SINGAPORE - I am taking a stab at a Zen-like diet these weeks before Chinese New Year.
So clean food - clear soup, salad and perhaps grilled fish or meat - is what I eat these days.
It is not as boring as it sounds.
Perhaps my taste buds are more sensitive these days, as I cannot abide over-sauced or overly rich food, which is why I eat Japanese food more often than not.
But that is not to say that I do not hanker after a shot of spice or a tang of sourness.
This Thai mushroom soup, which I first drank in Thailand, satisfies such cravings during this time.
The main ingredients are just mushrooms of various kinds.
The soup is clear and clean, relying on stock made from chicken with the fat removed or vegetables.
Yet it is sharp with lime juice, fragrant with citrus and spicy with chilli.
Sourness needs sweetness to balance it.
In this soup, this comes from coconut water, not sugar.
Coconut water is, of course, the water that is found in the cavity of the young green coconut.
It has no fat and contains just about 50calories for one cup, mostly from natural sugar, which is unlike white processed sugar.
Coconut water has two types of natural sugar - fructose and glucose - a combination that helps to fuel or refuel the muscles.
Such natural sugar also adds subtle sweetness and fragrance to the pot.
Aside from B vitamins, coconut water also contains minerals such as potassium and magnesium. In fact, it has more potassium than a banana, for the same volume.
My coconut water comes from nuts that are plucked from the trees in my garden.
But a less troublesome way is to buy husked coconuts from the supermarket fridge. They come from Thailand and you need only one coconut to sweeten the pot for this soup.
There is even a South-east Asian braise where beef and lemon grass are cooked in coconut water.
I like it because it has uncomplicated flavours except for a bit of heat from the snapped fresh green chillies I like to serve with it.
For this Thai mushroom soup, you could use just water for the base, but I prefer chicken stock, which I always have on hand in the freezer, or vegetable stock.
Just bring the pot of liquid with its flavouring agents to the boil, squeeze lemon or lime juice over, then add enough coconut water to balance the tartness of the broth.
The rest of the ingredients - mushrooms and perhaps a tomato - are tossed in at the very end, wilting nicely in the hot broth.
And there you have it - a bowl of piping hot spicy soup that is also clean and Zen-like.
A perfect counterbalance to the upcoming season of surfeit.
Thai mushroom soup (Serves four to six)
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
4 shallots, peeled and sliced
2 red chillies, sliced thickly and diagonally
2 stalks lemon grass, sliced thickly and diagonally
4 kaffir lime leaves, left whole
Pinch of salt
1 tbs fish sauce
Juice from one lemon or from two large limes
1 to 2 cups coconut water
Black wood ear fungus, fresh, or if dried, then soak and cut into smaller pieces
A cup each of shitake, king oyster, abalone or shimeji mushrooms, or any type you prefer, sliced
Red chillies, sliced, to taste
Kaffir lime leaves, torn, to taste
Fresh coriander leaves, to taste
1. Put the stock or water in a pot with the shallots, chillies, lemon grass and kaffir lime leaves.
2. Bring the liquid to the boil, then let it simmer for a few minutes.
3. Season with salt, fish sauce and lime or lemon juice. Add coconut water to taste.
4. Bring the liquid back to the boil again.
5. Add the black fungus.
6. Then throw in the mushrooms, starting with the harder ones, such as the king oyster mushrooms. These should be followed by the softer varieties, such as the abalone, shitake and shimeji mushrooms.
7. Switch off the heat. Garnish the soup with more red chilli, torn kaffir lime leaves and fresh coriander leaves.
8. Serve the soup with rice, brown, preferably.
Sylvia Tan is a freelance writer.
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