Happy Tummy, Happy Heart

“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…

Lunch at Saba

Lunch at Saba, clockwise from bottom left:
seared yellow fin tuna with wasabi coriander mayonnaise; steamed seabass fillets with Xao Shing wine sauce; hot and sour prawn soup; fruit platter with passion fruit and mango sorbet

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.

Even if you’re not eating out this month, the IHF have produced a lovely booklet with recipes for some of the dishes available during the campaign. I daresay these might be worth looking at for anybody involved in the Good4U Smartchef Competition being run in schools across the country at the moment, where the aim is for students to cook up a storm but make it healthy too. With alarming rates being reported for childhood obesity here, it seems like a timely initiative.

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Thai Hot And Sour Soup

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.

You’ll need:
  • 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
To serve:
  • fresh coriander
  • steamed rice (optional)
The Steps:
  • 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.
The Variations:
  • 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.
The Results:
  • 3 dinner servings, along with rice, or 4 smaller servings.
Comments
  • That’s a great healthy eating campaign. It’s a good idea to attempt to eat better when eating out. Sometimes it’s hard to make that choice!

  • Yep, it really can be very hard to make that healthier choice when eating out, so a little help in getting there is a good thing!

  • Love all the vibrant colors and in this soup! Heart healthy and perfect for helping me squeeze into my swimsuit ;)

  • Hey Phyllis, I reckon most of us need a little help when it comes to squeezing into swimsuits at times, lol!

  • I went with my husband on a biking holiday 10 days ago, I am also on a gluten free diet, I lost 6 kg & I have tons more energy, I feel a lot better & maybe I can savour this soup!! The soup looks so tasty! I might have to adept a few things!

    thanks for sharing!

  • Oh, this soup sounds great. I’ve never had such fresh, tasty food with so much produce as we did in Thailand, Chiang Mai included.

    Really enjoy hearing about these types of campaigns. My work in the past connected me with these kinds of things in the US so when I hear about them in other countries they immediately spark my interest. Sounds like a great initiative!

  • Great post, and I LOVE that soup. I have made it and love straw mushrooms, love them- hey I love everything :)

  • Sophie: Good for you! Go ahead, adapt away and enjoy the soup :)

    Lori: the motives for the initiative are certainly well intentioned, I hope it has some positive outcomes

    Chef E: I’m with you on the love for that soup and the love for straw mushrooms, bring ‘em to me now :)

  • Hi Aoife,

    First of all, it was good to meet you at the FBC yesterday. I was intrigued by your site, so visited it promptly this morning and saw one of my all time favourites, Tom Yam Goong. Many years ago I spent 6 weeks in Thailand and think I had this soup every single day. Thanks for spreading the love that is Tom Yam Goong!

  • Hi Michele, it was lovely to meet you yesterday too and so glad you stopped by. As for the soup, you’re absolutely right – Tom Yam Goong is love that is well worth spreading!

  • Is it weird to crave hot and sour soup on slightly hot day? hehehe… Since coming back from my trip to the Philippines, I’ve got to rededication myself to some healthy food again.

  • Ah no, not weird at all Jenn! Hope you are managing to settle back into the swing of things since your trip.

  • The lunch launch for Happy Heart Eat Out campaign looks like it was delicious. But hey, go easy on rice – those little grains have a hard time standing up to burly potatoes! 8-D

    Though we don’t eat out as often as we used to (which is why this soup recipe is greatly appreciated b/c we love Thai food), I wouldn’t mind if restaurants cut portion sizes – w/corollary price cuts, of course – to keep us all from having to loosen our belts!

  • Ah, TN, I do have a healthy respect (and appetite) for rice, honest :) And you’ve reminded me (oops) that I still owe you a proper rice post. While I am off scratching my head and thinking about that, I hope you’ll accept my soup offering – it’s something that was just made to be eaten with rice…

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