clear soup tofu serving bowl

Clear Soup with Spinach and Bean Curd / gaeng jeute dao hoo Real Thai: The Best of Thailand’s Regional Cooking Chapter 1: The Center, page 43

Come and get it while it’s hot! This photo of gaeng jeute tao hoo looks blurry, but I am posting it anyway, because in fact what gives that impression is not my often unsteady hand, but steam. This is so steaming hot that it will not cool down enough for a crystal clear picture. As I am into Day #3 without posting here, I have decided to put this up anyway, in hopes you will forgive me, and take a lesson: Temperature seldom matters greatly in Thai food, in huge contrast to the Southern American food of my childhood, and in American food in general. A Thai meal often consists of rice which is steaming hot to warm to soft fresh room temperature, and an array of dishes which are room temperature as well. There is almost always soup, served with the rice, not before it as a course, and the soup must be served hot.

I’ll return to this subject another time, but for now, just this:  Soup is always hot. Steaming super-duper, let-it-cool-a-little hot. In fact it is often brought to the table (or the array of mats where the family is eating in a big circle around the many dishes of wonderful food) after everyone has been called (mah kin kao si kah!) and has come and taken a seat (mal leaow kah!), and received their big generous plate full of rice (au loey kah!). The curry, stir fry, nahm prik chili sauce/dip/entity with crisp vegetables, omelet, pickled things, sweet pork, etc., are all in place and available for savoring, when the just ready hot soup is brought over and served. Soup is served hot.

A lovely little bowl of gaeng jeute to go with rice and a little omelet and a stir fry of some pork with cucumbers and curry sauce, or chicken with fresh basil and garlic, or cold peeled shrimp, or a piece of ham....

A lovely little bowl of gaeng jeute to go with rice and a little omelet and a stir fry of some pork with cucumbers and curry sauce, or chicken with fresh basil and garlic, or cold peeled shrimp, or a piece of ham….

This dear little soup is one of the simplest recipes in the book. Chicken stock seasoned with fish sauce and pepper, chunks of tofu simmered just long enough to puff up and take on a bit of flavor and become silken and fine, and a handful of spinach leaves or tender greens in at the very end, with green onion on top. It’s called gaeng which means soup or curry or anything cooked/braised in/with lots of liquid, in a pot, and jeute, which means bland, mild, plain, neutral. Those are not criticisms in Thailand, even though super-flavorful intense dishes are greatly loved. Thai people want a varying fascinating dancing recombining interesting mix of flavors at a meal, with plain rice at the center, and often, a simple, nourishing, satisfying, gentle soup to accompany and serve as beverage, palate cleanser, and pleasure among the beautiful chaos of a complex meal. Easy to make, easy to love. Hot clear plain Thai soup.

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