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Thai Curry Noodle Soup (Khao Soi)

Updated: Feb 15, 2022

The star of the North

Prep: 10min // Cook: 20min

Thai Khao Soi Noodles

What is it?

This is a traditional curry noodle soup from Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand, based on a coconut milk broth, red curry paste and a fragrant seasoning mix. You all foodies out there, listen: if you plan to visit Thailand at some point, do yourself a favour and put Chiang Mai on your culinary itinerary just for this noodle bowl.


Origin

It is said that this dish originated from China and brought to the old Siam (now modern Thailand) by Burmese immigrants settled to the north of Siam, today Thailand’s Chiang Mai. Northern Thai cuisine has long been influenced by the Chinese and Burmese traditions and blended with the southern Thai ingredients, a superb combination. Throughout the centuries this dish was transformed to what it is today, very traditional to the north of Thailand and associated with its origin town, Chiang Mai, the capital of the northern culinary scene. This is the comfort dish every Chiang Mai citizen would eat coming back to Chiang Mai after a long term abroad. And this was also the comfort food we frantically consumed on a daily basis during our stay in Chiang Mai. I ate this dish every day just to make my mind where was the best bowl served. I think my favourite was at Khao Soi Khun Yai’ in the north of the city, although I liked every single one I tried (including the surprisingly rich and spicy version of the charming 'Secret Cafe in Town'). I gathered a couple of recipes from books I bought from there and some knowledge I gained eating out in Chiang Mai and talking to the vendors and ended up with my version that is rich and spicy (especially with the addition of dried red chillies) but also with a fresh note from the bashed lemongrass.


Recipe

What I like about this dish is that it has it all: Creaminess, bursts of complex flavours, spiciness, then you’ve got your carbs (noodles) and protein (chicken) and a great natural balance of sourness and sweetness. The whole essence of this noodle curry is the broth. You can even eat this dish without the toppings, just the noodles with the broth and your chicken or veggies. This broth is rich with a silky finish on the tongue… just sensational! Having said that, pay proper attention to the making of broth and make sure you use top quality products to get the best flavours out. So make sure you check my Thai pantry product recommendation at the end of this post.



Ingredients (serves 4)

  • 300g egg noodles

  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil

  • 3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

  • 3 tbsp red or yellow curry paste

  • 3 tbsp Khao Soi Curry powder (see Substitutes below)

  • 1 tsp turmeric

  • 800ml chicken stock

  • 800ml coconut milk

  • 200ml coconut cream (or replace with some more coconut milk, it will do the trick)

  • 500-600g chicken fillet, cut in bite-size chunks (or replace with sweet potato for a vegetarian version)

  • 2-3 dried chillies (optional)

  • 1 lemongrass stalk, lightly bashed (optional)

  • 2 tbsp fish sauce

  • 1 lime, juiced

Toppings:

  • 2 red chillies, sliced

  • 2 shallots, sliced

  • 2 spring onions, sliced

  • Pickled mustard greens or cabbage

  • Some fresh coriander leaves, roughly chopped

  • 1 lime, cut in 4 wedges

Substitutes

  • Kao Soi Curry powder Substitute: I’d recommend the original Lobo Khao Soi curry powder mix but feel free to swap it for any other Thai 7 spice mix or Chinese 5 spice mix.

  • Pickled Mustard Greens Substitute: Pak Choi. Pickled mustard greens are really fun to try, they are so sour and juicy, just the perfect companion for this dish or any other noodle dish. However, I have come to realise they remind me a lot of Pak Choi, an Asian cabbage-like veggie, which nowadays you can find even in a mainstream supermarket. When using Pak Choi, I like to pour a kettle of boiled water to wilt it before eating with my curry.

  • Fish Sauce substitute: Soy Sauce. Effectively a similar fermented flavour. A fishy salty and slightly sour flavour when fermenting fish (fish sauce) and a roasted nutty flavour for soy sauce (fermenting soybeans). Fish sauce is a little bit stronger and saltier (possibly because it is fermented for longer times). I prefer using fish sauce as it gives a unique Thai flavour to this dish, but soy sauce would do the trick too, so feel free to experiment.


