Sweet Potato "Tom Kha"
Hi! I'm writing this post from a small corner in Matt's work's office while he sits next to me clicking and clacking away at a computer inputting numbers and other things I don't really understand and it's very very late at night because restaurant hours and all of that, but I've got a glass of wine in my hand and Carly Rae Jepsen playing in my head, so it's all good.
Let's cut to the chase: tom kha. Basically the sole reason I went to Thailand on my first adventure out of the country, tom kha is an incredible coconut milk based soup made with traditional herbs and vegetables from around Southeast Asia. Typical of Thai cuisine, the beauty of tom kha comes from the delicate balance of its bold sweet, bitter, salty, and spicy flavors. It's creamy and decadent from the coconut milk but made light and bright by the cilantro, lime, lemongrass, ginger, and chili. On my second trip to Thailand, this time joined by Matt, we took a Thai cooking workshop at a farm in Chiang Mai, where we learned how to make traditional tom kha. It was an amazing experience because duh how could it not be I'm not that much of a prick and also because I made what was hands down the best tom kha I'd had up to that point in my life. There was a mortar and pestle and fresh herbs everywhere and ground chillis and garlic and galangal and I was wearing a cute as hell blue linen apron and double fisting leftovers from the lesson on spring rolls. My infatuation with tom kha hasn't wavered for a second since then.
So when I was perusing my favorite lil bookstore in New Orleans and came across the Short Stack Editions: Sweet Potato cookbook by our friend Scott, I was delighted to find a recipe for Sweet Potato Coconut Milk Soup that was basically a simplified version of tom kha avec sweet potato. My little gay heart broke into a million pieces with excitement and I couldn't wait to try it and ohmygodohmygodddd, it's so dope. That balance of creamy decadence and light brightness I mentioned? The sweet potato slips right into that mold, making it both thicker and creamier than a traditional tom kha, and also slighty sweeter and lighter in flavor. While I obviously enjoyed learning how to make tom kha in Thailand, this recipe is a good bit less involved, while yielding a seriously phenomenal result that comes extremely close to matching the flavors of a traditional tom kha. Scott goes the extra step of pureeing the sweet potato into the soup, giving it this silky texture that is hearty enough for a fall dinner, but flavor-wise perfect for spring, so it's pretty versatile. I don't typically spend my days lusting after sweet potatoes, but at this point in my life all I want to do is take all of the sweet potatoes in the world and blend them with the beautiful flavors of tom kha and then shovel it into my face. There's the recipe from Scott's book below, as well as quick tips for adding some pan fried sweet potato bites into the mix. K, byeeee cuties <3
Oh, p.s., if you've got any leftovers, do like we did and throw some sticky rice on top with a bit of sliced rotisserie chicken - makes for a "yaaaas" worthy lunch the next day.
Sweet Potato Coconut Milk Soup by Scott Hocker
- 2 small Thai chiles, stemmed
- 1 large shallot (~4 oz), thinly sliced
- 1 garlic clove
- 1/3 cup coarsely chopped cilantro stems*
- 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
- One 14 oz can full fat unsweetened coconut milk
- 1 medium sweet potato (~10 oz), peeled and cut into 1/2" pieces
- Kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon tightly packed light brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon fish sauce
- 3 to 4 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 1/4 cup roughly chopped cilantro leaves
- In a mortar, pound the Thai chilis, shallot, garlic, and cilantro stems together with a pestle until bruised (or you can pulse it all a few times in a food processor).
- In a large saucepan, bring the stock and coconut milk to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Add the chile-garlic mix, sweet potato, and 3/4 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sweet potato is super tender, about 15 minutes.
- Using an immersion blender (or transfer mix to a regular blender), puree the soup until it's smooth. Strain the soup through a fine-mesh sieve, pressing on the solids. Discard the solids and return the liquid to the saucepan. Bring it to a simmer and add the brown sugar, fish sauce, and lime juice. Adjust the seasonings, if needed. Divide the soup among 4 bowls and garnish with cilantro leaves (and coconut cream/pan fried sweet potato if using - instructions below). Serve immediately.
1. The original recipe calls for 3 cilantro roots, which Scott says can be substituted for 1/3 cup cilantro stems. We did the stems substitution because we couldn't find cilantro roots at our Asian market, but if you've got access to them, use them in this recipe by scraping off the dirt with the edge of a knife and pounding them together with the chilies and garlic before adding it all to the soup.
2. We topped our soup with a swirl of coconut cream and a few pan-crisped sweet potato bites. To make the sweet potato bites, microwave (or bake if you're classier than we are) a small sweet potato (~4 oz) until tender, about 4 minutes on high, rotating half-way through the cooking process. Let it cool and cut it into 1/2" cubes. Heat a tablespoon of coconut oil in a medium skillet over medium heat and add the potato cubes. Let crisp on one side, about 2 minutes, before flipping and repeating for the other side. Remove from the pan and immediately toss with fresh cracked salt and pepper. Place on top of the soup just before serving.