Plainclothes Feast

A weekly peek at one dinner table, in the heart of one home, in the center of the country

Coconut Curry Soup


I receive magazines I don’t pay for…I think.  At the very least I hope I don’t pay for them.  If I do, I don’t mean to.  But I have to admit that I don’t audit my monthly credit card statements very closely…or at all. (Sorry, Dad.)  And it would be hard to know what to look for, if I were to scrutinize an entire year’s worth of statements, since it seems magazines are distributed exclusively by companies with nondescript names.  

One of these unwanted monthly arrivals is Redbook.  At the risk of sounding like a cranky old lady: Who would pay for this nonsense? The cover is always adorned with a touched-up image of a glamorous 30-something celebrity mom, contorting herself in a monumental effort to look like someone who might almost be your friend. The magazine’s guts are stuffed with foolish tips about eyeliner and commonsense dieting information.  If you happen to love Redbook, drop me a line and tell me why.  My mysterious monthly copy goes directly to the recycle bin. 

The other one is EveryDay with Rachael Ray.  I always glance at this one.  I like Rachael Ray–even though her 30-minute meals take me a minimum of 45.  With the exception of all that super-model hair, she actually does look like someone I might know.  More importantly, I appreciate her haphazard measurements (a small handful of this and a generous smidge of that), and she mostly cooks meals that I suspect my family would eat.  However, I would never (intentionally) pay for that magazine.  When I look at the very snazzy table of contents, with all its recipe thumbnails categorized by type, I’m typically dismayed to find fully 90% of the recipes are devoted to chicken.  And probably 90% of those call for boneless, skinless chicken breasts.  

I don’t do boneless, skinless chicken breasts, having been converted (I think by Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle) in about 2008 to the possibly nonsensical theory that it is unwise and even unprincipled to focus so singularly on one little part of the bird, especially when poultry are being genetically and environmentally manipulated into unnatural bustiness, while their legs atrophy beneath them. (OK, I do occasionally buy boneless, skinless breasts…for fajitas.  If I ever post that recipe, then I don’t want to have to go back and excise this post in preparation.) Mostly, though, if we are going to eat chicken, I buy a whole bird.  Yes, nine times out of ten, he’s a bird who spent his whole life in a cage and then landed in the grocery store with his liver and heart stuffed up his rear end in a plastic bag, but at least he looks something like the creature he used to be.  He has skin and bones and sometimes even little prickly feather stems. It makes me uncomfortable, and that’s probably a good thing.  We don’t eat much chicken, in part because of my discomfort with the headless bodies that I have to handle and slather and sprinkle and flip around in order to prepare them.  It also doesn’t help that dealing with a whole bird is messy and dribbly and activates all my germaphobic tendencies. 

Now and then, though, it’s so worth it.  A roasted chicken makes the house smell wonderful, excites the kids–who love to mangle the drumsticks and eat all the chicken skin they can find–crisp or otherwise (is there an emoticon for “yuck”?)–and, maybe best of all, provides me with leftover chicken breast meat for soups or salads. 

In the spectacularly successful but entirely imaginary cookbook in my head, this recipe belongs to the chapter called “What to do with a leftover chicken breast.”  It’s almost embarrassing to admit, after all that rambling discourse about chickens, but I’ve also made it with no chicken at all, and I don’t think anyone at my house noticed.  It’s so rich with coconut milk that it doesn’t feel skimpy without the meat.  If you want to boost the protein, just add a can of chickpeas.

By the way, I lack good photos of this dish in progress because I plain old forgot to take any.

This quick soup is filling, creamy, and slightly exotic without being aggressively flavored.  When I serve it to the kids, I give them more rice than soup.  When I serve it to the grown-ups, we get more soup than rice.  Everyone’s happy.


Coconut Curry Soup (Chicken optional)

1 tablespoon of olive oil

8 ounces of sliced button mushrooms

1 tablespoon of grated ginger

2 tablespoons mild curry powder (more or less)

4 cups of broth (chicken or veggie)

2 tablespoons of soy sauce

1 tablespoon of brown sugar

1 head of Chinese cabbage (like bok choy), chopped roughly 

Shredded chicken (if you want)

2 cans coconut milk 

1 lime’s juice

About 2-3 cups of cooked rice

1. In a large soup pot, heat the oil over medium-high.  Add your sliced button mushrooms with a small pinch of salt to help them brown.  Stir them now and then until they are nicely browned.  

2. Add to the pan your curry powder and grated ginger.  Stir until fragrant–just a minute or two, to bloom the spices. Then immediately add the broth, soy sauce, and brown sugar.  Bring to a simmer.

3. Add the Chinese cabbage and simmer for 15 minutes or so.  Then stir in the chicken (if you have some), the coconut milk, and the lime juice.

4. Serve with a scoop of warm, cooked rice on top or serve a spoonful of soup over the rice for less adventuresome palates.


2 thoughts on “Coconut Curry Soup

  1. I am thinking of trying this one this week! I used to love mushrooms but have become pretty against them. 🙂 I might chop them smaller for the flavor and keep them in the recipe, but do you have any suggestions for what I could try subbing if I end up leaving them out? I realize it would change the taste a lot, but was just brainstorming.

    And about fresh ginger, is it not the most amazing smelling stuff ever? I think I love it as much as garlic maybe. And when you put the two together, whoa baby!

    Yep, gonna make this. Thanks!

  2. I strongly suspect you of asking me questions just to stoke the flames of my culinary ego, ER, but the know-it-all in me can’t help but answer anyway…in as academic and expert a manner as possible. (I really need to get a pair of glasses I can wear down low on my nose, don’t you think?)

    OK, here’s what I know about mushrooms: According to the Cooks Illustrated geniuses (who know everything there is to know about the science of food but very little about how much time actual humans are willing to spend preparing it), mushrooms supply glutamates to our food, which substance makes everything taste better. Glutamates are responsible for umami–this I think I learned from Michael Pollan–if that helps. Anyhoo, if you don’t like mushrooms, then you can replace the overall meaty quality with…well, with meat, obviously. I don’t know how hard-core your hubby is, but if you browned some chicken tenders in the bottom of your soup pot first, that would do the trick. (Then you could just chop it up as a topper for the kiddos’ soup.) The browned meaty bits on the bottom would pump up the glutamic volume. Alternatively, I’m pretty sure that browned onions supply a bit fat dose of umami, too, though I can’t cite my source there, so feel free to google. In any case, I think some browned onions would give you the same experience without the potentially offensive fungal quality that mushrooms have. (OK, I love mushrooms, but I understand why some people don’t.)

    I’m making this soup tomorrow, and I think I’m going to put some browned onions in mine, even though I am using mushrooms, because I’ve never yet met a savory food that gently browned onions don’t improve!

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