Khao soi.

Until recently, we thought it was something our friend Reid had made up as a cruel joke on us. He had been to Thailand years ago, you see, and he insisted that he had eaten this really amazing noodle dish there. And the dish did sound amazing – a tangle of egg noodles swimming in creamy red coconut curry with juicy pieces of chicken and garnished with fresh lime wedges, a handful of chopped shallots, and plenty of cilantro. It sounded so amazing that Nathan and I immediately made a pact to find it as soon as humanly possible.

We searched all our favorite Thai restaurants in town, but never did we see those two words paired together on the menus. Hmm, maybe it’s a secret in-the-know item? Or listed only in some untranslated Thai menu? We mustered up some courage and started asking the staff, resulting in many confused smiles accompanied by head shakes. As we began doubting the existence of Khao Soi, we started plotting some sort of revenge food joke on our dear friend.

Then one day, I opened up my RSS reader and saw that Chez Pim just had Khao Soi for dinner! Not only that, but she made Khao Soi for dinner and hey, would you like the recipe? [*insert choir of angels here*] Not being as well-versed in Thai cooking nor as hardcore as Pim, I had to make some slight (read: more wimpy) adjustments at home. But I encourage you to check out Pim’s recipe first for the more authentic version.

And it’s true, I didn’t even think to ask the interweb gods before now – silly me. One quick trip over to Wikipedia and all is explained:

“Khao Soi is a Burmese-influenced dish served in northern Laos and northern Thailand… In northern Thailand, there is a similar dish known as Thai khao soi, which is a soup-like dish made with deep-fried crispy egg noodles, pickled cabbage, shallots, lime, nam prik pao, and meat in a curry-like sauce containing coconut milk… It is popular as a street dish eaten by Thai people, though not frequently served in Western Thai restaurants.”

Brown/black cardamon can be found at Asian markets and are larger than the usual green cardamon pods. While you’re there, pick up some Maeploy-brand red curry paste if you don’t have time to make your own and pickled Chinese mustard green. I’ve also made this with firm tofu instead of chicken for a mighty fine vegetarian Khao Soi.

2 tbsp vegetable oil
4-5 tbsp red curry paste (adjust to your spiciness level)
1 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
3 cups coconut milk
3-4 lbs chicken pieces (I bought drumsticks and wings) or firm tofu, cubed
1 brown/black cardamom pod, crushed (optional)
1-1.5 cups water or stock (chicken or vegetable)
a bit of sugar
fish sauce
about 2 lbs of fresh, thin egg noodles
2-3 shallots, thinly sliced
1 package of Chinese pickled mustard green, rinsed and chopped
3 limes, cut into wedges
about half a bunch of cilantro, chopped

Heat oil in a heavy bottom pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add red curry paste, curry powder, turmeric and stir stir stir. Cook while stirring for a few minutes until fragrant, but be careful and don’t burn the paste.

Stir in 1 cup coconut milk and bring it to a boil. Allow it to bubble for a few minutes while you keep stirring every so often. At some point, you should see some red oil floating on top and separating from the mixture. Add in the 2nd cup of coconut milk and stir. Again, you want to let it boil for a few minutes until you see some red oil separating.

Put in the chicken (or tofu) pieces, along with 1 cup of water/stock, the black cardamon pod (if using) and the last cup of coconut milk. You want to make sure everything is pretty much submerged in the liquid so add in some more water/stock as needed. Bring everything to a boil, then turn the heat to low.

Add in 2 tbsp of fish sauce and put the cover on. Simmer until the chicken is done. This can take anywhere from 30 min to an hour or more, depending on how big the pieces are (if you’re using tofu, you probably only need to simmer for 15 minutes). Test the doneness by cutting into a chicken piece and making sure the juices are clear.

Once chicken is done, it’s time to taste and adjust seasonings. You want to taste saltiness, spiciness, and a tiny bit of sweetness. Use fish sauce and sugar as appropriate.

Bring a large pot of water to boil (you can do this while the chicken is cooking, so it’s ready to go when the chicken is done). Add in a big pinch of salt. Rinse the fresh noodles quickly in cold water to wash off the extra flour and cook the noodles until al dente. Since they’re fresh noodles, this shouldn’t take too long, just a few minutes.

Now you’re ready to assemble the dish. Put a pile of noodles in a bowl, ladle in some curry and chicken, and top with the shallots, cilantro, and mustard green. Put a couple wedges of lime on top and squeeze in some lime juice just before eating.

(Makes 6-8 servings)