Tom Yum Soup

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One of my favourite soups to make at home is tom yum soup. I learned a version of it at the Chiang Mai cooking school and never looked back since. It’s dead easy to make from scratch and even adding tom yum paste is optional. Granted, the ingredients aren’t the easiest to find, but I’m finding that more and more shops are stocking them. Some of my local supermarkets even sell tom yum starter packs with lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, garlic, shallot, lime and chilli in them. What  I normally do is buy a bit more of the herbs when I see them, prepare them and chuck them in the freezer. With a bit of forward planning, a fragrant spicy soup can be made from frozen to tummy in minutes. If you’d like the soup a little spicier, there’s no need to add more chilli, just pound the chilli padi into smaller bits.

For today’s soup, I had some seafood and plenty of prawns and their shells. I also had some spare chicken bones and made a lovely stock from boiling the bones and the prawn shells and heads together for about 10 minutes. The prawn heads, especially when I squeezed out the orangey guts, gave the stock an intensely briny prawn flavour. You can make the soup with plain water, it’ll still be fragrant but not as robust.


15 prawns, shelled
1 large squid, prepared
1 clove garlic, smashed and peeled
1 shallot, peeled
2 thick slices galangal
2 kaffir lime leaves
3 stalks lemongrass, cut diagonally into thick slices
1 chilli padi, smashed

1 small punnet cherry tomatoes (about 16)
1 small bag oyster mushrooms (about 12), torn into large chunks

juice of one big lime
2 tbsp fish sauce

1 bunch coriander, leaves only


  1. Make stock from the prawn shells and head by boiling them in 2 litres of water for 1o minutes. Strain the stock into a separate pot for making soup.
  2. Add the garlic, shallot, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass and chilli padi to the stock and bring to a boil. Next, add the prawns, squid, tomatoes and mushroom and bring to the boil again.
  3. Off the heat, add the lime juice and fish sauce sparingly, tasting as you go along, till you get the right balance of sour and salty.
  4. Serve, garnishing with coriander leaves.

Serves 4.

Poor Woman’s Bolognaise

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This is a rather cheap and comforting dish that freezes very well. It’s great to defrost one of these for a quick pasta dinner when really busy. I normally make a huge batch of this and freeze them in little baggies. The ingredients aren’t expensive at all, especially if you use frozen beef. Not being a fan of mystery meat, I skipped the beef mince and bought frozen beef cubes which I then minced with my food processor.

Please note that this is hardly authentic at all. I doubt it’s anywhere close to what an Italian mama would make and I make no apologies for it. I like this recipe and I’m sharing it. A warning to carnivores: it’s not very meaty because it’s bulked up by the onion, carrot and celery. To me, it’s a good thing because I don’t have to worry about including veggies, though I normally do if I’m not pressed for time. If you’re in for a meat fest, easy! Just add more meat. Cooking is that simple. Uh huh.


1 head garlic
4 large onions
3 large carrots
5 sticks celery
2 tbsp oil
2 punnets button mushrooms, quartered
500 g minced beef
2 tbsp dried oregano or mixed herbs
1 tsp cinnamon powder
2 tsp chilli flakes
2 tsp ground black pepper
2 bay leaves
½ cup red/white wine
2 cans stewed tomatoes, chopped



  1. Peel and chop the garlic, onions, carrots and celery into tiny bits. For goodness sake, please use a food processor of some sort. I salute you if you manage to chop it all by hand.
  2. In a large pot, sweat the onions and garlic in the oil, followed by the carrot and celery. Don’t let any of it brown. Stir in the mushrooms.
  3. Turn up the heat and add the beef, stirring till coloured.
  4. Now add the herbs and spices, followed by the wine.
  5. Allow to bubble before adding the chopped tomatoes.
  6. Turn down the flame and simmer on low for one hour. Alternatively, put it in a slow cooker or thermopot for a couple of hours.
  7. To freeze, allow to cool and then pack into plastic baggies.
  8. To eat, cook macaroni till al dente, toss it in the pasta and season to taste.
  9. Top with cheese and then put under a grill to allow the cheese to melt.

Makes about 10 servings.

Cream of Watercress Soup

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I love homemade cream soups. This watercress one is a heavily modified version of  Mum’s recipe. In the original, she uses a leek and potato soup base and bacon. I try to use as little meat as possible, but here I couldn’t make it vegetarian because I generally find vegetable stock too weak to make flavourful soup.

I make this when I have chicken stock and lots of yummy watercress from my usual vegetable stall. Try to get younger bunches with finer stems. Coarse stems would result in a rather fibrous soup.

The recipe itself is very simple although you’ll need a liquidiser. Mine comes as an attachment to my Kenwood mixer, normally used for baking. I suppose you could use a stick blender or a food processor, just that it’ll probably take a bit longer to reach the right pureed-ness!

This soup is also very freezer-friendly. I’ll make up a huge batch for lunch with salad and freshly baked bread, and then stick the rest in the freezer. Homemade soup is such a nice thing to go back to after a long day at work!



25 g butter
3 onions, chopped coarsely
1 stick celery, chopped, optional
3 tbsp flour
400 g watercress, torn to small pieces
1 litre hot chicken stock


  1. In a heavy cast iron pot, melt the butter and sweat the onions and celery on low heat till they turn translucent, about 5 minutes.
  2. Sprinkle over the flour and continue stirring over low heat for another 5 minutes. The paste should turn slightly golden but not brown.
  3. Add the watercress, stir to incorporate, and then pour over the chicken stock so it just covers the vegetables. Top up with water if necessary.
  4. Bring the soup to the boil and simmer for a few minutes. Allow to cool slightly.
  5. Blend the soup in batches. Here’s where you can freeze it for later or heat it up, then check seasoning and serve.
  6. Garnish with a dollop of sour cream or pesto or both if you like.

Serves 6.

[edited on 20 Apr 2009 11.10 am to include method. My apologies for the ditzy moment.]