Another blustery day, another batch of soup. Tout simple: leeks, squash, some garlic, and a single potato. That combo usually works just fine for a weekday soup, but this time, my soup alchemy was off for some reason. (I blame the squash, a red kuri that had probably been in my fridge too long.) It was bland and uninspiring, so I did what I always do when this happens. I added a couple of spoonfuls of Tom Yum Paste, my secret soup saver.
The Thai soup base can of course be used in heaping spoonfuls and finished with glugs of coconut milk to make tom yum soup. (Another good weeknight trick to have up your sleeve, and so much more impressive than instant or boxed!)
BUT… tom yum paste’s real seasoning magic comes out when you just use a little bit to add that little extra something a not-quite-right soup needs. The results don’t scream ‘Thai’ or tom yum…there’s just a happy hint of spice and flavor where once everything was blah and boring.
I wish I could pinpoint just what it is about Tom Yum Paste that makes it so versatile and so special. I’ve tried using other prepared spice pastes (pad thai, red curry, green curry, tandoori) in soup but they either don’t work well or they taste too much like the original. No matter. I’m sticking to Tom Yum Paste is easy because it’s inexpensive and easy to find– any Asian supermarket the world over (or at least all the corners I’ve checked, including nearby Rennes) seems to carry it—and it keeps forever. Many brands are vegetarian (despite the seafood shown on the labels). Tom Yum Paste is splendid and surprising when used to season in marinades, brushed on roasted vegetables, or added steamed mussels or clams.
My best advice for using Tom Yum Paste as a soup saver is to taste as you go. Stir in one to two tablespoons to start, see how you like it, then add more if you want more spice and more tang. The worst thing that can happen is that your soup (or whatever you’re making) tastes like tom yum, and there’s nothing really wrong with that, either.