Chilli-hot sour soup

Chilli-hot sour soup

Kaeng som

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From
South East Asian Food

Kaeng som is a more substantial and spiced-up version of the region-wide sour fish or vegetable soup. Traditionally Kaeng som has stood alongside the various versions of Nam phrik as the most regular food of the Thai countryside along with rice. Both of these dishes utilise ‘wild’ leaves and fruits gathered around the village and on the edges of river banks, foods which used to be the mainstay of country people in between seasons and in times of crop failure. Nam phrik adds flavour through a dipping sauce. Kaeng som combines fish and local vegetables in a soup flavoured with the ripe fruit and sometimes the leaves of the tamarind tree, which grows everywhere in villages and around paddy fields.

With increasing prosperity, a more scientific agriculture and a huge movement of people from the country to Bangkok in recent years, Kaeng som is as likely as not nowadays to contain farmed seafood and lots of market vegetables. This version is a country one, using a mixture of freshwater fish, the water spinach that still grows wild in unpolluted waterways, and the produce of house gardens. Note, however, that the recipe may be adapted to seafood of all kinds with more exotic vegetables.

Ingredients

Quantity Ingredient
600-800g freshwater fish, cut into small cutlets
1 litre water, or more if you wish
1/2-1 teaspoon palm sugar, (optional)
3-4 tablespoons tamarind water, to taste
2-3 cups prepared mixed green vegetables, (see Note)
2-3 tablespoons fish sauce, to taste

Paste spices

Quantity Ingredient
5 dried red chillies, seeded soaked in water until they are soft and then squeezed dry
1 tablespoon chopped galangal
1 teaspoon shrimp paste, roasted
3 medium garlic cloves, sliced
6 shallots, sliced

Method

  1. Wash the fish cutlets and keep them aside. To make the spice paste, in a mortar pound the chillies to a paste. Add the galangal and pound, the shrimp paste and pound, the garlic and pound, and finally the shallots and pound everything to a fine paste. Alternatively pound everything together in a small food processor attachment.
  2. Bring water, sugar and tamarind water to the boil. Stir in the spice paste and when it has amalgamated, add the vegetables and simmer for a minute or two. Add the fish sauce and adjust the seasoning so that the dish is sufficiently sour and salty, with sour dominant. Add the fish one piece at a time and simmer without stirring until done. Eat with rice.
  3. Kaeng Som and the two following kaeng go well with the richer stir-fried dishes, such as ‘curried’ ones or the ones cooked with egg. It also goes well with deep-fried or grilled meat.

Prepared mixed green vegetables

  • E.g. water spinach, tough ends of stems removed, the rest cut into 4 cm lengths; green or longbeans cut into 3 cm lengths; Chinese cabbage sliced across into strips; or 1 bunch water spinach and 1 bunch longbeans or either of these alone.
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