tom yum talay: thai-ing a kite.


You know what 'they' say: every kite flying session deserves a Thai soup reward.

We were lucky enough to have a slightly sunny day a few days back, here in dreary BC, and took full advantage of its t-shirt wearing wonder. So, why not fly a kite? (Or, at least attempt to fly a kite).

After about 45 minutes of watching my friends attempt to construct, then throw aloft, a really neat-looking 80's-style kite, I thought I deserved a reward. And while my mac and cheese from a local grocer was tempting cheesy heart-attacking goodness, I decided not to do North American cuisine for dinner. I decided on Thai. That is how two completely unrelated things (kite flying and Thai food) merged to create a spectacular day. 

Luckily enough, there is one other thing that goes well with spicy food - red wine. Now, being (former and current) university students, my boyfriend and I are cheap. Sadly, we have hardly any money to spend on a nice bottle of wine. But lo, boxed wines are actually becoming quite in vogue while staying quite reasonable. I was in Aussie-land recently and having a good Merlot in a box there is not a foreign concept - its really common, more than you'd assume. As I was flying back, I came across an article in the 'Inflight' magazine remarking on this new trend of boxing the 'good stuff'. After a bit more research  online, I decided to do a bit more 'hands-on' work. So, we bought a box of wine - able to keep for weeks and yet much cheaper than bottles. We bought a Stanley brand Cabernet Sauvignon, an Australian wine, and it really wasn't bad. Not a ringing endorsement to be sure, but considering the price paid, it was a decent cab sauv.

I still would say that, if you live in a wine region, buying local is your best bet for good quality, yet reasonable, wine. Here in BC's Lower Mainland of there are quite a few good ones. And, if you live in the USA, well - you don't even need to worry about price. Trader Joe's has Two-Buck Chuck - a really, really, really good wine for its price (actually).  However, honestly, with the heat of this meal, you don't really taste the subtlety of wine (though I don't think any level of spice could induce me to drink cheap jug wine - shudder inducing stuff that it is). 

A slight spicy tingling on the tongue, aromas saturating the entire house, and speechless exclamations from a significant other usually indicate a successful meal. That is what this soup is. Tom yum talay is a successful thing to serve - you can tell by the ingredients. Its a wonder in that the flavors are so flexible. Living in Langley, and having little-to-no access to any kind of foreign grocer (I believe Langley is the most caucasian, boring, cookie-cutter suburb ever, in the entire history of man . . . and suburbs) it is hard to find kaffir-lime leaves, a steady stream of lemongrass (Save-on-Foods told me they only carry it seasonally! Arg!) or even small red chilies (I have, on occasion, just used jalapenos). So, substitutions always come in handy, as does varying amounts of ingredients - it changes the flavor, but sometimes that is for the better.

Tom yum is just the basic part of this hot and sour soup - it is the broth made of lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, lime juice, fish sauce and crushed chili peppers. It is the last word - either goong (prawns), gai (chicken), pla (fish), or talay[!] (mixed seafood) which describes what the most prominant part of the soup will be. There can be a variety of vegetables added in, or even rice (which is more a Laotian ingredient than a common Thai one).  You can also add coconut milk if you wish - this is a good idea to mellow out the spiciness of the soup if making it for those who are soft of palette (or sensible).

Tom Yum Talay* 
(adapted from The Food of Thailand: A Journey for Food Lovers)
Kaffir leaves are hard to find - a local asian grocier might have them. If you cannot find the leaves, then just use the juice of one lime and a little of the zest.

1 lb. mixed seafood, such as prawns, squid tubes, mussels, white fish fillets and scallops (chopped into bite sized pieces)
4 c. veggie (or seafood) stock
3 lemon grass stalks (white part only, bruised)
1/4 c. cilantro (coarsely chopped)
3 tbs. fish sauce
2 dried red chilies, finely chopped
2 shallots (finely chopped)
2 tbs. galangal root (sliced); or thumb piece of ginger root, left in the sauce only to simmer
1 c. white mushrooms (coarsely chopped)
1 c. baby tomatoes
8 kaffir leaves (or juice of 1 lime - kaffir leaves are hard to find)
1/2 cup basil leaves (coarsely chopped)
** 1 tbs. Nam phrik phao (optional) 

1. Peel the prawns (leave the tail on however) and butterfly them (cut each one along the back but leave connected at the base and tail). Cut peeled and washed squid tubes (I love squid! It is fantastic! Grilled - mmmmm!) into rings - if the squid is big, cut the rings in half so they become crecents, and score the inside of each with diagonal cuts to make a diamond pattern. 

2. Scrub mussels and remove hair. Discard any open ones. Cut the fish into large cubes.

3. Put stock, lemongrass, coriander, fish sauce, curry paste, and chilies in large saucepan and bring to a boil.

4. Reduce heat to medium, add the seafood and cook for 2-3 minuts. Add the shallots, mushrooms, baby toms, lime leaves (and other veggies) and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Taste, add lime juice if you want it a bit more sour, and adjust seasoning as you see fit. 

Enjoy with rice, noodles, or a glass of Two-Buck Chuck. Serve from a large bowl in the middle of the table, allowing each person to scoop what they want in to their own dish.
*I always add a lot of veggies to my meals (I could be labelled addicted to them) and so I added 1 green pepper, 1 carrot, and 1/2 a head of broccoli.
** This is not for the faint of heart to add - it will make the chili flavor more pronounced, but will also add an amazing orange colour to the broth.

(note: tom yum paste can be purchased - it is essentially all of the seasonings and herbs mixed together and fried in oil with a bit of seasoning. Using fresh ingredients, as always, tastes better. But if you are in a bind, the paste works well also.)