Nigel Slater’s luxurious and deeply aromatic noodle dish has been on my poorly-maintained “to-make” list since Amazon delivered my copy of Appetite four years ago. It was the title that won me over, I must admit, though the pictures are pretty convincing, too: fat shrimp, tangled noodles, a beautiful green purée. One thing and another (lack of Cuisinart, fear of fish sauce) interfered, and I didn’t get around to making it until last weekend. And then—it was too spicy for me to enjoy. I suffered through it with a glass of milk and hoped it would mellow overnight.
It did. The cold leftovers with fresh mint and a squeeze of lime juice made a very nice lunch. I had worried that the noodles might get mushy, but they were pleasantly chewy and still tasted great. Some people don’t like the idea of carrying soup to work, but it makes such a perfect lunch that it’s really worth your time to find some sort of vessel that will hold soup without exploding or leaking in your bag. (I carry soup in Tupperware wrapped in a plastic bag and then take care to keep it upright, which is too much of a commitment for some commuters, I know.) I’ll definitely be making this again, with a few adjustments so that I can enjoy it the first time around as much as I do the second day.
Slater calls for "4 or 5 small, very hot red peppers." I didn’t see anything like this at the grocery store, so I decided to try three habaneros. Mistake! I think he is talking about something more like Thai peppers. Next time I will dial down the heat, one way or another. I used a carton of chicken stock and tried to gussy it up by simmering 30 minutes with some carrots, onions, and celery, but the results did not impress me. Next time I’ll use homemade broth. Finally, I used frozen, peeled, deveined shrimp because they were the only wild-caught specimens available and I wanted to see how they cooked up. They were okay but not as flavorful as I would have liked. Next time I will seek out better shrimp or try peel-on shrimp even though he calls for peeled.
- 4 or 5 small, very hot red peppers
- 2 or 3 small garlic cloves
- A small lump of ginger, about the size of a walnut in its shell
- 2 or 3 plump lemon grass stems
- A few coriander seeds
- A small handful cilantro leaves, plus 2 or 3 of their roots if possible
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- A little vegetable oil
- 2 cups stock, preferably chicken
- 1 3/4 cups coconut milk
- Juice of 1 lime
- Just a little nam pla (Thai fish sauce)
- A small handful of mint leaves
- About 4 ounces noodles (I used udon but you could try different noodles)
- A small handful crabmeat per person (I skipped this)
- About 1/2 pound peeled large shrimp
Halve and seed the hot peppers. Peel the garlic. Peel and shred the ginger. Finely slice the tender, innermost leaves of the lemon grass. Grind the coriander seeds or crush them in a mortar. Blitz it all with the cilantro and turmeric in a food processor until you have a thick green sludge. You may need a few spoons of vegetable oil to help it all go around, but use as little as you can.
Put your soup pot over moderate heat, add half the sludgy green spice paste (you won’t use the other half in this recipe), and fry it, stirring, for a minute or so. Then pour in the stock and coconut milk and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down and simmer for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, cook the noodles briefly in boiling water and drain them.
Lower the crabmeat and shrimp into the soup. The shrimp only need a minute or two to cook. When they are done, season with lime juice, salt, a teaspoon or so of fish sauce, and the mint leaves, torn up if they are large.
Divide the noodles among four large, deep bowls and ladle over the hot soup.
The next day you can eat this cold or heated. Either way, add another squeeze of lime juice and some fresh mint leaves.