Sunday, September 26, 2010

Tom Yum Goong with Homemade Nam Prik Pao


Tom Yum Goong with homemade Nam Prik Pao... Otherwise known as Hot and Sour Soup with Prawns, and homemade Roasted Chile Paste.  This soup is a classic of Thai cuisine, and for me, is warming to the body and the soul.  Tom Yum embraces the traditional flavors of sour and spicy, with an added saltiness and a fragrance of fresh herbs that I love. 

I was inspired to make Tom Yum when my friend Steve gave me fresh lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves from his parent's garden.  I was excited because I had never used kaffir lime leaves before, although I knew they were essential for Thai cooking.  Since Steve has a strong Asian heritage, we discussed how I could use these ingredients in the most authentic way, and decided that Tom Yum was the perfect dish.         


Once I started looking through Tom Yum recipes, I quickly realized that although the soup itself is simple, the ingredients and different components are complex.  I decided I needed to do a little research (remember, I am scientist, this is my specialty).  I searched the internet and checked out some books on Thai cuisine from the library, and discovered that if I really wanted my soup to be authentic and have the best taste, I needed to make my own Roasted Chile Paste.

Roasted Chile Paste, or Nam Prik Pao, is what gives Tom Yum its characteristic 'hot' flavor.  Prik means chile, and Nam Prik together means chile sauce; when the chiles are prepared by the traditional Thai method of dry roasting (Pao, or pow), the condiment is called Nam Prik Pao.  Dry roasting involves cooking the chiles in a hot skillet or wok without any liquid or oil.  This causes them to become browned, just shy of burnt, and produces a deep smoky flavor.  The chiles used to make Nam Prik Pao vary from mild varieties such as Anaheim, to very spicy varieties such as De Arbol or Japones.  To make the chile paste, the roasted chiles are ground to a powder, and added to oil along with fine bits of fried garlic and shallots, as well as fish oil, shrimp paste, and tamarind.    


I was able to find everything that I needed to make the soup as well as the chile sauce, with the exception of tamarind paste.  Tamarind is the edible fruit from the seed pod of the tamarind tree.  Basically, the seeds are encased by a fleshy pulp that has a taste that is often sour but sometimes sweet, and as such, tamarind is another classic Thai ingredient used to impart sour flavoring.  You can buy tamarind paste pre-made, or you can purchase compressed blocks of wet tamarind and make your own paste by combining the tamarind with water (I used 12 ounces of block tamarind with 2 cups of water) and working the pulp with your hands to produce a paste.     



Once I had the tamarind paste ready to go, I started working with the peppers. I think it is important to mention two things at this point:  

1. Apparently dry roasting the peppers produces quite a strong, pungent smell.  In fact, in 2007, the British police were alerted to the possibility of a terrorist chemical attack in Soho, London, when a local Thai restaurant was roasting chiles.  Local residents called emergency services when they started coughing and said "something was really dodgy."  Don't start getting worried, I opened all my windows when I was making this and no police were called to my residence.  

2. Despite the sage wisdom that I shared with you above about the spiciness of different chiles, I was not yet privy to that information when I did my shopping.  If I was, I probably would have bought the Anaheim chiles; instead, I made the fiery-hot choice of the Japones chiles.  Obviously a smart move.  


After roasting, the recipe I was working from suggested to cut off the tops of the chiles, and to remove the membranes and seeds. Ok, sounds easy enough.  Except, the chiles were only about 1-3 inches in size, and there were about 80 of them.  I rolled up my sleeves (literally) and got to work.  

After dealing with about half of them, my eyes were getting a little sensitive and my nose was itching.  By instinct I rubbed my it with my forearm... and... I essentially snorted up all the chile dust that had settled on my arm while I was chopping.  Yikes!  BAD idea.  My nostrils felt like they were on fire!  I hurried to finish chopping the chiles, so I could be done and move on.  Finally, when everything settled down (and I put out the fire in my nose), I was able to finish up with making the roasted chile paste.           


