Saturday, March 21, 2009

Tom Yum Goong (Hot and Sour Shrimp Soup Thai Style)

I have a love and hate relationship or more like tolerate and hate relationship with this particular food item. For the life of me I could not understand how this slimy, ungainly looking thing makes so many people wax eloquent. But guilt is what pushes me towards buying this now and then. I felt guilty for depriving my family of all the goodness by keeping away from it. So I brace myself and bring some home. I even had a few successful recipes though the one I seem to prefer most is the deep fried version invariably found in most take out fried rice.

I have watched in amazement at recipes where this was used as a substitute for traditional ingredients. I watched paneer being tossed in favor of this in mattar paneer. It even became raita. It replaced eggs in a scramble, which is the form I happen to cook up most often. Moreover I watched friends add a handful of this beans to make idli batter or a handful of powder into paratha dough with great trepidation.

I bet by now you know that I am talking about Tofu and Soy. I started to read up more about soy and soy products to assuage my guilt, learning more than I wanted to in the process. Soy is the second most subsidized crop in the United States next only to corn. It has taken over land from other crops simply because it is more profitable. Once it got its reputation as a super food and endorsement from health food experts its utilization and popularity steadily grew. Most processed foods seem to have some form of soy based ingredient in them. I am sure even with a stellar reputation it cannot be consumed for breakfast, lunch and dinner without fear of side effects. Like the CDS (Credit Default Swaps) that we cannot escape from the benefits of soy seem to be overrated whose fall I expect will come sooner than later. I also understand that it does not hurt to have the most powerful lobby promoting its benefits. The soybeans have to be fermented to produce soy curd which is called Tofu. In its raw form soy bean inhibits absorption of nutrients making it unsuitable for consumption. To make roasted soy beans, they are first cooked completely to deactivate the enzyme that inhibits the absorption of nutrients and protein.

I am glad I did the research, I realize now soy is not a replacement for any food group and come to the conclusion that there is no need for it in Indian cooking. Using paneer in mattar paneer once in a while is not going to cause any great harm. I would rather use potatoes if I had to toss out the paneer. As for the raita I won’t even go there. Needless to say I rest easy without being forced into guilt by the unseen Tofu gods. I still may occasionally cook up that tofu scramble not because of its health benefits but simply because I feel like eating it and maybe even this stir fried tofu. There are a lot of negative effects of eating soy products which I won't go into at length here but there is a lot of information available so please do your research.

If Tofu kept me awake for a night or two, it is nothing compared to what I had to go through before I was able to cook up some Tom Yum Goong in my kitchen. I had gone out with some friends to a Thai restaurant. Yes, most Thai soups are light and flavorful always leaving you wanting more. This one was no exception. When I started to look up the recipe I was glad to find that it was really very simple. As luck would have it an international market opened a mile from our house. I picked up lemon grass, galangal and chili sa-te. It could easily replace the nam prik pao. The ingredients in this were chilies, shallots, sugar and citric salt preserved in soy bean oil (!) similar to nam prik pao. I used vegetable broth which gave this soup a bright color. Any broth can be used or even just water would do. Adding or leaving out the shrimp is completely up to you. We added some noodles to our soup to make it a complete meal. As for the kafir lime leaves did not have any but I had a lime tree in a pot.

I based the soup on the following recipes.
Rasa Malaysia
Chez Pim


Serves: 5

Tom Yum Goong

1. 1 Quart Vegetable broth
2. 15 Shrimp
3. a handful of coriander leaves
4. 3 red thai chilies
5. about 2 inch piece of galangal peeled and sliced
6. 2-3 lemon grass outer leaves removed and sliced
7. 4-5 lime leaves
8. 2-3 tbsp fish sauce
9. 2 tbsp chili paste (nam prik pao)
10. 1/2 tbsp lite soy sauce
11. 4 Cups of water
12. juice from 1 lemon (lime preferable)
13. 1 pack crimini mushrooms cleaned and sliced
14. 2 cups cooked noodles ( I used soba noodles and chow mein stir fried noodles)
15. 1 tomato cut into chunks (optional)

1. In a sauce pan throw in the sliced galangal, sliced lemon grass, torn lime leaves and slit thai chilies and a bit of the chili paste and let it reduce to about 2 cups.
filter out the liquid.
2. Now heat the stock with the aromatics filtered out from step 1 till it comes to a boil and 5 minutes more, filter out the aromatics.
3. Now add the broth from step 1 into the stock.
4. Add the fish sauce, chili paste and soy and let the mixture come to a boil
5. Cook the noodles per direction if using and add it to the soup
6. Add the sliced mushrooms and towards the end the cleaned shrimp. Cook for a minute or two.
7. Sprinkle the coriander leaves and server immediately.
8. Squeeze lemon juice onto the cups.


