Coconut Curry Soup with Roasted Salmon

Oh the weather outside is frightful (OK, not so much in California), and the chill in the air (mainly because we don’t have the best insulation in California houses) means it’s time to cook warm soups to help warm the body.  When cooking for two, soup is an effective way to make lunches for the week.  A pot of soup equals 6-7 meals, all that’s needed is really good Tupperware to make sure it doesn’t spill while commuting.

Another reason to love soup is it’s incredible capacity to use up leftover or past their prime vegetables.  Soups are endlessly adaptable given what’s in the fridge or taste preferences.  The soups I make are quick, between 20 and 40 minutes to prepare.  This soup is Thai inspired.  It looks like a sunset with its  pinkish-orange color from the mix of coconut milk and chicken broth.  Instead of adding in the salmon to cook in the soup (a possible variation), I roasted the salmon separate in order for the soup base to maintain its unique Thai curry-coconut flavor.  This method allows the soup and the salmon to remain two distinct but complementing flavors.

Here are the ingredients:
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 small onions, diced
2 celery ribs, diced
1 poblano pepper, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
3 tablespoons Thai red curry paste, such as Thai Kitchen
1 14-ounce box low-sodium chicken broth
1 13 or 14-ounce can low-fat coconut milk
3 small potatoes, peeled, and diced
1 pound fresh salmon sprinkled with salt pepper, and 1 teaspoon olive oil
fresh lime wedges and chopped fresh parsley (not pictured)
In addition to the parsley I forgot to photograph 3 small peeled and diced potatoes.
First saute the aromatics (onions, poblano pepper, celery, and garlic) in 1 tablespoon of olive oil.
Instead of a classic Latin sofrito where I’d usually add tomato paste or sauce, I used Thai Red Chili Paste, a fun ingredient to have on hand for easy Thai flavor without the fuss of finding and figuring out ways to use items I’m not familiar with.
Then add the liquids, chicken broth and coconut milk.  The color of the soup will look like a sunset, pinkish-orange.
Also add the diced potatoes.  Bring the soup up to a boil, then lower the heat to allow the soup to simmer for 20 minutes or so, enough time to roast up some fresh salmon.
Whenever I’m cooking for two, I prefer to use the toaster oven for small baking needs since it’s a manageable size and doesn’t need more than a minute or two to preheat.  I lined a mini baking sheet with tin foil for very easy clean up, and sprinkled salt, pepper, and a little olive oil on top of the fish.  Salmon’s a fish with more oil than others, so it doesn’t need a lot.  Bake at 350 degrees for 15-18 minutes, until the edges are crisp and the fish is flaky and pink.  Don’t you love those close up sizzling bubbles?
To serve, ladle the soup into bowls, top with chunks of roasted salmon and chopped fresh parsley.  Squeeze half of a lime on top of each bowl for added flavor.  Add a bowl of fresh salad and you’ve got yourself one tasty soup and salad combo.
Buen Provecho!

Zucchini Curry

Sometimes I buy ingredients that are on sale, but they are not my everyday staples, so they sit in my pantry gathering dust, staring me in the face every time I open the cabinet door.  Coconut milk is one of these culprits.  About 2 years ago I went through an obsessive curry phase, alright, I only made 2-3 recipes, but that was 3 recipes more than I’d ever made in my life.  So, for the past few years, 4 cans have been continuously reminding me that someday, somehow, I gotta put their delicious sweetness to good use.Enter the cookbook Gourmet Today.  I bought it from one of my favorite stores, half price books.  Lucky me, the cookbook included a free year subscription to the magazine.  Too bad the magazine no longer exists.  I’ve adjusted the recipe to have less coconut milk (read, less fat), added extra garlic, some extra spices, and decided to toast all the spices together instead of only 2.

You may be thinking, ok, so she’s used 1/2 a can of coconut milk, what about the other 3 1/2?  Yes…well…I haven’t really thought that far ahead yet.

Printable Recipe: Zucchini Curry

Start with fragrant spices.From the far left: 2 teaspoons curry powder, 1 teaspoon cumin seeds, 1/2 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds, pinch of cayenne pepper, 1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds.

Toast these in a dry skillet to bring out their flavor.  Breathe deeply, your kitchen will smell like you’ve traveled across the world to India.Next prepare 2 other ingredients to make the curry paste.  Rough chop 1 jalapeno, and grate 1 2-inch piece of fresh ginger.  How do you get rid of the rough brown skin from the ginger, you ask?  Use the edge of a spoon to scrape it off, like your skinning it.  To grate it use a microplane, but you can also use a cheese grater.  Do you have a mortar and pestle?  Excellent!  Just add the jalapeno, ginger, and toasted spices to the mortar and grind the shape out of them.  I couldn’t find mine, so I had to use my oversized food processor.  I had to add in a few slices of zucchini and a splash of water to help the puree process.  Doesn’t matter how you get there, the end is the same, a rich yellow curry paste.  OK, OK, mine is slightly chunkier than it should be because I used the food processor instead of a mortar and pestle.  Set this aside, but you may find yourself leaning in to smell it everytime you pass by.

Now, in the same skillet (the Gourmet Today book had us grabbing a new pot-I’m looking out for our well-being.  We don’t need more dishes to wash, that’s for sure) saute the diced onion and minced garlic with a tablespoon or so of oil.  I like olive oil.  We have it all around.  People may say it has such a sharp flavor and you should use something more mild.  Either my taste buds are unsophisticated or we buy cheap olive oil; I can’t taste the difference.There’s some residual curry powder here from toasting the spices, and it’s all good; everything going into the same dish, no need for another pot.  Now plop in the curry paste.And the sliced zucchini.Now mix it all together, so the curry paste coats EVERYTHING.  When the zucchini starts to look like it’s sweating you’ll add the liquids.

Shake the coconut milk.  Don’t brush this step off.  The fat chunks (yes I just wrote fat chunks) will drop to the bottom, so shake, shake, shake (do-do-do-do-do-do) shake, shake, shake; shake your booty, I mean coconut milk.  Add only half the can- we’re trying to be healthy here.  Also pour in about 1/2 cup of chicken stock or veggie stock if that’s how you roll.Cook it all together for about 5 more minutes.  At this point in time, I’m thinking, cool, I just adapted this Gourmet recipe to have less fat.  Go me!  Then I do a double take; the curry is very liquidy, and I like my sauce to coat everything around it, not run all over my plate like egg yolks.  So, I decide to try the ol’ cornstarch thickener trick.  I use it all the time because I have a tendency to not measure my liquids.  In a small bowl I whisked 1 teaspoon of cornstarch with about 1 tablespoon of water.  Then I mixed it into the zucchini curry and simmered it another 4-5 minutes.  The curry continues to thicken especially as it cools.It is super important that you do this thickening trick in a SEPARATE dish, so you have control over the cornstarch dissolving.  This bears repeating: you will have control over the cornstarch dissolving.  You will make a grievous error if you add the cornstarch straight into the hot curry mix.  Please trust the person who’s already gone down that awful, ostracizing road.  You will end up with clumps of cornstarch in your curry, and it is not a pleasant experience to forewarn guests that they might bite into a dry pocket of bitter cornstarch.  Lesson learned here: control the cornstarch.

OK, so now, you’re ready to serve your own lower fat version of Zucchini Curry.  Congratulate yourself on a job well done.  Serve it with rice.  Dang it-I should’ve done brown rice to continue the healthiness.  You should use brown rice.  Sprinkle it with fresh cilantro.  Nothing complements curry like freshly chopped cilantro.  Do you have nuts lying around?  Awesome- sprinkle those on too for some added crunch.