Soothing to the Soul, and Oh So Good!

Are you in the mood for something soothing to the soul that is flavorful and spicy but not overpowering; light but packs a punch? This Thai Hot and Sour Shrimp Soup (Tom Yam Kung), fits the bill and is absolutely delightful! On cold days it’s hard to resist this warms-you-to-the-bone soup, filled with juicy shrimp, fiery chiles, bright lemongrass and spicy ginger. Just the antidote for a very cold month of March here in the Northeast.


It’s is an easy dish to make and has complex flavors that blend together perfectly, so no need to change a thing. But keep in mind if you plan to reheat at a later date, although the taste is still delicious, the shrimp texture changes and the fresh basil and cilantro get quite soggy. If you know there will be leftovers, purposely put aside some of the shrimp, basil and cilantro then add it to the soup when reheating for another meal. That’s what we did for lunches the following day and it worked out perfectly.

One of the ingredients is lemongrass, which I adore! The herb’s bright flavor exemplifies the fresh, vibrant character of Southeast Asian cuisine. While the leaves of the long, slender plant aren’t particularly eye-catching, the stalk, which looks like a large, woody scallion, possesses a complexity of flavors that isn’t easy to put into words. Some describe it as citrusy, perhaps a little gingery. Its lemon flavor isn’t nearly as overt as lemon juice or zest; it’s more delicate, with a slight floral flavor that gives a dish a refreshing, lingering lift.

IMG_0952Cut off the top green blades of the lemongrass, remove several outer tough layers, slice the tender core into pieces at an angle, and smash the plant with flat blade of a knife to release the oils.

Avoid stalks that are dry and yellow—that’s a signal that they’re old and have lost moisture, flavor, and fragrance. Lemongrass keeps for weeks wrapped in plastic and refrigerated. If you know that you won’t be using it within a couple of weeks, store it in a plastic bag in the freezer, where it will keep for months with just a slight loss of flavor.

For a more intense seafood taste, we replaced the chicken broth with eight cups of our homemade shellfish stock. And for a little more color and heat, I included one thinly sliced red Thai chile in Step 1. And of course when red pepper flakes are an ingredient, I can’t help but add an extra dose!

It does not indicate in the directions to discard the ginger slices or lemongrass pieces before plating. Some people might find them hard to chew, so just set the table with a small bowl for those unwanted pieces and shrimp tails if diners care to remove them from their portions. We ladled ours over hot, brown Jasmati rice, which I intended to cook with some coconut milk in addition to the water, but just plum forgot—however, Russ noted the omission at dinner, mea culpa. There’s always next time!



  • 1 Tbs. vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp. finely chopped garlic
  • 1 tsp. chile paste
  • 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes, or more to taste
  • 4 thin slices fresh, peeled ginger
  • 2 stalks lemongrass, bruised with the side of a knife and cut into 1-inch pieces on the diagonal
  • 8 to 10 cups homemade or low-salt chicken broth (or shellfish broth)
  • 3 Tbs. fish sauce
  • 3 Tbs. granulated sugar
  • 8 oz. white mushrooms, quartered
  • 4 plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped
  • 1 lb. raw shrimp, shelled and deveined
  • 1/2 cup fresh lime juice
  • 2 scallions (white and green parts), coarsely chopped
  • 10 fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • 10 fresh cilantro sprigs, chopped


  1. In a saucepan, heat the oil over moderate heat. Add the garlic, chile paste, and red pepper flakes. Stir until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  2. Add the ginger and lemongrass; stir until the ingredients are lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Add the chicken broth and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.
  3. Bring the soup to a boil. Add the fish sauce, sugar, mushrooms, and tomatoes. Add the shrimp and cook until they just turn pink, about 2 minutes. (The shrimp will continue to cook in the hot broth.)
  4. Remove the pan from the heat and add the lime juice, scallion, basil, and cilantro. Serve immediately, over rice if desired.

By Mai Pham from Fine Cooking

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