Thai Sweet Potato and Pumpkin Soup

Ingredients:
6 cups good-tasting chicken stock
1/3 to 1/2 can thick coconut milk
4 Tbsp. minced fresh lemongrass OR bottled/frozen-prepared
3 kaffir lime leaves, left whole, OR substitute 1 tsp. lime zest
3 cups pumpkin or squash, peeled and cut into bite-size chunks
2 cups yam or sweet potato, peeled and cut into chunks
1-2 cups soft tofu, sliced into cubes OR substitute chickpeas or cooked shrimp
1 shallot, minced, OR 1/4 cup minced purple onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 thumb-size piece galangal or ginger, grated or sliced thinly into matchsticks
1 fresh red chili, sliced, OR 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. dried crushed chili, OR 1-2 tsp. chili sauce
1/2 tsp. turmeric
3/4 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. ground cumin
2-3 Tbsp. fish sauce, to taste
1/2 to 1 tsp. shrimp paste, OR 1 extra Tbsp. fish sauce
1 tsp. brown sugar
2 Tbsp. fresh-squeezed lime juice
1 generous handful baby spinach, washed
1/2 cup fresh basil + 1/2 cup fresh coriander for toppings

Directions:
Place stock in a pot over high heat. Add the prepared lemongrass (plus leftover stalk if using fresh lemongrass), the kaffir lime leaves, shallot, garlic, galangal or ginger, and chili. Bring to a boil.
Add the pumpkin (or squash) and yam. Reduce heat slightly and gently boil for 6-7 minutes.
While the soup is cooking, add the spices/flavorings, stirring with each addition: turmeric, ground coriander and cumin, fish sauce, shrimp paste, brown sugar, and lime juice. Tip: Don’t be tempted to omit the fish sauce and shrimp paste – they smell bad, but make for wonderfully-flavored soup!
When pumpkin and yam are soft enough to eat, reduce heat to low. Now stir in the coconut milk (start with 1/3 can and increase to 1/2 can depending on how creamy you want it).
Stir well and taste-test the soup for salt and spice, adding more fish sauce if not salty or flavorful enough (this will depend on the ‘saltiness’ of your stock). Add more lime juice if it’s too salty or sweet. If it’s too sour for your liking, add a little more sugar; also adjust the spice level by adding more chili. If too spicy, add more coconut milk.
Just before serving, add the soft tofu and spinach and gently stir it into the soup (the spinach will wilt instantly). Portion out into bowls and top with the fresh basil and coriander. Note that this soup is usually served with rice on the side, but it could also be served with noodles. Enjoy!

Brian discovered this recipe while we were living in North Carolina. There were some excellent Asian food markets close by, and this dish has continued to be one of our favorites. The coconut milk makes it absolutely to die for. There is also a great vegetarian version on About.com

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