“We need to tighten our belts.”
Just how often have we heard that one lately?
The fact is, however, that when it comes to our national diet, belt loosening is the order of the day. As a nation, it seems we’re getting a little chubby around the middle, with 60% of us overweight or obese according to this report. And Michael O’Shea, CEO of the Irish Heart Foundation (IHF) reckons that obesity levels in Ireland are rising at the rate of around 1% per year. Yikes.
Given that about one third of premature heart disease relates to poor diet and that about 10,000 Irish people die each year from heart disease and stroke, the IHF, whose mission it is to reduce cases of preventable heart disease, have a vested interest in what we eat. In fact, whatever it is we’re eating, they’d like us to eat less of it.
That, at least, is the focus of their Happy Heart Eat Out campaign, which runs for the month of June. Given that many of us are prone to dining out, they are encouraging us to show a little restraint when we do so. They have the help of 500+ restaurants and catering establishments, who will be offering healthier, right-sized options on their menus.
One such participant is Saba, the popular Thai and Vietnamese eatery in Dublin, which was the venue for the launch of the campaign. And the launch, well, that involved lunch…
Ok, I grant you, that does look like a lot of food but, truth be told, the individual courses were light, and I skipped the rice offered (because, let’s face it, rice is not potatoes) – so I didn’t need to engage in any belt adjustment afterward. Result? One happy Spud. So happy, in fact, that I went straight home and made some hot, sour and heart happy soup for you all to enjoy too.
Thai Hot And Sour Soup
The IHF recipe booklet mentioned above includes Tom Yum Goong, the hot and sour prawn soup we had at Saba. The recipe here, though similar, is not Saba’s version, but is adapted from a recipe resident sis learned while staying at Eagle House in Chiang Mai in Thailand, a place that will be familiar to many Irish backpackers.
It’s a firm favourite Chez Spud and, though classically made using prawns, we have always just made it using veggies. The formula is simple: heat the water or stock with flavourings for a few minutes to infuse, then add the rest of the vegetables/seafood/meat, the order determined by how long each takes to heat through or cook, followed by some final seasonings.
You can use a vegetable or chicken stock if you like, though we generally just use water as the base – it’s still plenty flavoursome and (not that I worry about these things overly), low in fat and (yes) a good heart healthy option. The only trouble with keeping portions small here is that its more-ish nature will mean that you inevitably want second helpings.
- 800ml light vegetable stock or water (or use chicken stock if you like)
- 1 stick lemongrass, cut into 2cm pieces
- 50g galangal or root ginger, peeled and cut into 0.5cm slices
- 4 dried kaffir lime leaves
- 2-3 dried red chillies, crushed
- 0.5 tsp shrimp paste (optional)
- 1x400g tin straw mushrooms (about 240g drained weight), or substitute button or oyster mushrooms
- 1x400g tin baby corn (about 240g drained weight), sliced into 1cm widths
- 200g cherry tomatoes, halved
- 4 spring onions, finely sliced
- 4 tblsp lime juice
- 1 tblsp soy sauce or more to taste
- 3 tblsp Thai fish sauce (or substitute with additional soy sauce)
- 0.5-1 tsp sugar
- fresh coriander
- steamed rice (optional)
- Bring the water or stock to a simmer in a saucepan. Add the lemongrass, galangal or ginger, kaffir lime leaves and chillies. Return to a simmer and cook for around 3 minutes.
- Add the shrimp paste (if using) and stir to mix, then add the mushrooms and corn and simmer for about another 3 minutes.
- Add the cherry tomatoes and simmer for 1-2 minutes, then add the spring onions, lime juice, soy sauce, fish sauce (if using) and sugar. Stir to mix, taste and check seasoning, adding more of whatever you think it might need.
- You can serve this on its own as a broth or spoon some steamed rice into a bowl and then ladle the soup over it. Garnish generously with sprigs of fresh coriander and remember that the pieces of lemongrass, galangal or ginger and kaffir lime leaves are for flavouring only and not actually for eating.
- Prawns, of course, are a classic inclusion in this soup, though I don’t see why you couldn’t try other seafood or meats here too. Change the vegetables to suit what you have – anything that doesn’t need long to cook or heat through is fair game. You can try bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, mange tout and french beans to name but a few.
- 3 dinner servings, along with rice, or 4 smaller servings.