Instructions

  • As Italians do, I like using the starchy water from boiled pasta with my recipe. So the first step here is to cook the egg noodles according to pack instructions (usually boil in salted water for 5-6 min and swirl them around with a pair of chopsticks to unfold), drain and keep as much from the starchy water as possible. briefly run them under tap water (to prevent them from sticking) and set them aside until serving time.


  • Top up the starchy water with some more boiled water to get around 800ml and dissolve a chicken stock cube and 3 tbsp of your curry powder. This is your ‘Khao Soi stock’.

  • Heat the oil in a large deep casserole with a matching lid. Add the garlic and fry for 30sec to 1 min until fragrant and slightly browned. Then add the curry paste, fry for another 30sec and add half of your coconut milk. Stir gently until the paste dissolves. Add the rest of the coconut milk and the Khao Soi stock and bring to boil.

  • Simmer the broth for a few minutes until it slightly thickens and then add the chicken, turmeric, dried chillies (if using), lemongrass (if using) and the fish sauce and bring to boil again. Add some of the coconut cream (keep a good 4 spoonfuls for serving) and simmer (closed lid) for another 15-20 min until chicken is cooked through.

  • In the meantime, prepare the garnish: slice the shallots and follow one of the 2 options: either make them crispy by deep-frying in vegetable oil until browned all over (let them dry out on a kitchen towel until serving) or just let them pickle in some vinegar and salt until serving time.

  • Roughly chop your pickled greens and coriander leaves, slice the chillies and green onions, cut the lime wedges and set everything aside for serving.

  • Serving: Fish out the lemongrass stalk and start serving in layers: Place a portion of noodles to the bottom of a noodle bowl. Spoon over the chicken curry with lots of the broth to almost fill the bowl. Spoon a dollop of coconut cream and then top it up with spring onions, shallots, lime wedge, pickled mustard greens, chillies and coriander leaves.


  • Pro Tip: the authentic recipe is served with crispy fried noodles on top that you can easily prepare by frying some of your noodles with vegetable oil. I skipped it to save time and mess in my kitchen.



Freezing ❆

Can you freeze lemongrass stalks? The answer is YES, lemongrass is perfectly suitable for freezing. Some freeze it chopped and ready to use, but I like keeping the outer woody layer on and just trimming the top and tip to shorten it down to around 5-6cm. I then wash them, pat them completely dry in a towel, wrap them in cling film and freeze them all together in a sealable freezer bag. Although there's no need to unfreeze before use, I usually thaw the frozen stalk first in warm water for a few minutes, then remove the outer layer (to release the protected aromas) and use it as the recipe suggests, chopped or whole. It can keep in the freezer for 3 months.


Check some more of my recipes with lemongrass here.


Recommended Products

Below are my favourite authentic products I used to cook and shoot this recipe. If you can't see the icons and links, please deactivate your ad-blocker and refresh the page :-) By clicking and purchasing through the links, I earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.


Thai Cookbooks: If you like good looking and exceptional content cookbooks and you'd only go for one Thai cookbook, that'd be definitely Phaidon Press Thai Cookbook. Bulky but comprehensive, this book is the A-Z of Thai food; with recipes collected from chefs and locals throughout the whole country, you will find here all authentic food that you've tasted in Thailand or in your local Thai restaurant. But if you are addicted to Thai food and cook Thai a great deal, I'd totally recommend getting at least one more book. My personal preference would be something from Bangkok as it's not only the capital of Thailand but the whole Thai cuisine too. My first choice would be Bangkok Cookbook: Unique twists to authentic recipes that you can only find being cooked in Bangkokian street stalls, food stories from the capital and beautiful photography. Alternatively, I also liked a lot the Busaba cookbook. Not just for being one of my favourite casual Thai restaurants in London, but also because the recipes are designed for a party table or casual dinner with friends, meaning they are fun and simple to recreate and the ingredients easy to be found.











