Tom Yum Soup. | Marc Fosh


Whether light and clear or rich and thick, soup always satisfies the soul, and for me, the subtle flavours, mild spicing and intense flavours of Asia always hit the spot. One of my favourites is Laksa, a rich, spicy and tangy coconut broth packed with noodles, vegetables and a whole range of other ingredients – it’s easy to see why laksa is one of the region’s most popular exports. This dish has its roots in Malaysia, and is great to serve to both meat lovers and vegetarians, as you can easily omit any meat and replace it with tofu. This noodle soup is a complete meal in one bowl. The final addition of cooling herbs such as coriander and mint are an essential part of any spicy soup. Exploring the differing varieties of mint is interesting – spearmints, Moroccan mints and other garden varieties.

Different types of basil are also worth exploring. The coconut milk inherent in many Southeast Asian soups has a cooling effect on the spice paste and introduces richness, but coconut-haters can make clear spice-based broths, too. Lemongrass, lime leaves and fresh chillies add enough of a punch to bring out little beads of sweat on your forehead.

Many Asian soups can be made with water but the truly magnificent ones depend on a good stock. Once you have a good chicken stock, Miso soup is another really easy option. A simple clear stock with the addition of spring onions, ginger and a couple of spoonfuls of miso paste will give you a light, aromatic snack. You can use yellow or brown miso paste to give body to the clear broth, but I prefer the yellow for its mellow, almost creamy quality. It dissolves easily and adds a mushroom-like note.

Miso is certainly nothing new, but as a chef I’ve practically ignored it for years. This fermented soya bean paste is one of the world’s most delicious and versatile foods. What’s more, centuries of Japanese folklore and recent scientific studies have shown that miso is a concentrated source of essential nutrients and a potent medicine. It’s fantastic in soups and stews and also makes a great glaze for roasted salmon or chicken. It is also a great accompaniment to the much-maligned tofu. Tofu is generally considered by many vegetarians to be the all-purpose replacement for meat, chicken and fish. On its own it is absolutely tasteless, odourless and has a texture that I find difficult to deal with. It is however, used in many recipes as a sort of culinary parasite; that leeches onto the colour and flavour of whatever ingredients are thrown at it. When buying tofu, make sure it is fresh, smooth and egg shell white. Stored correctly, it can keep up to 7 days in the fridge.

Another favourite at any time of the year is Tom Yum Soup. This Thai hot and sour soup is packed full of herbs and zingy flavours, and is said to have many health benefits. This soup is made of stock packed with fresh ingredients such as lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, lime juice, fish sauce and chillies. Prawns, chicken or fish are then added to the mix, along with mushrooms and a generous sprinkling of coriander. If you’re after the ultimate cold remedy, then this is the one, as it is currently under scientific study for its immune-boosting power. If you need to recover from a night of overindulging, Tom Yum is also the perfect hangover cure! Like all soups, it’s a universal pleasure that tames hunger and warms the spirit.

Tom Yum Soup

Serves: 4

16 large raw prawns
2 tbsp olive oil
4 lime leaves, roughly torn
2 lemongrass stalks, cut into 5cm pieces and crushed
2 slices galangal or fresh ginger (optional)
2 small red chillies, finely sliced
1 tbsp palm sugar
Juice of limes
2 tbsp fish sauce
Handful of coriander or Thai basil leaves, torn, to serve

1 To make the stock, shell the prawns and set the meat aside.

2 Heat the oil in a pan on a medium-high flame, and fry the shells until pink.

3 Add 1 litre of water and bring to a simmer, then strain and discard the shells.

4 Return the prawn stock to a clean pan, and add the lime leaves, lemongrass and galangal.

5 Bring to a simmer and leave to infuse for 5 minutes, then add the chilies and simmer for another couple of minutes.

6 Add the prawns and cook through until pink, then take off the heat and stir in the sugar, lime juice and fish sauce.

7 Taste for seasoning, and then pour into bowls.

8 Garnish with coriander or basil and serve immediately.

Malaysian Laksa: Spicy chicken, seafood and noodle soup

For the Laksa paste

3 cloves garlic
2 tps fresh ginger
1 lemongrass stalk
3 tbsp chopped coriander
2 fresh red chillies
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
2 tbsp peanut oil

For the soup base

12 raw large prawns,peeled
24 fresh mussels, bearded and scrubbed
150g skinless chicken, steamed and sliced
150ml dry white wine
1 onion, finely chopped
4 tbsp peanut oil
600ml chicken or fish stock
2 kaffir lime leaves (or grated zest of 1 lime)
300ml coconut milk
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp fish sauce


2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander leaves
2 spring onions finely chopped
350g dried egg noodles

For the Laksa paste

1 Place all the ingredients in food processor and blend to a fine puree. Set aside.

For the soup base

2 Heat the peanut oil in a heavy-bottomed pan and sweat the onions over a gentle heat.

3 Add the laksa paste, white wine, soy sauce, fish sauce, coconut milk and lime leaves.

4 Bring to the boil, add the chicken stock and cook over a gentle heat for 15-20 minutes.

5 Meanwhile cook the noodles in plenty of boiling salted water until al dente - about 8 minutes.

6 Drain and rinse under cold water until cool. Add the noodles and mussels. Cook for 1 minute then add the prawns and sliced chicken.

7 Simmer for 2-3 minutes then serve in deep bowls sprinkled with chopped coriander and finely chopped spring onions.