Jack’s life-giving soup

Jack’s life-giving soup

The Sunday Night Book
Patricia Niven

A dear friend and one of my favourite cooks, Jack has fed me this soup on many occasions, and I’m always blown away by how uplifting it is – hence the name! It’s a busy cook’s dream soup: complex in flavour, yet simple in preparation. It is all the more wonderful in that most of the ingredients are from the storecupboard; you just need to pick up whatever you fancy adding.


Quantity Ingredient
1 x 400 ml tin proper coconut milk
1 banana shallot, finely chopped
3 dried red chillies, preferably bird’s eye, crumbled
3 fresh or frozen kaffir lime leaves, (optional)
2 tablespoons fish sauce
100g tamarind paste
75g fermented black bean paste
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar, ideally palm sugar
100g dried fine rice noodles
sea salt
small handful coriander or thai basil, to serve (optional)

protein suggestions

Quantity Ingredient
pork mince
thinly sliced raw pork fillet
sliced raw chicken breast
cubed tofu
soft-boiled egg

vegetable suggestions

Quantity Ingredient
deseeded cucumber


  1. Pour the coconut milk into a large saucepan, then fill the can with water to rinse it out and add this to the pan, along with the shallot and chillies. If you are adding kaffir lime leaves, and I suggest you do, now would be the time. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for a few minutes, then add the fish sauce, tamarind paste and fermented black bean paste – feel free to add more than the suggested amounts. Balance out the tartness of the tamarind with a little sugar – ideally palm sugar, but as the other flavours are so punchy, brown or even regular white sugar substitute well. Add your chosen protein and vegetables and heat until cooked though. Check the seasoning.
  2. Soak the noodles in freshly boiled water with a pinch of salt for a few minutes, just to rehydrate them. When they are supple, drain well and divide between two or three bowls, then pour in the hot soup and serve. Chopped coriander or Thai basil would be welcome finishing touches, but are by no means essential.
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