Although this spicy soup is traditionally made with squash or eggplant, I sometimes prepare the spicy base—called a bumbu—and add whatever vegetables I have around. Yellow squash and zucchini are especially good, but I also like mushrooms and green vegetables such as spinach or green beans. If you’re using a combination of vegetables, keep them separate so they can be added to the soup in stages according to their cooking times.
This soup contains some exotic ingredients. Laos powder may be easier to find, but fresh or frozen galangal has a much better flavor; look for it at a Thai market. Curry leaves and shrimp paste add an exotic Asian flavor but are not essential to the soup.
If you’re using whole seeds to make the spice mixture, the best way to grind them is in a small coffee grinder or in a mortar and pestle. The nuts should be ground in a mortar and pestle or in a food processor (don’t use the coffee grinder). Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to grind 10 nuts in a food processor, so you’ll have to make more than the recipe calls for and freeze it to use in something else.
Heat the peanut oil in a 4-quart pot. Add the onions, garlic, and chilies. Cook over medium heat until the onions turn translucent, about 10 minutes.
Add the ginger, ground spices, laos or galangal, and nut paste. Stir the mixture for 5 minutes over medium heat to release the flavor of the spices.
Add the broth, curry leaves, and vegetables. Simmer until the vegetables are soft—about 10 minutes for zucchini and squash, 8 minutes for green beans, 5 minutes for mushrooms, and 2 minutes for spinach.
Work the shrimp paste with the water to thin it and stir it into the soup. Stir in the ground dried shrimp.
Add the coconut milk and lime juice. Simmer the soup for 1 minute and season with salt and pepper.
© 2000 James Peterson. All rights reserved.