I fried garlic, shallots, and pungent shrimp paste; I flavored it with tamarind; and I carefully added my ground roasted chiles.  When all was said and done, I had managed to made a near-perfect Nam Prik Pao, and it has some serious heat



Once I had the Nam Prik Pao in house, the soup was a breeze to throw together and it gave me the chance to work with white saltwater prawns.  If you want to be technical about it, prawns are essentially just large versions of shrimp, and often come with shells and heads still intact.  To make the soup in the most authentic way, Thais use the delicious, red-orange fat from inside the head of the prawn to add additional flavor to the soup.


If you are a little skeeved out by prawns and shrimp (and I know some of you are), I hope these photos won't bother you, because I think these crustaceans are totally cool.  And, because I am a scientist and this is biology, I made a cute little diagram for those of you (like me) that are new to working with prawns.


Not so scary right?  I will spare you the guts and gore, but suffice it to say I now have an expert technique for removing the heads and extracting the fat from the heads of the prawns.    



I know that everything I detailed here might seem like a lot of work, but once you have the chili paste made/purchased from store and your prawns, you will have your soup ready in under 20 minutes.  And here is what I can tell you: This Tom Yum Goong is supremely satisfying and the flavors are bold.  The scent of the fresh herbs wafting off the steaming bowl of soup was completely intoxicating, and I could barely wait for it to cool before I tried it.  When I tasted the soup, the spicy chile flavor hit my tongue first, followed by a perfect sour and salty balance from the fish sauce and the underlying flavors of the broth.  Even the color was totally beautiful, much like the fiery-orange sun just before it dips below the horizon.  And of course, garnishing the soup with cilantro took it over the top for me. 

Making everything for this soup from scratch was an incredible and authentic cooking experience, and if you are feeling adventurous, I would highly recommend it.  Now that I have my own homemade Nam Prik Pao, I know that I definitely will be making Tom Yum Goong again and again.  Especially as the weather gets cooler, if I need a warm, healing bowl of soup, this will be at the top of my list.  



***This is my second entry for the Project Food Blog challenge.  I advanced to the second round in this contest, and I am SO appreciative for all the votes and support that I received!  For the second challenge we were asked to pick an ethnic classic that we are not as familiar with, and to try to keep the dish as authentic as the real deal.  For this dish, I did a lot of research to make everything according to Thai cooking traditions, and I think my results were fantastic.  If you feel my dish is a good representation for this challenge I would love your votes!  You can check out my profile on Foodbuzz and vote starting 8AM PST, on Monday September 27th.  

*(Update, 9/29/10: per comments below, I submitted this to the Grow Your Own monthly round-up!  Check out the info here.) 


Tom Yum Goong (Thai Hot and Sour Soup with Prawns)

Cracking the Coconut: Classic Thai Home Cooking  Dancing Shrimp: Favorite Thai Recipes for Seafood

1 lb white prawns, heads still attached
6 cups water
8 kaffir lime leaves, divided; 'bruised' with a mortar and pestle, or your hands
4 stalks lemongrass, divided; outer leaves discarded, and cut into 1-inch pieces (cut on a diagonal to expose as much inner area as possible)
3-4 slices of galangal (white ginger)
2 cups sliced button mushrooms
Juice from 3 medium limes
1/4 cup fish sauce
Nam Prik Pao to taste, recipe here, I added about 1 tbsp
Chopped cilantro for garnish

First prepare the prawns by rinsing them.  To remove the heads from the body, I would suggest holding the head with the fingers of your right hand and the body in your left; twist the head from the body with your right hand moving away from you and your left hand moving towards you.  Then, squeeze the red fat from the head into a small bowl (keep the fat), and reserve the head.  Remove the shells from the body of the prawns, leaving the tails attached if you like.  Reserve the shells as well, then devein the shrimp and set it aside. 

Next make the stock.  In a large pot, combine the water, 4 kaffir lime leaves, 2 stalks worth of cut lemongrass, galangal, and reserved prawn heads and shells.  Bring to a boil, then simmer for 5-10 minutes.  Strain soup through a fine mesh sieve or colander, and return stock to the pot.  

