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Ok, so it's not made 100 percent from pantry staples, but if you've got a jar of Thai curry paste in your fridge (and you should—the stuff lasts forever!), some chicken or vegetable stock on the shelves, and a box of noodles, then a hearty, fresh, filling, and tasty dinner is just a chicken breast and a few herbs away.
The soup is not traditional by any means, but jarred Thai red curry paste shares many flavors in common with traditional tom yum soup—the lemongrass, chilies, and galangal, for instance—so it makes a pretty good substitute for the real deal. I start by frying the paste in a bit of oil to help bloom and deepen its flavors, then whisk in some canned broth, fish sauce, sugar, and lime juice, along with a couple small pieces of chicken breast. In the time the chicken takes to cook through, you can cook noodles in a separate pot.
Noodles in a bowl, broth poured on top, chicken shredded and added to the soup, a handful of cilantro, mint, and/or basil, some scallions or onion, and an extra lime wedge to serve. It's not quite as fast as instant ramen, but with its balanced flavors of hot, sour, salty, and sweet, it's a heck of a lot tastier.
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About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.