Saturday, 28 April 2012

Fragrant turmeric, coconut and fish soup


I just had a holiday in Andalucia, Southern Spain, where I ended up totally grossing myself out on greasy food. It seems that when you eat out in certain regions, vegetables rarely make it to the table (unless dipped in batter). Apparently people only eat them at home, and as a result, restaurant fare in Andalucia ends up being everything and anything dunked into the deep fat fryer. Which is awesome and exciting at first (yum, pass the deep-fried calamari), but dreary and palate-clogging after 10 days. I would snatch at the lemon wedges that arrived on the tapas plates to get a bit of vitamin C and freshness.

Which is why I’ve been craving clean Asian flavours ever since we got home. This is a little fish soup I dreamt up – it’s comforting, aromatic and wraps you up with a big hug of creamy, coconutty spiciness. Perfect for this tiresome rainy weather – will perk you up and cheer your spirit with its lovely yellow colour. Just be warned – peeling the skin from fresh orange-coloured turmeric root makes your fingers look as though you smoke 40 Silk Cut a day, but it’s well worth the hassle if you can find it as it has a wonderful mellow, mysterious flavour.

Serves 2 hungry people as a generous main course

You will need:

375g firm white fleshed fish (I used haddock fillet) cut into 2 inch chunks
1 x 400g tin coconut milk
1 pint chicken stock (using a stock cube is fine)
1 large courgette, cubed (could be any vegetables you fancy, broccoli might work well)
1 bag/punnet baby leaf spinach
Rice noodles – as many as you like, depending on how hungry you are (I use King Soba brown rice noodles)
2 tbsps small dried shrimp
Juice of 1/2 lime
2 tbsps fish sauce

For the spice paste: 
1 small onion
3 cloves garlic
3 sticks fresh lemongrass
1 tsp Thai shrimp paste (Seasoned Pioneers do a good one)
2 Birdseye chillies
1/2 thumb-sized lump fresh turmeric (you can get this from Asian supermarkets – not the end of the world if you can’t find it)
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1 large thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger

Optional condiment (for those who really like a bit of extra heat) – a chilli sauce kicker:
Juice of 1/2 lime
1 clove crushed garlic
4 birds eye chillies, minced
2 tbsps fish sauce

Reserve the hard white fat from your tin of coconut milk and put this aside in a wok or large saucepan.

Then make your spice paste – roughly chop your onion, lemongrass, garlic, chillies, turmeric, ginger and put them in a food processor. Add the turmeric powder and about 1/4 of the rest of the tin of coconut milk. Blitz to a paste.

Cut the fish into large chunks, then do likewise with the courgette.

Put your wok onto a high heat, and fry the hard white coconut fat for about 5 minutes until it separates and you can see clear oil at the edges. Then add your spice paste, and fry it for several minutes until it reduces and becomes really fragrant, stirring frequently so it doesn’t catch and burn.

Meanwhile, boil your noodles until cooked, then drain and rinse under cold water so that they stop cooking, and set to one side.

To the bubbling spice paste, add the rest of the tin of coconut  milk and the cubed courgettes. Add the pint of chicken stock. Simmer the courgettes for about 5 minutes until tender, then add the fish,  baby spinach leaves, dried shrimp and cooked noodles. Cook briefly until the spinach wilts, the fish is opaque and the noodles are warmed through – probably no more than 2 minutes. Add the juice of half a fresh lime, 2 tablespoons of fish sauce, stir and then take off the heat.

Make your chilli sauce kicker condiment for drizzling over the soup - finely chop your 4 birdseye chillies and garlic, add to a small dish with the juice of half a lime and 2 tablespoons of fish sauce.

Serve in two large bowls, and drizzle with the chilli sauce kicker to taste.

Flipping marvellous with a large glass of chilled dry sherry or white wine!