I went to the market the other day and found some fresh lemon basil. More often than not I’m deciding what to cook based on ‘catch of the day’, products that are in season and available in the market.
Some ingredients make a huge difference when added to some dishes, lemon basil is among them and I immediately knew which dish I should prepare. ‘Gaeng Liang’ แกงเลียง is a classic Thai vegetable soup, considered as health food. It’s the type of everyday modest foods people cook at home. I remember the first time I had ‘Gaeng Liang’ as eye-opening, it tasted very different from what I deemed as part of the Thai range of flavors. It was a very good surprise though it had clean almost soothing flavors.
‘Gaeng Liang’ is based on a simple curry paste and unlike the majority of gaeng dishes, uses white pepper as the heat source. It is by no means a very hot dish, but the noticeable to say bold presence of white pepper is what in my opinion differentiates it from other soups and curries. I also like to add grachai which is another secret of this dish although not all versions call for this magical ingredient.
The broth is water-based and tends to be murky from the paste. Whereas the traditional version contains pounded shrimp and ‘Gapi’ (shrimp paste), my plant-based version is omitting those two and replacing them with other plant-based umami flavor sources, such as fermented soybean and rice paste.
Gourd vegetables are very commonly used in this soup and in this version I’ve included three different gourds. Pumpkins also work very well and so would courgettes.
- 4 cups water
- 1 Kelp seaweed
- To taste salt (I use coarse sea salt)
- 1 Ivy gourd
- 1 luffa (ridged gourd aka Chinese okra)
- 1 snake gourd
- 1/4 kabocha pumpkin
- 1/2 cup oyster mushrooms
- 1 cup Lemon basil
- 2 tbs shallot
- 2 tbs fresh or frozen grachai (wild ginger) or a smaller quantity of dried grachai powder
- 1 tbs white pepper
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tablespoons fermented soy & rice (organic Miso)
1.First pound the paste ingredients in a mortar and pestle to a fine paste. Add the miso after pounding the other ingredients as it doesn’t require much pounding and adding it too early may slow down the pounding process.
2.Prepare the vegetables. Pumpkin: peel it and cut it into bite-sized pieces. Snake gourd: trim the edges, peel the skin and cut it into equal pieces that would fit into serving bowls. Halve the snake gourd pieces lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Ivy gourd: leave the skin on and cut it into bite-sized pieces. I halve it lengthwise and then cut each half into pieces. Luffa: choose one that is not too large in diameter, peel it first and then cut it into bite-sized pieces. Rinse the lemon basil and pluck off the leaves and discard the stems.
3.In a pot bring the water with the kelp to a boil and simmer gently for a few minutes to let the kelp release its flavor into the water. Add the curry paste and stir until completely dissolved in the water. Taste and add salt to your liking. Note that you may need to add more salt after adding the relatively bland vegetables to the curry. At this point, the curry should be salty but not overly salty and you will notice the pronounced flavors of the white pepper and grachai.
4.Add the vegetables based on their cooking time and cook them through. I typically give the tougher pumpkin a head start before adding the gourds and finish off with the mushrooms which only need brief cooking. Adjust the flavor by adding salt if need be. Ladle into a serving bowl and garnish with lemon basil leaves.
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