A deeply-flavored homemade savory base highlights this lemongrass curry soup, made substantial with barley and topped with cashew cream. Naturally vegan, absolutely delicious!
When I was a full-on vegetarian, one of the things I missed most was chicken soup. Fake chicken soup just wouldn’t do it. I wanted chicken soup. It was and is, hands down, my favorite. I could eat mulligatawny or couscous chicken soup for every winter dinner between now and April and be happy as a clam.
Oh, I love vegetable soup, too — especially with homemade vegetable stock — but it just doesn’t quite hit the spot the way chicken soup does. Especially when colds and flu start flying around and, more days than not, you’re feeling slightly off (if not downright sniffly).
So as a long-time reader of Heidi Swanson’s cookbooks and blog, 101Cookbooks.com, I was moved to action when she recently shared a recipe for lemongrass turmeric curry paste. She has such a unique instinct for combining flavors for simple but inspired uses. I pulled up my shopping list app and started typing, imagining all the possibilities.
Because this: it’s more than a paste … it’s a soup base. A vibrantly flavored soup base with citrusy Thai leanings — lots of shallots and ginger and lemongrass and spices — that can be frozen for quick (or not so quick) soups, any time. The turmeric stains it a vivid yellow, and adds a good dose of its earthy nutrition to boot. Vegetable soup is yummy. But vegetarian — vegan, actually — lemongrass curry soup is vegetable soup with jazz hands. It’s uplifting and comforting, all on the same spoon.
How I wish I had had this magical brew in my vegetarian cooking repertoire!
Recipe Tips & Tricks for Lemongrass Curry Soup with Cashew Cream and Barley
- How to use lemongrass: peel off the outer, fibrous layers until you get to the tender core. It’s important to remove those tough, stringy layers for this recipe — nevermind the pile of wrappers you’ll make (compost!) as they’re difficult to break down, even with a food processor.
- If possible, grind the coriander and cumin fresh from their whole seeds. The difference is substantial.
- Making the paste requires a bit of prep, so I recommend doing this ahead of time. It stores well in the fridge, up to a week. For longer storage, scrape into standard ice cube trays, which holds about 2 tablespoons in each cell, and freeze. Later, pop out the frozen cubes and store them in a bag or container in the freezer.
- When you first make the paste, don’t be surprised if you’re sort of knocked over by the scent when you remove the lid of the food processor. Shallots in this quantity are strong. As in, tears flowing like they do when I rewatch the episode of Downton Abbey where Isis has cancer. But never fear: a rest in the fridge tames it right down, blending all of the flavors to a perfect balance.
- When starting the soup, be sure to take the time sizzle the paste in the oil. The paste is, essentially, raw, and a brief turn on a hot surface blooms the shallots, garlic, and spices, boosting their flavors.
- I used to view the concept of cashew milk/cream as the thing of die-hard vegans. Until I tried it. For something requiring so little effort, the flavor reward is huge. The result is thick, very creamy, but not aggressively nut-flavored. It’s nutty, but also light, and a wonderful complement to this soup.
- Can you use boxed cashew milk instead of the homemade cashew cream? You bet. I like to make some from scratch for a couple of reasons. It’s rare for me to get through an entire carton of cashew milk = lots of waste. And I worry sometimes about the ingredients in those boxed products. At the very least, they contain added sugar, which my personal tastes find unnecessary. Also, today’s recipe creates a thicker result than regular cashew milk – it wouldn’t sit on top, as the cream does in the photos. Full-fat canned coconut milk — shake shake shake! — is also a lovely substitute.
- Note that I do not add salt to the paste, as different applications of the paste require different amounts of salt. Whatever dish you use this paste for, you’ll want to taste for seasoning and adjust to suit.
This brothy version of lemongrass curry soup is sippable comfort, with a nice amount of barley chew to make a satisfying lunch. I’ve frozen half of the batch of paste, and have been sneaking spoonfuls into different dishes, especially rice-based recipes. Such a flavor boost!
Here are few soups in my regular rotation where I plan to experiment with the lemongrass curry soup base:
Lemongrass Curry Soup with Cashew Cream
for the cashew cream
- 1 cup whole raw cashews
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- pinch of sea salt
for the lemongrass curry soup base
- 3 stalks lemongrass outer leaves removed, roughly chopped
- 3 small-medium shallots peeled, roughly chopped
- 3 " piece of ginger peeled and roughly chopped
- 3 cloves garlic peeled, roughly chopped
- 1/2 serrano or jalapeño chile seeds and ribs removed, roughly chopped
- 1 heaping teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- extra virgin olive oil
- 1 palmful cilantro leaves with their stems
- zest of one lime
- drizzle toasted sesame oil optional
prepare the soup
- 1 tablespoon olive or coconut oil
- 2 tablespoons lemongrass curry soup base
- 1 cup vegetable or chicken stock
- 1 cup water
- 2 cups cooked barley or any similar grain, such as brown rice, farro, or even quinoa
- cashew cream
- sea salt
- 1 green onion sliced diagonally
- 1 palmful shelled pistachios chopped
- radish sprouts
- chopped cilantro
start the cashew cream
- Place the cashews in a roomy bowl and cover with filtered water. Cover the bowl with a towel or cling wrap, and leave on the counter for at least three hours (you can soak them overnight, but I'd place the bowl in the fridge).
prepare the lemongrass curry soup base
- Place the lemongrass, shallots, ginger, garlic, and chiles in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped (about the consistency of coleslaw). Scrape down the bowl as needed (several times, likely).
- Pour a drizzle of olive oil over the base, and add the turmeric, coriander, and cumin. Pulse 10-15 times - scraping the bowl once - until the spices are blended into the base. Scrape down the bowl.
- Add another pour of olive oil. Tear up the cilantro and add to the bowl, along with the lime zest, and pulse until mixed, scraping down the bowl frequently. Add another drizzle of olive oil and the toasted sesame oil, if using, and process until the base is a loose paste. Don't forget to - say it with me - scrape down the bowl frequently.
prepare the cashew cream
- Drain and rinse the soaked cashews until the water runs clear. Add the cashews and 1/2 cup of fresh filtered water to the jar of a blender. Puree/liquefy for several minutes, until smooth (although it might be somewhat grainy, depending on the power of your blender). Stop the blend and scrape down the sides as needed. Add the lemon juice and salt and do one final blend.
- Optional: if you have a regular (vs. a chews-through-glass) blender, you can produce a super creamy cashew cream by passing the blended nut mixture through a fine mesh sieve, pressing the mixture through with a flexible spatula. Don't forget to scrape the underside of the sieve, as the creamy mixture will cling there. (Reserve the strained nut paste for your morning oatmeal - fabulous!)
prepare the soup
- Add the oil to a 2 qt pot and heat over medium until the oil shimmers. Spoon in the lemongrass curry paste and heat until very fragrant, stirring frequently (this blooms the spices). Add the stock and water and bring to a simmer. Add cooked barley (or other grains/seeds) and reduce heat to low. Let the soup calm down from its simmer and cool slightly.
- Stir in the cashew cream by the tablespoon until the soup reaches your preferred creaminess. Taste and add salt as needed.
- To serve, ladle into bowls or mugs, and top with the garnishes of your choice.
Lemongrass curry adapted from 101Cookbooks.com