Monday meal: Lower-fat Thai coconut soup with butternut squash

Spring is coming to Iowa soon, judging from the snowdrops my son spotted coming up a few days ago, but it’s still soup weather in my book. Tonight I’m making a lower-fat version of the Thai coconut soup called tom kha kai. You’ll need to visit an Asian grocery for a few ingredients, or order them online, but other than that, the soup is very fast and easy to prepare.

My recipe is adapted from Nancie McDermott’s book Real Vegetarian Thai, which I highly recommend for omnivores as well as vegetarians. I used one can of coconut milk instead of the two cans McDermott calls for, and I substituted low-fat coconut milk. That makes the soup a lot less rich but also cuts the fat and calorie count way down. I also left out one can of straw mushrooms and 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro, because I am one of those people who doesn’t like the taste of cilantro.

This dish is suitable for vegans and can be gluten-free, depending on the kind of soy sauce or tamari you use. Any orange winter squash or sweet potatoes can be substituted for butternut, and if you’re using mushrooms, shiitake or portobello could be substituted for straw mushrooms (add to soup pot along with squash).

The full recipe is after the jump.

Lower-fat Thai coconut soup with butternut squash

adapted from Coconut Soup with Galanga and Butternut Squash in Real Vegetarian Thai by Nancie McDermott

1 can light coconut milk

3-4 cups vegetable stock (made from bouillon works fine)

4 stalks fresh lemongrass (can be found at Asian grocery)

20 slices fresh galanga or 10 large piece dried galanga (can be found at Asian grocery)

10 kaffir lime leaves (can be ordered online or found at Asian grocery; dried or frozen leaves work as well as fresh)

about a dozen peppercorns

1 butternut squash, about 1 1/2 pounds

about 8 ounces firm or extra-firm tofu

1 Tablespoon soy sauce or tamari

1 teaspoon salt

2 Tablespoons lime juice (lemon juice can be substituted)

3 scallions, thinly sliced (a small leek can be substituted)

In a medium or large saucepan, combine coconut milk and vegetable stock, and bring to boil.

Meanwhile, trim the lemongrass stalks, cutting away dried tops and dried root portions at bottom. Cut stalks into approximately 2-inch pieces. You want them large enough to be easy to fish out later.

When coconut milk and stock have boiled, stir in lemongrass, peppercorns, lime leaves and galanga pieces. Lower heat to simmer.

Now peel the winter squash (butternut is much easier to peel than most varieties) and cut it into bite-sized chunks. You should have about 4-5 cups. If your squash is very large, chop about 4-5 cups and save the rest in the refrigerator for another meal.

Add the squash to the soup and increase heat to bring it back to a boil. If you want to add mushrooms, now is the time.

Chop the tofu into bite-sized pieces and add it to the soup about 10-15 minutes after the squash goes in.

A few minutes later, use tongs to remove lemongrass, galanga and lime leaves. Turn off heat and stir in sliced scallions, soy sauce or tamari, salt, lime or lemon juice and fresh cilantro (if using). Serve hot.

McDermott says this recipe serves 6 to 8 people. I would say 4 to 6, because we like big bowls of soup.

Variations: Add fresh or frozen vegetables shortly before the end of the cooking time. Frozen peas work well in this soup.

Hot dried peppers could be added to make this soup spicy, like the version found in most Thai restaurants.

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