 

Shop the look: If you like the serving styling in my photos, here are some suggestions for products you can buy from Amazon and build similar dining sets of your own:











 

Egg Noodles: Get some packs of noodles to store on your cupboard for many different uses. They are cooked fast, they taste superb, kids love them and you can use them not only in soups but also on salads. For this recipe, I like medium to thick noodles. Where to buy? there is the easy way heading for the mainstream brands in Tesco or the better way to get top quality like the Sau Tao brand that I've recently discovered in an Asian supermarket in London and luckily is available to order from Amazon:

 

Thai Seasoning: This Lobo brand has some great authentic Thai seasoning mixes, each dedicated for a specific dish. There's even one just for Khao Soi! However, it might be frustrating to find one of those around so I've tried this dish with other Thai spice mixes and worked pretty good. OK, Swartz is a quite good brand if you can pop to the nearest Tesco for convenience. But if you are lazy at home and you're planning to take it to the next level I recommend trying Spice Cartel's or Spice Masters Thai mix:









 

Red Curry Paste: Another Thai staple, usually made by pounding a long list of ingredients in a large mortar by hand. Now as these ingredients are quite unique and hard to find here, home cooks (and even good restaurants) are going for a good quality ready-made paste. And talking about quality, the Maesri brand is one of the most fragrant and freshest I've ever tried.

 

Fish Sauce: A staple and essential product in Thai cuisine, is called Nam Pla in Thai and is used in a similar way to soy sauce. It's characteristic aroma when tossed in stir-fries is the first thing your nose picks up when you land on Bangkok's streets. Not to mention recent research suggests fish sauce as a better low-sodium flavour booster than salt. So there you go, it's healthier and boosts flavour too :-) Now this Tiparos brand was used by all the chefs I was taught Thai food cooking in Thailand and I'm so happy I could find this brand in my local Thai supermarket in the UK and Amazon too (a little more expensive but works wonders really and is not as salty and intense as other brands).

 

Coconut Milk: It goes without saying that succeeding in this dish means using the best coconut milk. My first preference is the Aroy D brand that we used in my cooking school in Thailand and it is definitely recommended by Thai chefs due to its intense coconut consistency. The tinned product is cheaper and usually less in coconut extract content (around 50-60%) whereas the tetra-pack version is richer in coconut (70-80%). I've also come to like Thai Taste brand that I recently discovered in Waitrose.








 

Coconut cream: It is a more concentrated, thicker version of coconut milk, made by pressing fresh coconut flesh. It is used quite often in most Thai recipes along with coconut milk as it packs more flavour, thickens the sauces and mitigates the burn effect from the chillies. Flavour and consistency wise, I prefer the canned products (like this Biona organic cream from Amazon) as opposed to the dried blocks of creamed coconut that you dissolve with water or the very thick creamy products coming in a tetra pack. They are totally different thing.

 

Pickled Mustard Greens: Asian cuisine has a long tradition on using preserved/pickled fruits and veggies, mustard greens being one among tens of different kinds. Not to mention each country and region has a different twist on how to preserve them. Mustard greens are mostly a Chinese Sichuan ingredient used vastly in Northern Thai cuisine. I recommend popping in a Chinese grocery store and grabbing some packets of those, they are so addicting! Lazy? worry not, Amazon is there for you ;-)

 

Dried Chillies: Intensely hot as they are dried straight away after harvesting. Add a couple of them in your soup while boiling and it will burst in heat and flavour. I'd recommend buying a small package first (25-50g) to give them a try and then go big.

 

Jasmine Rice: If there's any rice I like as much as Basmati, this is Thai Jasmine. Apart from its unique popcorn-like fragrance, I like its fluffiness and slightly sticky texture when cooked. A staple in Thai cuisine and always present in my cupboard. Royal umbrella is an authentic Thai product that I totally recommend buying.




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