Sometimes, you look in the refrigerator and you’re halfway to a good meal…the other half just depends on whether you can fake it the rest of the way. I’d happened onto some delicious peel-and-eat shrimp, and had poached half of them in their shells to make shrimp cocktail, saving the poaching liquid for…something. I cast about on Google for something to do with shrimp stock and found a suggestion for Tom Yum soup.
Since Sparky and I are in the throes of hay fever, hot-and-sour soup with its citrusy and gingery notes sounded just right – but to make “real” hot and sour, you need kaffir lime leaves, straw mushrooms, galangal, and all the complicated Thai chili mixes and spice pastes I didn’t have. What I did have were freshly planted herbs: lime basil, lemongrass (a bit younger than it should be, but still lemongrass) and mint. I keep a couple knobs of ginger in the freezer and I’d recently decided to try frozen mushrooms…so I decided we’d fake it. The key to faking recipe ingredients is to stop being literal and look around for things you think will give you a similar feel, if not an authentic one.
Sparky grudgingly agreed to help, although he’s really just not a soup guy.
I rummaged through the pantry and garden and gathered the following, for 2 servings of soup
A few frozen potstickers
6 uncooked frozen easy-peel shrimp (don’t use pre-cooked unless you have to)
Two cups of shrimp stock (or whatever stock you’ve got)
A half-bag of random wheat noodles of unknown foreign extraction (basically like spaghetti, so use that if you must)
about 1/3 cup frozen mushrooms
1 sprig lemongrass, crushed
1 small knob ginger, sliced
1 1/2 limes
A small slosh of fish sauce
A few chili flakes (or to taste)
lime basil sprigs (or other fresh basil, and extra lime)
Sparky poured the shrimp stock into a saucepan and added the frozen shrimp and potstickers. We put this over medium heat, bringing it very slowly to a boil, and when the shrimp were colorful and cooked through, but before they curled up, Sparky removed the shrimp and the dumplings with a slotted spoon. We set these aside to cool a bit.
We added the noodles to the simmering stock and started a timer to cook them according to the package directions. Sparky sliced the ginger and crushed the stem of the lemongrass to release its flavor, and added those along with the half lime to the simmering pot. When the noodles were a few minutes from being done, we added the chili flakes and the fish sauce, and a few leaves of lime basil.
As soon as the noodles were cooked, we removed the shells from the shrimp and put the shrimp and potstickers back in the soup, and squeezed in the remaining lime. We ladled it into bowls and garnished with the remaining lime basil and the mint.