‘Tom Saap’ ต้มแซ่บ, a herbaceous soup from the province of Isan in the northeastern region of Thailand. Outside of Thailand it is not as well known soup, although you may still find it in restaurants specializing in Isan cuisine. I’ve had a very good surprise when I tasted ‘Tom Saap’ for the first time.

Typical to Isan, the bold flavors and the rustic technique are magically harmonized into a balanced and flavorful result. Aromatic herbs play a dramatic role and give the soup its complexity. Originally this soup is made with pork ribs and the flavors of long cooked meat set the foundation for this dish. Therefore the main challenge in a plant based version of this soup is to successfully replace this meaty base while producing sufficient umami tones.

I have used a base made with dry shiitake mushrooms, kelp seaweed and miso. A puree made of the mushrooms, miso, a little bit of coconut suger and salt can be used as well to give the soup a body and a bit of murkiness that mimic a cloudy meat broth. Tomatoes add more glutamate that surge umami flavors.

The herbs in this soup include a good amount of sliced fresh galangal, pounded pieces of lemongrass stalks and torn makrut lime leaves. The soup is finished off with a squeeze of lime, chopped coriander leaves, sliced green onion, roasted chili powder and roasted rice powder. The last two give the soup a typical and wonderful Isan style smoky profile.

Ingredients

Center pot:

  • Sliced galangal
  • Torn Makrut leaves
  • Bruised and cut to pieces lemongrass stalks
  • Tomatoes
  • Light soy sauce
  • Sea salt

Stock:

  • Water
  • Dried shiitake mushrooms soaked in water overnight
  • Kelp seaweed
  • Miso
  • Coconut sugar
  • Salt
  • MSG (optional)

Aromatics and garnishes:

  • Lime
  • Chopped coriander leaves
  • thinly sliced green onion
  • Roasted rice powder
  • Roasted dry chili powder
Method

1.In a stock pot bring the water with shiitake mushrooms, kelp and miso to a boil a simmer on low heat to concentrate flavors. Season with a little bit of coconut sugar and sea salt. It should be pleasantly salty with a hint of sweetness.

2.In a food processor mash a few of the shiitake mushrooms with a little bit of the stock liquid into a paste and set aside. Discard the shiitake and the kelp and leave only the stock liquid.

3.Add the sliced galangal, bruised lemongrass pieces and makrut leaves into the stock pot. Add the tomatoes and other vegetables such as Thai eggplant. Continue to boil on low heat for half an hour. add liquids to compensate for evaporation. Season to taste with light soy sauce and salt. Do not use excessive amounts of soy to avoid soy overpowering flavors. At this stage the soup should be salty and a bit sour from the tomatoes.

4.Turn off the heat and finish off with a squeeze of a lime. Transfer to a serving bowl and sprinkle with coriander leaves, green onion, roasted rice powder and roasted chili powder.

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