To prepare the soup, bring the stock back to a boil, then add the rest of the lime leaves, lemongrass, reserved red fat, and mushrooms.  Simmer for a few minutes to soften the mushrooms, then add the prawns and cook for just a few minutes more.  (If you overcook the prawns they will become tough and rubbery.)  Remove the soup from the heat, add the lime juice, fish sauce, and Nam Prik Pao to taste.  Serve immediately, topped with cilantro for garnish. 

-If you want to make this soup a less traditional way, you could substitute chicken stock and flavor with the herbs listed, and use small shrimp that is already peeled and deveined.  The taste won't be as good, but this is a way to adapt the recipe if you like.   

101 comments:

  1. When I'm sick and need something warm and soothing, forget Vicks, Tom Yum is my go-to soup and after reading how it's made, I now know why! I could feel my nose burning with your description! Thanks for a wonderful post and good luck!

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  2. I'm so, so impressed. I've never made tom yum goong from scratch before let alone chili paste! Double wow! You've outdone yourself, my dear. Very cool!

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  3. Wow!!!!! Excellent everything. This is one of my favorite soups -- I wanted to make it, but had already done so a few times before. You're in for sure :)

    Shelly, Nibbles of Tidbits

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  4. To make really amazing, authentic food, it can take a lot of work! I'm impressed with your commitment to each step and I can practically smell the lemon grass and spiciness through the computer!

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  5. This is now on my list of foods to make. I made Coconut prawn curry for my entry into challenge 2 so had to do the deheading etc too, wasnt as bad as i thought it would be! lol

    Thanks
    Debbie
    x

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  6. Beautifully done, Amanda! I especially love your prawn diagram :) And very impressed that you made your own chili paste with tamarind. It looks delicious!

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  7. This is incredible... I am impressed and wish I was your guest when you made this!!! Congrats that you have moved forward and you have my vote!

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  8. Lovely post. Sorry about your nose. That chili paste is an unbelievable color; I bet you'll find tons of uses for it once your soup is gone. Or maybe you'll just make more soup! Best of luck in Round 2!!

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  9. Amanda I love this soup - it's what I order when I eat out at Thai places. I love that you made your own chili paste from scratch. Good luck with this round - hope we're both still standing this time next week!

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  10. Amanda can you send some over right now :) I can almost taste the explosion of flavors. Tamarind is an ingredient that I love to work with, can't wait to see how you'll use the remaining paste in other dishes. Looking forward to your luxurious dinner post :)

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  11. what a flavorful dish that must have been!! the chili paste looks incredible, I love the color! Great job presenting this recipe and as always your images are just breath taking!!

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  12. This is one of my favorite soups and is requested frequently by Mr. B. You did a terrific job on this challenge and I hope you move to the next round!

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  13. This looks amazing. I just did the chopping/seed-membrane-removing of tiny dried chilies last week...what a drag! But well worth it. :)

    I'm sorry you maimed yourself! I did that once with jalapenos and my nose (and also with residual toothpaste and my contacts, once...but that's a different story). Ouch. My excursion last week (including both dried chilies and fresh birds eye chilies) was full of extreme caution...for once. :)

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  14. What an amazing soup! I am so impressed that you made your own Nam Prik Pao - that is going above and beyond, but what a sense of accomplishment. Nice job. Good luck in the contest!!

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  15. I made the mistake years ago of rubbing my EYES while DRIVING after chopping peppers. More painful than childbirth! I will never, ever forget that horrible burning!

    Looks so good! I love spicy soups, and that bite with the prawn looks amazing. Congrats on your PFB success!

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  16. Oh, you poor thing, sorry to hear about the chiles and your nose! Beautiful dish though. Those shrimp are gorgeous! And I'm loving reading the entries on this challenge... so glad not to read the hundredth post on run-of-the-mill recipes like blueberry muffins or lasagna!

