Although world-renowned as the fiery queen of Thai soups, tome yum is very much a quick and easy dish. You need the lemongrass, but you can still make a tasty tome yum without the galanga and wild lime leaves. The roasted chili paste fortifies the broth wonderfully, but it is not essential either. You can also make a rustic, northeastern Thai version of tome yum using chunks of catfish or salmon instead of shrimp, adding a generous handful of halved cherry tomatoes and a quintet of tiny Thai chilies, whole ones, stemmed and crushed lightly to release a little extra heat.
Yield: Serves 4 to 6
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tablespoon thinly sliced fresh hot green chilies
2 green onions, very thinly sliced crosswise
6 wild lime leaves, torn or cut in quarters (optional)
3 stalks fresh lemongrass, trimmed to 3-inch base and cut on the diagonal into l-inch lengths
5 slices galanga, fresh, frozen, or dried
½ pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 cup thinly sliced fresh mushrooms
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons roasted chili paste (nahm prik pao; optional)
In a large serving bowl combine the lime juice, chilies, green onions, and half the lime leaves, if using. Place this bowl by the stove, along with a small bowl containing the chopped cilantro.
In a medium saucepan, combine the water, lemongrass, galanga, and remaining lime leaves, if using. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the shrimp and mushrooms to the broth, and cook 2 to 3 minutes more, until the mushrooms are tender and the shrimp are cooked.
Stir in the fish sauce and roasted chili paste, if using, and remove from heat. Pour the hot soup over the lime juice and herbs in the serving bowl, and stir well. Sprinkle with the chopped cilantro and serve hot.