Soupe de la Semaine: Duck Egg Drop Soup

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Soup is good food.

Let me say this right up front: working with lemongrass is a pain in the ass. When I discover pieces of it in tom kha gai, it’s always like tasty little bits of indigestible wood, and I never have a graceful way of disposing of them. In theory, you can pound it into paste, but since I don’t have a four-ton press hanging about, I haven’t done that. I may try chopping it up and popping it in the Vita-Mixer with a little liquid to see if I can get something useful, and when that happens, I will share the consequences, even it it results in having to replace the Vita-Mixer. That said, lemongrass tastes so good, it’s worth the effort.

Today, I decided to throw about a dozen stalks and three liters of filtered water into the Instant Pot® and make, in essence, lemongrass broth. It was almost like a tea; fairly aromatic, but somewhat insubstantial, so I threw in some Better Than Bouillon stock paste for good measure. A couple of recent impulse purchases meant that I had a dozen duck eggs and a gigantic bag of Chinese leeks laying about, so I went improv in a big way. I’ve always liked egg drop soup, so I thought I’d try my hand at it. Simple simple simple.

The first chore was to clean the lemongrass, which had a fair amount of residual dirt, and then chop off the bits that weren’t going to be useful. The New York Times food section website has an excellent video on just how to do that. I did not bruise the lemongrass first, figuring that there was no need to leave any of those aromatic oils on my butcher block; the Instant Pot®’s pressure cooking function was adequate to force them into the broth. 30 minutes of high pressure with a natural release was just fine, as I was in the midst of doing other stuff at the time. Yay for multitasking, especially when a machine takes on half the tasks.

After the lemongrass broth was complete, I added the Better Than Bouillon stock paste to give the broth some heft, and added a little potato starch for thickening. The Chinese leeks are actually more similar to garlic chives than traditional leeks in taste and texture, and a quick clean and chop rendered them soup-ready. For the finale, a couple of duck eggs (or chicken eggs, if that’s what you have) pulled it all together. I could easily have gone more complex with spices or seasonings, but the stock paste brought sufficient salt into the equation, and I wanted to let the rest of the ingredients speak for themselves. A tablespoon or two of fish sauce would have been a welcome addition on some other day, and you’re welcome to play with your own mix. I can even imagine a place for some five spice powder or star anise as potential components, but on this day in this place, I opted for simplicity and it tasted fresh and good.

The technique for “dropping the egg” is pretty straightforward. whisk a couple of eggs in a Pyrex® measuring cup, then whisk a couple of ladles of the hot broth into the eggs. At that point, you can drizzle the egg-broth mixture into the hot soup a bit at a time as you stir the soup. Voila: egg threads. Done and done. I served it in bowls because it was hot and needed the surface area to cool a bit, but mugs are fine serving vessels as well.

Duck Egg Drop Soup
serves 8-12 as a starter

Tiny for leeks, aren’t they?

INGREDIENTS
3.5 liters / 15 cups water
12 stalks lemongrass, cleaned and halved (see above for technique)
3 tablespoons / 60 g Better Than Bouillon stock base
2 cups / 200 g Chinese leeks, chopped (green onions or garlic chives or leeks can be substituted)
2 duck or chicken eggs
2 tablespoons / 20 g potato starch (or corn starch)

DIRECTIONS
Clean and chop lemongrass (see video for technique). Add to Instant Pot® with 3.5 liters / 15 cups water. Turn lever on lid to “Sealing” (rather than “Venting”) and press the “Soup” button, adjusting the time to 30 minutes if necessary. When cycle is done, allow to depressurize naturally or turn lever to “Venting,” depending on your time constraints. Remove lemongrass stalks and add stock base and chopped Chinese leeks. Turn Instant Pot® off, then press the “Saute” button to heat the soup base. Whisk together potato starch and a small amount of stock (approximately 125 ml / ½ cup) to form a slurry; gradually add another 125 ml / ½ cup of stock while whisking, then add the thickened stock to the Instant Pot® container.

Crack two eggs into a Pyrex® measuring cup or other bowl, then whisk in about 250 ml / 1 cup of hot broth, stirring constantly. Drizzle that mixture into the Instant Pot® container, stirring constantly, so the egg becomes threadlike. Turn Instant Pot® off (or set to warming mode), and serve.

Thai One On, or Larb is Just a Four-Letter Word

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A somewhat inauthentic take on a great Thai salad

A somewhat inauthentic take on a great Thai salad

As truth would have it, despite its being on pretty much every Thai restaurant menu in North America, the salad known as larb actually originated in Laos, though versions can be found throughout Thailand, particularly in the northern part of the country, as well as in Myanmar and China’s Yunnan province (where there is a significant Lao community). The recipes from which I concocted my version come from highly authentic sources, Bon Appetit magazine and Giada De Laurentiis. Fortunately, I’ve had it a about a gazillion restaurants, so I knew the flavour profile. Also, being in the greater Los Angeles area, I had access to ingredients that may be more difficult to obtain in Dubuque, Des Moines, or Denton.

Rather than the traditional ground beef or chicken, I opted for lamb both because I wanted a break from beef and chicken, and also because the market was having a ground lamb sale. [Incidentally, fish and duck are popular protein options for larb as well, so feel free to try your hand with whatever’s at hand. I may yet take a whack at escargot larb if I ever get the wind up.]

Prep consists of a bunch of chopping, followed by a little sizzle in the pan, followed by dumping said protein on either the trad lettuce (or radicchio or endive) leaf, or piling it on some mixed greens, as I did earlier this evening. It’s a mere 30 minutes from concept to plate, making it a perfect alternative to a rabbit food salad with a burger patty sitting forlornly alongside, and simple to prepare after a long day’s work, presuming you have all the ingredients to hand. For those who don’t have immediate access to fresh whole lemongrass (or who don’t want to work at cutting it into bits so small they don’t appear as wood chips in the salad), many supers in the US (including Kroger and its subsidiaries) carry lemongrass paste in the produce section. It’s a bit pricey, but one tube will take you a long way.

Ground lamb and spices being browned

Ground lamb and spices being browned

Larb with Ground Lamb
INGREDIENTS
Dressing
1/3 cup fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons fish sauce (such as nam pla or nuoc nam)
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon Sriracha sauce

Lamb (or other protein)
1 1/2 pounds ground lamb (chicken, turkey, beef, or pork may be substituted)
1/2 cup coarsely chopped shallots
2 tablespoons thinly sliced lemongrass
2 kaffir lime leaves, finely chopped (you can find these at Asian, Middle Eastern, and some Indian markets)
2-3 tablespoons fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
1 small red Thai chile (such as prik kee noo), thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons fish sauce (such as nam pla or nuoc nam)
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Greens
1 head iceberg lettuce, or 16 oz. mesclun mix (4 oz. per serving)
1 small bunch cilantro (optional)

PREPARATION
Dressing
Stir all ingredients in a small bowl to blend; set aside.

Lamb (or other protein)
Combine ingredients 2-8 in a food processor, or just chop on cutting board. Season ground meat with salt and place it in a large heavy nonstick skillet over medium–high heat. Add spice mixture and sauté, breaking up meat into small pieces with the back of a spoon, until it begins to turn golden brown and is cooked through, about 6 minutes.
Place mesclun (or a couple of iceberg lettuce leaves) on each plate. Top leaves with meat mixture, dividing evenly. Garnish with cilantro (if desired) and spoon reserved dressing over.