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Just about every ingredient, from the culantro to the lemongrass, gives this refreshing Cambodian soup its sprightly flavor and delightful fragrance. For Phiroum Svy, a working mother of two teenagers, this soup is a simple-to-prepare meal when she's in a time crunch. Phiroum, whose name means "peacefulness" in Cambodian, likes to use bone-in chicken thighs in soup because they give the stock better flavor. Use breast meat if you prefer, but in my experience it tends to dry out and toughen after boiling. Try tilapia or salmon fillets instead of chicken.
1 clove garlic, smashed with the flat part of a cleaver or large knife
1/8-inch-thick coin galangal, peeled and smashed
1 plump stalk lemongrass, trimmed, bruised, and cut into fourths on the diagonal
8 ounces button mushrooms, quartered (2 cups)
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 teaspoon salt
2 kaffir lime leaves
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 cup chopped culantro
1/4 cup chopped green onions
1/4 cup chopped Thai basil leaves
2 limes, cut into wedges
For Dipping Sauce
1 tablespoon lime juice (from 1/2 large)
1 tablespoon water
4 teaspoons fish sauce
1 clove garlic, minced
4 Thai basil leaves, finely chopped
2 Thai chilies, cut into rounds
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1. In a large saucepan, bring the water and rice to a boil over high heat. Add the chicken, culantro, garlic, galangal and lemongrass, and return to a boil. Cover and simmer over medium heat for 15 minutes.
2. Remove the chicken from the soup and scrape the meat from the bones. Don't worry if the meat is not cooked through. Cut or shred the meat with your fingers into bite-size pieces, and return to the saucepan. Discard the bones. Add the mushrooms followed by the fish sauce and salt. Crumple the kaffir lime leaves to release their essential oils and flavor, and toss into the soup. Simmer for another 3 to 4 minutes. The soup is ready when the mushrooms are cooked.
3. Fish out the large herbs, garlic, galangal and lemongrass, and discard. Ladle the soup into individual bowls. Arrange the cilantro, culantro, green onions, basil and limes separately on a plate, and put the dipping sauce into small bowls. Serve with the garnishes, dipping sauce and jasmine rice. Pick and choose garnishes as you like, and dip the chicken and mushroom pieces in the dipping sauce as you eat.
4. To make dipping sauce: in a small bowl, combine the lime juice, water, fish sauce, garlic, basil, chilis, sugar and salt. Makes 1/2 cup.
Time required: 1 hour
Makes: 2 main-course servings or 4 first-course servings