. The taste should be a little stronger than you want to eat, because you will add vegetables and that will weaken the intensity.
3) Add vegetables and wait until the soup is boiling again.
Note: for Ong Choy I didn’t add them into the pot, but only added it to the serving bowl. Ong Choy doesn’t need to cook that long.
4) Add the shrimp and cook until they’re done and the water is back to boiling again. Now it’s ready to be served.
Note: I pour the bubbling hot Kaeng Som over the Ong Choy in the bowl—that’s enough to cook it.
This dish is best served with side dishes. I love to eat it with an omelette and fried, salted, dried Gourami fish.
Next week I will be in Playa Del Carmen for a vacation, so I will not be posting anything here. But you can follow me on Instagram under “TheHighHeelGourmet” for my food adventures in Mexico, or just like my Facebook fan page, as all my food pictures are going there now. Believe me, it’s a great way to get food porn without political contamination.
Have a great holiday, everyone. I will be back here again after New Year’s!