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Thai Herbed Chicken and Coconut Soup

(Kai Tom Kha)

I tell you, I made this out of spite--it sounded so bizarre. And while I was making it, my misgivings deepened. And yet, it was SO GOOD. Sour, intense, hot, and fragrant--I kept dipping into the pot and eating another bowl until it was entirely gone. Serve hot as a first course to 4-6 people to stimulate appetites--or serve to 1 big pig like myself, after a hard day at work followed by a peevish evening over the stove.

Garnish: 5 red chilies (the little fiery Tabasco-types); 7 Kaffir lime leaves, shredded--or 1/2 teaspoon grated lime zest; and 2 Tablespoons finely chopped cilantro leaves

Put the garlic, cilantro, lemon grass, shallots, ginger, and pepper in a blender and process it into as much of a paste as you can.

Open the cans of coconut milk and carefully spoon off the top half of thick milk into a large saucepan (leaving the thin milk behind). Bring this thick milk to a boil, then add the spice paste and stir over high heat for about 5 minutes. Add the chicken strips and continue stirring for a couple minutes, until the chicken is no longer pink. Add the rest of the coconut milk (the thin part on the bottom), bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for a minute or two.

When ready to serve, stir in the lime juice and fish sauce and reheat. Ladle into bowls and garnish with chilies, finely shredded Kaffir lime leaves (or zest), and cilantro.