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  17. Stellar job, i love Thai! You've outdone yourself with the photos too. I don't think you'll need luck to advance to the next round. Congrats I think would be more in order. I'll be back to vote for you.
    -Gina-

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  18. Great post. I love the way you 'dissected' it all. And kudos to you for making your own paste.

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  19. definitely a great representation of the challenge! +1 vote from me :)

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  20. OMG! Amanda that looks delicious, I like the hand action in the gooey paste. That must be fun. Gorgeous pictures. Good luck in this round! Have a wonderful week.

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  21. i think you really shot this one out of the park. great job.

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  22. Mmmm...this sounds spicy and delicious. So impressed you made your own chili sauce! Good luck with the challenge!

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  23. Amanda, what a great dish you've created here! I love that you did your research to make sure everything was authentic as it should be. Nice work and good luck in round 2!

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  24. It looks amazing...AMAZING! Congratulations on moving forward!

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  25. Omg Amanda, you went above and beyond on this dish! I'm am so impressed. I love all the research you did beforehand, thanks for sharing it with the rest of us lazy folk.

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  26. You didn't tell me you made the tamarind paste as well! OMG you were all ultra authentic and hardcore on this one. Total PFB crush.

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  27. OMG I am super impressed with your willingness to make everything from scratch. I love your post and you definitely have one of my votes :o)

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  28. hah! when Baking Barrister said this is hardcore, i had to drop what i'm doing to check it out! of course, hands down, there's nothing but the best that comes out from you :) congrats (actually there was never any doubt) for making it to round 2 and way to go til the 10th!

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  29. This is wonderful! My first Thai cooking was soups, too (first Tom Kha and then Tom Yum), and yours looks really excellent. I'll be voting for you again for sure.

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  30. Way to go ALL OUT! And with such a beautifully crafted dish -- you've suddenly given me an intense craving for Thai. You definitely have my vote with a recipe like that, good luck!!!

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  31. oh my! i wouldve dies if i made the chili paste from scratch. i wouldn't be able to handle the smoke coming out if the roasting chili. btw, everything looks gorgeous! i'm already sweating just thinking about sipping the soup with small drops of chili mixed in. good luck!

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  32. It's 1989, and I'm sitting by the banks of the mekhong river, at Nong Kai in far north-east Thailand. Across the river I can see the kingdom of Laos, but my attention is pulled back to the most incredible soup I have ever tasted, sour, hot, spicy, lemongrass, and kaffir lime flavours run across my palate, just before my head nearly explodes with the chili punch it packs. I ask my host the name of the dish - 'tom yum goong' he replies.

    Thanks for bringing back a happy travel memory!

    All the best, Fiona

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  33. Holy crap, this post kicks some serious ass. I've never seen lemongrass that color before. Nice legs on the chile oil in your hero shot. Next you make that paste, you might wanna work in the hood, huh?

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  34. Wow!! amazing ;)
    look nice and well done!

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  35. Such a beautiful recipe - I am very impressed that you made the chili paste from scratch. Your tom yum goong looks so authentic... now I know what I'm going to do with the lemongrass growing in my garden.

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  36. I'm so impressed by the food you made! How amazing that you made your own chili paste AND taramind paste, just incredible! I'm seriously in awe of you. The food looks delicious and the pictures are beautiful. Great job with the 2nd challenge and good luck! :)

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  37. Congrats on such an amazing dish! I bet it was out of this world delicious! Good luck getting to the next round.

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  38. You're killing me! This soup looks perfect for this rainy New York day!! haha, congrats on making it to the next round, and good luck!

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  39. I order this dish from my local Thai place all the time and you did a wonderful job replicating it! The photos are amazing! I hope we can both advance to the next round of #PFB2010!

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  40. Excellent flavors! Love the rich color of the chilly paste :)- Looks spicy!

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  41. AMAZING post. Your soup looks incredible and your photos are stunning. Your blog is gorgeous and I'm so happy to have found it through PFB. I think we're sure to see you in round #3!