  1. I am in love with Tom Yum Goong, whenever we are at the Thai restaurant this is the only soup I have by the pots

    Your color is perfect and so lucky to have that market open nearby. I don't get Galangal or kafir Lime leaves anywhere I know

  2. I love this particular soup! Yours look pretty professional. However in any Thai restaurant, we always tell them to make what ever we order without the fish sauce. I cannot have a gulp of food with fish sauce in it.

  3. You know my thoughts on the evil soy already! :)

    The soup looks delish!

  4. It's always good to know both sides of the story, ISG! I do like tofu, especially when cutting calories/fat -- but it's no paneer :):)

    Tom yum goong looks super-delicious!!

  5. I love this soup and yours look so yummy delicious, slurp.

  6. I don't like Tofu either although it's super healthy food but Trisha loves it. I just take some regular gravy and add Tofu to it just for her! ;D

    Love the soup, great color. I have a Indo Chinese book which has few soups like this, but I haven't tried it yet because I don't know hoe smelly fish sauce is! :D


  7. Thats a colourful soup...looks terrific!!!

  8. Sandeepa, the lime leaves came from my tree, the aroma was heady when I squeezed them, never tried that before. yes my favorite pass time is to look at all the new fruits and veggies.

    Soma, it took me a while to buy a bottle of the fish sauce for fear of the smell but now I don't notice any difference. Guess leaving it out won't do any great harm.

    Kay - :)

    Linda, ofcourse but it is not a sin leaving out the soy products. Makes me rest easy. It cleared out sinuses.

    HC thanks.

    Asha, I am not particularly convinced it is super health. But if you like why not.

    Priya, thanks

  9. I am so glad that i read your post today...even i am a bit relieved from my guilt of hating Tofu.I just cant bite into it,and on other hand i love to cook paneer in so many various ways
    Coming to this soup, since i never had tasted it(we have no Thai cuisine serving restaurants around),i can only imagine the taste with the list of ingredients and the LOOK of the soup at ur place and am already feeling like slurping some :-)

  10. The only dish I make with tofu is the burji. Can't stand it for the most part, just like you.

    Soup look super-yum, ISG! Loved that u used the lime leaves in place of kaffir. It must've aded the same effect.

  11. Never tried this thai soup..looking yummy..

  12. That looks awesome indo... have got to try this.

    I do like tofu & soy chunks but don't overdo them and have them everyday.

  13. I love this soup and order it at Thai restaurants (veggie version). This along with Pad Thai.
    The color of the soup is pretty.

  14. You have a lime tree ? Does it survive the cold ? did you grow it yourself ?

  15. Sandeepa, yes I do, but in a huge pot inside the house. They remain dormant and don't grow any new during the winter time. I put it out during the summer and they grow like crazy. I don't think I will see limes any time soon but still, if I can make Tom Yum Goong once in a while don't you think it is a good compromise ;)

  16. I have had them In Thai restaurants. To me it tastes similar to ur rasam. Never tried at home. Lovely color and nice click.

  17. Soup looks lovely...always order this one at the Thai restaurants...

  18. Looks lovely! Nothing comforts like a bowl of hot soup on a cold day!

  19. Soup looks delicious and yum ! Surprisingly I seem to have missed trying this when I eat out at Thai restaurants, will surely try after reading your endorsement of this soup :-)

  20. Aren't thai soups the best? Love the mix of flavours and herbs, yours looks absolutely the restaurant ones :)

  21. Thats a great soup..I am not a soup person,while husband is one..This would just please him..:)

  22. i agree. almost 90% of all soy is genetically modified. women should not consume soy more than two or three times a week as it affects estrogen levels. i shudder to read of people who eat soy almost every day in large quantities.

  23. having said that, this is my fav soup - the shrimp version.

  24. Bee, yes that too. I restricted or if not completely stopped giving soy products to the kids because of the estrogen levels. Other than the occasional tofu no soy in my home. Really scary when a lot of people adopt something as healthy.

  25. I like tofu, but not as much as paneer :)My doc told me to not have tofu at all coz of estrogen levels

  26. Love, love, love hot and sour soup.

  27. I love this soup when I first had it in a restaurant. But am not sure if I could get all the ingredients :)

  28. that looks delicious...

  29. I was so pleased to read your thoughts on tofu here. I haven't eaten it for years, as I was fortunate to come across some solid research discussing the harmful effects of tofu.


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