One of the little quirks about my line of work is that I’m flooded with images of food almost constantly throughout the day. I’ve probably seen more pies, more asparagus, more artisanal grilled cheeses on my Instragram feed in the past day than you’ve seen in the past year. Constantly seeing all these food images (not unlike being over-exposed to violence in the media, or a plethora of suitors on Tinder) results in a slow erosion of my ability to feel anything about them.
But once in a while, a photograph or a recipe will still resonate with me so strongly that I know that it’s only a matter of time before I have to try it for myself. This tom yum goong gazpacho by Lady and Pups was one such recipe.
I don’t know if it’s because the heat of summer tends to make me nostalgic for Thailand (in the vein of the Thai green curry and spicy Thai mango salad from two years ago), or if I just needed an interesting way to up my gazpacho game, but as soon as I saw the recipe I knew that this cultural mishmash of a soup was going to be a winner.
What I didn’t realize, though, was how much the shrimp component was going to challenge me. I’ve never been squeamish when it comes to my meat, and in fact feel that it’s important for us to grapple a little with the animals we consume; it shouldn’t be easy, and the harder it is to break something down, the more we actually value the meat itself, and consider the animal that died so that we could eat dinner.
Boy, did that sort of righteous thinking really grind to a halt for a minute when I had to take apart these shrimp. I think the problem is the fact that they are essentially GIANT seafloor bugs. One of them happened to have a really long antenna, and seeing it just caused me to freeze up. I just couldn’t stop staring at it. I remember there being an almost singsong-like quality to how freaked out I was, my mind going: Ew ew ew ew ew ew EW, ew ew ew EW, I cannot DO this.
I tried reasoning with myself, Come on, you’ve already bought them and brought them home — not to mention photographed them! And then I thought, Maybe I can somehow make this with chicken instead. And I went back and forth in my brain for some time, frozen all the while, until I just forced myself to visualize the end goal — imagined tasting the soup upon its completion — and grabbed the first head, snapped it off into the pot, and that was that.
So, if dissecting giant water-dwelling crawler-y terrors isn’t exactly your idea of a great time, just know that:
a) you’re not alone, and
b) it’s worth it.
Because as soon as the pot of shrimp oil began to simmer, the smell that emerged was seriously heavenly. Would-it-be-wrong-to-wear-this-as-perfume heavenly. And when the oil was done, I also made a broth with the scraps (‘recipe’ of sorts included below in the note), knowing that it would be a long while before I ever broke down shrimp again.
I was a little worried that after all the prep, the tom yum goong gazpacho might not taste as good as I’d hoped it would. Thankfully, the first spoonful dispelled any fears I might have had. All of the classic tom yum notes — the galangal, the kaffir lime, the shallot, the shrimp oil, and the fish sauce — were enhanced by the tangy acidity of the tomatoes. And the coconut milk, a nod to another beloved Thai soup called tom kha, lent a creaminess that perfectly complemented the chilli’s spiciness.
Hope you love it as much as I do. And if there are any other summer hits you’d like to see here, drop me a note in the comments!