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  42. Your photos are gorgeous and I love Tom Yum Goong! Now I'm hungry--you got my vote :)

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  43. What an endeavor! This looks and sounds better than any I've gotten at my local Thai places. I should probably make a bowl of that now to clear out my sinuses. Got my first cold of the season - yuck.

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  44. This looks amazing! I imagine it is tantalizing to all the senses. I've never tried this dish and I'm not very familiar with Thai food, but I think I should remedy that! Good luck and you have my vote!

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  45. Great post! Whenever I am sick, Tom Yum soup is what I crave. You are right, it is SO warming, and this looks so flavorful. I voted for you!

    Good luck!

    you can check out my PFB post at : http://www.foodbuzz.com/project_food_blog/challenges/2/view/864

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  46. Wow, you got my vote. This is awesome and extremely impressive. WAY TO GO!!

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  47. great idea! :) You get my vote!

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  48. Wow this is impressive! I consider myself Thai and I don't even dare making homemade nam prik pao! Shame on me. This sounds authentic tom yum. Therefore, you got my vote girl! Kudo to you.

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  49. This looks fantastic -- I love this soup, and the Nam Prik Pao looks delectable. Looks like we both went to Pim for authentic Thai recipes -- she's the best!

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  50. This soup looks so comforting, but chiles to the face do not. It's always smart to wear long gloves while handling chiles, a lesson I had to learn the hard way. Best of luck, just voted for you!

    Lick My Spoon

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  51. Everyone already said this but I must chime in about how hardcore you are! Homemade chile paste, homemade tamarind paste, AND a prawn diagram? Seriously? Count another vote from me!

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  52. For the chile work you did alone deserves my vote. But I happened to like the rest of it too. Good luck!

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  53. You should get hazard pay for working with those peppers!! Great post and this soup looks perfect for a cool fall evening. Best of luck and you can count my vote!!

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  54. Great post!

    Kelly (the cilantro hater)
    ;-)

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  55. I adore Tom Yum Goong though I have to admit that I've never made quite such an authentic version myself. Good on you for doing such a great job and for suffering a fire in your nose, no less :D

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  56. I agree with B.Barrister...you are totally hard core, which is totally awesome! My favorite part was the tamarind, that just looked fun. squishy.
    you've got my vote! stop by and check out my hardcore Danish dish!

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  57. Oh wow! I've never made Tom Yum Goong. This is inspiring me! Thanks for sharing. You've got my vote!

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  58. You have definitely out done yourself with this! Looks great sister - I bet it tastes even better!

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  59. One of our household favorites! You've definitely got my vote! :)

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  60. It's been raining for days where I'm at and this post just hits the spot. Must get/make some Tom Yum Goong. Thanks!

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  61. This is my favorite Thai dish of all time. My home stay mother used to make it for me when I was in the Peace Corps. Happy memories. Hope we both make it to round three :-)

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  62. I love this dish, I get it all the time! I'll have to give it a try and make it myself one of these days, yours looks like it came out great. You get my vote :D

    And if you like, stop by my blog and take a look at my post too ;)
    http://www.foodbuzz.com/project_food_blog/challenges/2/view/834

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  63. "Thai cuisine is warming to the body and the soul"...and you make it warming to the sight too! lovely entry.
    Voted. (See my entry here: http://www.foodbuzz.com/project_food_blog/challenges/2/view/869)

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  64. Gorgeously presented...Love the entry :) Can't wait to see your challenge post for #3 :)

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  65. Dude, this is amazing. Gorgeous photos, impressive amount of work and dedication. And I love the diagram of the prawn! However, I must admit that the orange fat in their heads really freaks me out. ;)

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  66. oh.my.gosh. i voted for you earlier, but realized i hadn't commented on this, and this post deserves a freaking comment. i can't believe you seeded 80 chilis. you deserve a medal. and to advance to round 3. i will be cheering you on all the way!

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  67. I'd have to say that these photos are probably the best in your batch... amazing! and what a post! - megs

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  68. Voted.

    Great post, and great blog!

