Making khao soi from scratch at home is not particularly easy, but boy is it worth it. It’s a great company or dinner-party dish, especially if you serve all the toppings and condiments on the side, and it hits pretty much every flavor and texture note in the book: sweet, salty, sour, spicy, creamy, crunchy, dry, juicy, astringent, vegetal. It very well could be the most satisfying bowl of noodles you’ve ever eaten. Unless, of course, you’ve been to Chiang Mai and had the real thing, in which case you’ve probably already sought out a favorite version at a restaurant or food cart somewhere in your own area. However, it probably didn’t cost $2.27, so to you, I say it’s high time to try making it at home.
Recipes for khao soi are all over the place, but this one is adapted from, of course, “Hot Salty Sour Sweet,” whose authors are never wrong.
As below it makes 4 generous servings. You could probably substitute chicken or pork for the beef, but I do think beef works best with the other flavors.
• 8 oz. lean beef, cut into 1/2-inch pieces: $1.50
• 1 1 lb. FRESH Chinese egg noodles: $2.28
• 3 cups coconut milk (about 1 1/2 cans), 1/2 cup of the thickest milk reserved (I scraped it off the top and the lid): $3
• 3 cloves garlic, peeled: 9 cents
• 1 1-inch piece fresh turmeric (or 1 tsp dried): 16 cents
• 1 T red curry paste (from a 99-cent can of about 4 T; I’ve tried making it myself before, and it did not go well): 25 cents
• 1 T sugar: 6 cents
• 3 T Thai fish sauce: 18 cents
• 1 lime, half of it juiced, the other half sliced: 33 cents
• 1 cup vegetable oil for frying noodles: 48 cents
• 1/4 cup chopped shallots (1 large shallot, from a 99-cent bag): 20 cents
• 1/2 cup minced green onions (1/2 a 50-cent bunch): 25 cents
• 1/2 cup pickled cabbage (you can buy this jarred, but I happened to have homemade): 30 cents
• Salt: 1 cent
TOTAL: $9.09/4 = $2.27/serving
First off, if you can find fresh turmeric, I recommend doing so. It can be frozen and grated when needed, and the flavor difference between it and dried is so dramatic you’ll never use dried again.
Mince the turmeric (I peeled it first, but I don’t know if it was necessary) and pound it and the garlic, with an added pinch of salt, to a paste, either in a mortar and pestle or by mincing all of it as finely as possible. Mix in the red curry paste.
Heat a wok or nonstick sauté pan over high heat. When hot, add the oil. When heated, stir in the curry paste-garlic-turmeric mixture, cook for about 30 seconds, then add the reserved 1/2 cup thick coconut milk. Lower heat to medium-high, add meat and sugar, and cook until meat is browned. Stir in the rest of the coconut milk, 1 cup water, fish sauce, and a large pinch of salt, bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the lime juice.
Set aside a large handful of the egg noodles. Add about 1 inch of canola oil to a heavy pot, heat over high heat. When hot, drop in a strand of noodle to test; it should puff up immediately and dramatically. Remove to paper-towel-lined plate. Add the rest of the noodles, making sure they all get contact with the oil and become super-crispy but not browned. Be prepared to work fast. Remove to the plate and repeat with a second handful of noodles.
Remove the oil from the heat and replace it with a pot full of water, bring to a boil.
Cook the rest of the noodles according to the package directions. Drain, rinse immediately under cold water to stop the cooking process, and set aside. Bring the curry mixture back to a boil.
To serve, divide the boiled noodles among four bowls. (If you’re only making two servings at a time, don’t pour the curry mixture over until you’re ready to eat.) Pour the curry mixture over, then top with the crispy noodles, shallots, green onions, pickled cabbage, and lime wedges.