The Atlantic’s Asia-based contributor Jarrett Wrisleywrote in 2010:
I appreciated this Zen description from my host, A-Nong: “It’s not really a soup and it’s not really a curry… it’som.”Gaeng omis often eaten in concert with larb or grilled meats as a cleansing herbal tonic.
Gaeng om is herb-y, spicy and hot. I use “spicy” and “hot” separately because… well, it’s funny how so many people say spicy when they mean hot. Spicy can mean any number of things: zesty, piquant, earthy, pungent and, yes, hot. But “hot” doesn’t encompass all the other spicy flavors so to use the two words interchangeably is simply misleading.
To make the dish both spicy and hot, we begin with a flavor base. Make a spice paste by pounding and grinding lemongrass, chilies, garlic, galangal and kaffir lime leaves together. You can make the spice paste as smooth or as coarse as you like. Use a mortar and pestle if you’re feeling traditional. Or switch to a food processor for convenience.
Heat up a couple of tablespoons of cooking oil and saute the ground spices with a little fish sauce until the color darkens a bit. You add sliced shallots and continue cooking until the shallot slices soften.
Add cooked pork to the spices and mix to coat each piece of meat. Then, you pour in broth. Taste and add more fish sauce, if needed. When the liquid boils, the vegetables are dropped in. Not all together, no. The one that needs to cook longest go in first, and so on, and so forth.
Sliced scallion is the only garnish that gaeong om needs but a bit of cilantro will give the dish an even richer flavor.
- 2 stalks stalks lemongrass - finely sliced
- 3 bird’s eye chilies - chopped
- 4 cloves garlic - minced
- 1 one-inch knob galangal - minced
- 1 pair kaffir lime leaves - midrib removed
- 2 shallots - finely sliced
- 2 tablespoons cooking oil
- fish sauce - to taste
- cooked pork belly - (as much or as little as you like) cut into bite-size pieces
- 4 to 6 cups bone broth
- 3 cup cubed squash
- 3 cup eggplant wedges
- 1 handful Thai basil leaves
- sliced scallions - to garnish
- Grind the lemongrass, chilies, garlic, galangal and kaffir lime leaves together to make a paste.
- Heat the cooking oil. Saute the spice paste over medium-low heat with a splash of fish sauce.
- When the color of the paste deepens, add the sliced shallots. Continue sautéing for a minute.
- Add the pork to the pan. Stir to coat the meat with the spice paste.
- Pour in the broth. Season with more fish sauce. Bring to the boil.
- Add the squash. Allow the liquid to boil. Lower the heat, cover and simmer for five minutes.
- Throw in the eggplant wedges and the Thai basil leaves. Taste the broth and add more fish sauce, if needed.
- Simmer for another seven to ten minutes until both the eggplants and squash are tender.
- Sprinkle in the scallions.
- Serve your gaeng om immediately.