Fragrant Prawn and Lemongrass Soup

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A wise man once said: ‘A weed is a plant for which we haven’t yet found a use.’ Lemongrass looks like a weed, grows like a weed, and, like a weed, needs relatively little care; I am sure that long ago it was regarded as a weed. Until, that is, some bright cook took seriously its subtle lemony fragrance and tried the ‘weed’ in a variety of delicious dishes.

In any event, lemongrass is a Thai standard and fits in nicely with the many other spices and seasonings that give Thai soups their explosive tastes.

This recipe is called Tom Yum Goong – in the West it should perhaps be called ‘Yum-Yum’ – and is no doubt familiar to lovers of Thai food. While retaining the essence of the recipe, I have slightly altered the original so as to facilitate its preparation and I think it makes a memorable starter for any meal.

Ingredients

  • 225 g (8 oz) raw prawns
  • 2 stalks fresh lemongrass
  • 1.2 litres (2 pints) homemade fish or chicken stock or store-bought fresh stock
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger
  • 1 or 2 fresh red Thai chillies, seeded and finely sliced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground 5 pepper or black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce or light soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 2 teaspoons chilli bean sauce (optional)
  • 2 whole spring onions, finely shredded
  • 5 sprigs fresh coriander

Method

Peel the prawns and discard the shells. Using a small sharp knife, remove the fine digestive cord. Wash the prawns in cold water, rinse well and pat them dry with kitchen paper.

Peel the lemongrass to the tender whitish centre and crush with the flat of a knife. Then cut into 7.5 cm (3 in) pieces.

In a large saucepan, bring the stock to a simmer and add the lemongrass. Turn the heat to low, cover and cook for 10 minutes. Remove the lemongrass with a slotted spoon and discard. Then add the ginger, chillies, salt, pepper, fish sauce and lime juice. If you like it spicy, add the chilli bean sauce. Simmer for another 3 minutes. Now add the prawns, cover the pot and remove from the heat. Let sit for 10 minutes.

Finally, stir in the spring onions and fresh coriander sprigs.

Ladle into a large soup tureen or individual bowls and serve immediately.