    Since you're using homegrown lemongrass and lime leaves, you should enter this post in the Grow Your Own roundup this month.

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  69. Awe, I'm impressed Cilantropist! I'll have to try my hands at making an original nam prik pao b/c I use it all the time! You got my vote for PFB!

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  70. Wow, what a ton of work you put into making the chili paste! Great pics!

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  71. Wow!! Look Yummy! You're unbelievable! I know where to go next time when I'm craving for Tom Yum Soup.

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  72. wow, i'm so impressed. AND you made your own chili paste. you've got our vote :)

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  73. Wow. This is an absolutely amazing, AMAZING post! I was captivated from beginning to end. Gorgeous photos and lots of fascinating information. Tom Yum Goong is pretty irresistible to me after that. Best of luck in this round of the challenge (I voted for you) and it totally rocks that you sent this over to GYO this month, as well...thanks :)

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  74. This looks good (I however do not really like prawns or shrimp, but maybe that's because I was raised in the middle of nowhere surrounded by land and mountains!)
    I voted for you - good luck!

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  75. just got in on time to vote! don't know how I missed this - much success - awesome!

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  76. Like everyone else I'm totally impressed. And jealous you were able to get your hands on kaffir limes. I couldn't find them anywhere for my dish! You definitely get my vote for badassery...

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  77. Beautiful photos! I have never made Tom Yum Goong before but it is one of my husbands favorites to order at Thai restaurants. I will have to try this one soon! :)

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  78. Fantastic. When my thai chiles dry I'm making this paste. Sorry to hear about the chile/eye incident - I cringe at the thought.

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  79. I bet it tasted amazing! Congrats on advancing to round #3. Can't wait to see your dinner party!
    LL

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  80. Wow. That looks like a very yummy (and very spicy) soup.

    How much of that chili paste did you actually make (it looked like lots), and how long does it last? I noticed that you only used 1 tbsp.

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  81. Dan: The recipe I used made just under 2 cups of chile paste, almost enough to fill 2, 1/2 pint jars. It will last for a very very long time, especially if you keep in the fridge. I read that since the chile content is so high, and chiles act as natural preservatives, that you can also keep it in a cool dark cupboard. Since making this soup, I have also used the chile paste in stir fry to saute shrimp and beef with noodles. It is a fantastic condiment!

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  82. Preparing prika pao at home is an adventure!) I love tom yum and I used to buy all the ingredients including chili paste in Thailand when I go there for vacation. When I run out of the stock I just order ingredients online. I know, I could find them in local stores. I tried once, but I really have no patience with it. I use this shop: http://tomyumrecipe.com, You can find your tom yum shop in google.) It’s just an idea of ordering ingredients online.

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  83. Hi seva52! Thanks for the suggestion on the shop for authentic Thai ingredients. The prices seem a little steep (at least compared to buying in a store) but if you cant find them or dont have the patience, buying online is a great option. Thanks for stopping by! :)

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  84. Excellent: used this recipe here in HK! Live shrimp, jet fresh Thai herbs and Thai nam prik pow from the store. :D I added fresh Thai birds' eye peppers to up the heat: nam prik pow alone won't do it for me!

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  85. After you've made the nam prik pow, how long does it keep and how does one keep it (in the refrigerator, I'm guessing)?

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  89. I would like to use the paste for noodles dry. Do you have any suggestion for it?

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  92. This post for both Tom Yum and Nam Prik was very heart warming. I've been exactly where you are in making this and have learned the same skills and techniques. I've also learned that using the Nam Prik Pao with my rice noodles as a seasoned lubricant can add Umami Savory to any dish. Again, thanks for sharing your experiences and I look forward to reading more of your adventures in Thai cooking !!

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  93. This post for both Tom Yum and Nam Prik was very heart warming. I've been exactly where you are in making this and have learned the same skills and techniques. I've also learned that using the Nam Prik Pao with my rice noodles as a seasoned lubricant can add Umami Savory to any dish. Again, thanks for sharing your experiences and I look forward to reading more of your adventures in Thai cooking !!

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