A Romance in a Thai Granny’s Garden
Thai Country Style Soup with Lemon Basil
Gaeng Leang Bai Meng Luck
Every time I visit a Seattle Farmers’ Markets and see Hmong-farmer stalls that have fresh lemon basil; I get excited and want to cook Gaeng Leang–a Thai country-style soup. It is our Thai ancestor’s creation and a classic soup that is known in every village in Thailand. Any vegetables that grow together in a Thai granny’s garden seem to go together in a pot with a finish touch of lemon basil — a romance of flavor is in the pot. Thais seem to keep it simple with three to five vegetables. If there are five kinds of vegetable with five-different hues of color then the classic name is “Gaeng Leang Benjarong” and one of the vegetables must be Kabocha pumpkin with its yellow-orange color.
After making the soup base, the rest is simple. You may use any authentic Asian vegetable of your choice such as luffa, Kabocha pumpkin, young corn, melon, corn kernels or watermelon rind. The final touch is always lemon basil (Bai Maeng Luck). Lemon basil is inseparable from this soup. In Seattle in the summer I always use lemon basil either from my garden or the farmers’ market.
I challenge myself to reconstruct a rustic Thai dish in a sophisticated way while keeping the original concept and authenticity. I cut anchovy fillets into small pieces and dice watermelon. The soup is gentle and not as hot and earthy as in Thailand with shrimp paste. Thais generally serve this soup warm. But my recipe is generous with the amount of watermelon rind so it is sweet and sophisticated enough that you can serve either warm or cold. I love the simplicity of Gaeng Leang — a flavor of fresh seasonal vegetables in a bowl.
Tomorrow my friend will drop by for lunch. I want to prepare a summer soup for her, a country-style but elegant for girl lunch. I know she will like it. Our desert will be Yangon Almond Pancake with Berry and honeyed yogurt. All I hope for is a nice sunny day, so we can enjoy in my Thai garden here in Seattle.
Watermelon Rind Soup with Lemon Basil
Gaeng Leang Pueak Tangmo Kub Bai Meng Luck
Serves: 21 tablespoon chopped dried anchovy fillets or dried salted shrimp, pounded 1/4 cup diced purple onion or shallot 1 cup diced watermelon rind or any mixed vegetable (please see list above) 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/8 teaspoon black pepper Thai chili powder to taste 2 tablespoons lemon basil leaves, plus 2 sprigs for garnish
Bring 1 1/2 cups water, anchovy and purple onion to a boil and keep it simmer on medium heat for 15 minute to develop the flavors for the soup.
If you don’t want to eat anchovy, you may strain to remove the anchovy and purple onion at this point.
Combine watermelon rind, salt, black pepper powder and chili powder with the soup and let it cook on medium-high heat for 5 minutes. Stir in lemon basil and serve right away. Garnish with lemon basil sprigs.
Note: When lemon basil is not available, I compromise with Thai purple basil and it will not be lemony flavor that finish the soup but licorice instead. You may use any vegetables from farmer market or your garden such as zucchini, squash, pea leaf, corn and more.© 2010 Pranee Khruasanit Halvorsen I Love Thai cooking Pranee teaches Thai Cooking class in Seattle areas, her website is: I Love Thai cooking.com