I rarely worked with curry powder to be honest, only as a minor seasoning in some of my recipes. Only until recently did I begin to discover the intense flavors distinct to the extremely spicy cuisine of the Indian Subcontinent. Although the term ‘curry’ itself is limited to those dishes prepared in the spicy sauce and vary widely within the Indian region, curry powder – the westernized commercial prepared mix of spices – is widely popular around the world, especially for many savory dishes in South Asian cuisine, particulary Thai.
Most curry powder is made from the basic spices of the area, which include coriander, turmeric (the distinctive yellow coloring agent), cumin, fenugreek (an herb common to various world cuisines), and chili peppers. Other ingredients can be added depending on the recipe blend: ginger, garlic, asafoetida (one of the most intense pungent spices), fennel seed, caraway (Persian cumin), cinnamon, clove, mustard seed, green & black cardamom, nutmeg, & pepper. I made use of the readily available curry powder & curry pastes here in Germany when I first began discovering this particular type of cuisine, and began to experiment with the different intensities each single spice made in a particular dish. But, it was not until my husband bought me an amazing spice collection from Istanbul that I realized the particular uniqueness many of the different blends have, and how that can impact the taste of each dish. Not only that, but the intensity of the spices didn’t even compare to the westernized blends! My coconut curry chicken soup was suddenly enhanced with the true flavors of the East, that I can now say had only been a clouded Western variety before.
For the Soup
- 2 chicken breasts (400g), whole
- 3 tablespoons of chicken bouillon
- 2 tablespoons of cumin
- 1/4 cup of dried parsley
- Salt & pepper
- 2 garlic cloves, sliced
- 1 teaspoon of sesame oil
- 2 cans (830ml) of coconut milk
- 1 tablespoon of ground paprika
- 1 bay laurel leaf
- 1 teaspoon of ground pepper flakes
- 3 tablespoons of curry
- 1 tablespoon of Harissa paste
- 1 tablespoon of curry paste
- 1 tablespoon of crunchy peanut butter
- 1 large carrot, shredded or shaved
- 2 cups (400g) of fresh mushrooms, sliced
- 1 bunch of cilantro, roots & leaves, chopped
- 1 small knob of ginger, frozen
- 2 stalks of lemon grass
- 2 limes, zest & juice
- 1 tablespoon of fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons of soy sauce
- 1 handful of bean sprouts
- 1 small package (230g) of rice noodles
Although the list might seem intimidating at first, don’t fret! Like many other soups, it’s all about throwing everything in and letting time & heat do the job. Some things can be easily substituted, and the recipe is so complex, leaving one thing out is not a big deal! But each element definitely adds its own kick, so I recommend trying to stick to this recipe in order to be fully enamoured by the flavors.
Begin by adding 2L of water to a deep stock pot and setting the heat to medium. Place the chicken breasts in the water, whole. Add the chicken bouillon, along with 1 tablespoon of cumin, the dried parsley, and salt & pepper to taste. Let the chicken breasts cook entirely, about 20 minutes. When done, remove the chicken breasts and place on cutting board to cool. Reserve the chicken stock in a large container for later use. Do not throw it out! Shred or chop the chicken to your liking and set aside.
Place the large stock pot back onto the stovetop and set heat to medium-low. Warm the sliced garlic with the sesame oil: don’t let it brown! When opening the coconut milk cans, be sure they haven’t been previously shaken or abruptly handled. You’ll want to keep the cream and water separate inside the can. An easy way to make sure this happens is to set the can inside the fridge for some time before you use it. Sitting in a cold place allows the fat to solidify on top, leaving the watery part underneath. Skim out the creamy part of the coconut milk only and add to the simmering garlic. Set the cans with the coconut water aside. Add the paprika, bay laurel leaf, ground pepper flakes, curry, Harissa paste (which can be easily substituted by Tabasco or any strong hot sauce), curry paste (green, yellow, or red) & peanut butter. Stir until the mix starts bubbling and spices are incorporated. Add the shredded chicken and coat well. Pour in the rest of the coconut milk can contents and stir. Add approximately 2L of the reserved chicken stock.
As you can tell, it’s all about adding to the pot! And it’s not over yet. Add the shredded or shaved carrot (I usually do a mix of both), sliced mushrooms, and chopped cilantro roots and leaves. Grate the ginger over the pot, as well as the limes for the zest. Add the juice of both limes, the stalks of lemon grass, fish sauce (entirely optional), and soy sauce. By now, it’s starting to look yummy and full-bodied. Be sure to stir ever so often in order for the ingredients to incorporate evenly. Raise the heat to medium and let the soup simmer. Just before the soup reaches boiling point, add the bean sprouts and rice noodles. Allow the noodles to cook entirely before turning off the heat. Now you’re done!
Serve immediately by ladling even spoonfuls of the chicken, vegetables, & noodles onto a bowl, and then adding just enough liquid to hide. The result is a deliciously spicy soup, without a doubt too spicy for kids. In order to include the kids, I usually ladle some chicken, vegetables, & noodles in a smaller bowl and instead of pouring the coconut curry liquid, I add some of the remaining chicken stock for a diluted version of the soup. I strongly believe kids should always eat what’s on the table, but when adult spices invade the dish, I like to offer them a child-friendly version of that same dish: no excuses! More on my thoughts about children’s eating habits will be posted shortly.