This post is from guest writer Craig Fear of Fearless Eating.
Today, millions of people are suffering with chronic gut issues brought on by the forces of modern living. Most at some point seek medical help. And while many medical treatments can be effective (and often costly), as a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner (NTP), I can’t tell you the amount of people that tell me they are fed up with medical treatments.
They’ve tried everything – this procedure, that procedure, this drug and that drug. They’re sick of taking drugs, few of which ever solve the underlying problems and have all sorts of side effects. They’re desperately looking for natural alternatives.
Could you imagine if your doctor said to go home and make yourself a Thai soup with lemongrass, galangal and kaffir lime leaves? They’d probably lose their medical license.
In Thailand (and many other parts of southeast Asia) these three herbs are highly valued for their many health benefits. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, of course. Native cultures around the world have used the natural substances in their local flora to treat various illnesses which they administered in concentrated forms like tinctures, essential oils, salves, teas, tonics and of course, soups.
The Health Benefits of Eating Soup
Soups are a wonderful medium for administering the healing power of medicinal plants! As they simmer in water or broth, they release their nutrients and phytochemicals, diffusing not just their health benefits but also their oils, aromas and wonderful flavors which make them so enticing to the nose and tongue.
On a recent trip to Thailand, I was amazed at the incredible diversity of traditional Thai soups, most of which never make it to the menus of western Thai restaurants. I started realizing that Thai soups could offer a lot of help to my fellow Americans suffering with digestive issues. And so it inspired me to write a book called The Thai Soup Secret, which includes 40 recipes for healthy Thai broths and soups.
Today, I’m going to share the recipe for a Thai coconut carrot soup.
Before I get to the recipe, let me briefly share a little about the health benefits of lemongrass, galangal and kaffir lime leaves. These are the only three ingredients which may be a little unfamiliar to you. I also want to show you how to prepare them and where to find them.
The Health Benefits of Lemongrass, Galangal and Kaffir Lime Leaves
These three are what many consider the classic trifecta of southeast Asian herbs that you’ll see in so many dishes, but especially soups. When included in soups they’re often not meant to be eaten, but rather, are used as aromatics, slowly simmered to infuse the soups with their incredible scents and flavors. And of course, they have many health benefits too.
In Thailand, lemongrass is used to help digestive issues such as diarrhea, gas, constipation, stomach aches and nausea. It’s also used to help lower blood pressure, act as a diuretic, help with insomnia, alleviate pain and ease a variety of respiratory issues.
Many of these benefits aren’t just anecdotal either. Scientific studies have shown lemongrass is effective for fighting stomach infections including H. pylori (source), has potent antimicrobial effects (source), has potent antifungal effects (source), and can help fight Candida (source).
How to Prepare Lemongrass, Galangal and Kaffir Lime Leaves
When I first wrote this post, I wrote a ridiculously long description for how to chop and prepare these three herbs. And then I realized that the video on the homepage for my book for how to make tom yum goong (a hot and sour soup with shrimp), Thailand’s most famous soup, contains a 40-second clip for how to do it.
I think this visual is a much better example. Simply check out the segment here between 0:50 and 1:30 (or watch the whole thing to see how easy it is to make tom yum goong!):
So did you watch the whole thing?
Admit it, you REALLY want to make the tom yum goong now too, right?
I confess that I thought about sharing the tom yum goong recipe in this post instead of the coconut carrot soup. But I know that this blog is not exactly geared to hardcore southeast Asian food fanatics. I also know many Americans don’t like the intense heat and spice of Thai bird’s eye chiles. And tom yum can be pretty spicy!
So I thought the coconut carrot soup would be a better place to start. It’s marries some classic elements of Thai cuisine (including lemongrass, galangal and kaffir lime leaves) with a more familiar creamy vegetable soup many of us grew up with here in America. And if you really like spicy, well the recipe also gives you the option to include Thai chiles.
How to Make a Thai Coconut Carrot Soup
For me personally, this recipe is all about finding that perfect consistency of carrots, creamy rich coconut milk and chicken broth with Thai-infused herbs and seasonings. Nothing is set in stone here. Use this recipe as a template to find what you like.
Add a little more broth for a thinner consistency or a little less and a tad more coconut milk (or even coconut cream) for a thicker, richer flavor. I prefer the latter mixed with a little lime juice, a dash of fish sauce, a pinch of chile powder and some chopped Thai basil.
Use whatever combination of seasonings you prefer. Thai soups are not standardized recipes! Always adjust flavors in the end to find what you like, which is how it’s done in Thailand.
- 1 TBS coconut oil
- 2 shallots or 1 medium onion, minced
- 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 stalks lemongrass, cut into ¼ -inch slices
- 1 to 1 ½ -inch piece fresh galangal or ginger, peeled and cut into ⅛ to ¼ inch slices
- 1 quart chicken broth
- 1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into ¼ inch thick rounds
- 4-6 kaffir lime leaves, ripped in half
- 1 TBSP fish sauce
- 1 14-ounce can full fat coconut milk
- 1 red Thai bird’s eye chile, sliced in half and seeded, optional
- ¼ cup tightly packed fresh cilantro, coarsley chopped
- Seasonings, to taste
- Fish sauce or soy sauce
- Fresh chiles, thinly sliced or chile powder
- Fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped
- Fresh Thai basil, coarsely chopped
- Freshly ground black or white pepper
- Fresh lime juice
- Heat the coconut oil in a medium or large stockpot over medium heat. Add the shallots or onion, garlic, galangal or ginger and lemongrass and simmer for 2-3 minutes, or until the mixture is fragrant.
- Add broth and bring to a boil.
- Add the carrots, kaffir lime leaves and fish sauce and reduce the heat to a steady simmer. Cover the stockpot and simmer until the carrots are tender, stirring occasionally, about 10-15 minutes.
- Add the coconut milk, bird’s eye chile (if using) and cilantro and simmer another 5-10 minutes.
- Remove and discard the lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves and bird’s eye chile.
- Puree the soups with a handheld immersion blender (or pour into a blender to puree).
- Ladle the soup into individual bowls and add seasonings, all of which are optional. You can use any combination of the seasonings to suit your own tastes!
Where to Find Lemongrass, Galangal and Kaffir Lime Leaves
Some health food stores, such as Whole Foods, now carry fresh lemongrass. I’ve yet to see galangal and kaffir lime leaves though. However, you can easily find them in any Asian food store. If you don’t have an Asian food store near you, Import Food is a great place to order good quality, fresh Thai produce online. They can also be found on Amazon.
Use a Good Quality Fish Sauce
The only other ingredient in the recipe that may be a tad unfamiliar is fish sauce. Fish sauce is the quintessential salty seasoning sauce of southeast Asia. It adds a wonderfully subtle umami quality to many dishes.
Good quality fish sauces are NOT overly fishy in taste or smell. Avoid all products that include MSG, added sugar and other natural and/or artificial flavors.