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Chef Jet Tila's Khao Soi Recipe for the Thai New Year

Photo courtesy of Jet Tila
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Songkran, also known as the Thai New Year, is about to begin, bringing all sorts of colorful Southeast Asian celebrations that come along with it.

In Thailand, the arrival of a new year on the lunar calendar is toasted by performing water rituals and participating in festive parades -- all of which are meant to ring in the coming of spring, as well as to pay respect to ancestry. (The festival takes place on April 13 - 14 in Thailand, but here in Los Angeles, the Thai New Year is celebrated with a big festival in Thai Town this Sunday, April 7.)

Of course, a proper New Years party wouldn't be complete without some good eats. To celebrate the holiday accordingly,L.A. chef Jet Tila -- whose mother's family came from China to settle in Northern Thailand -- whips up a hearty bowl of khao soi.

“This is the dish of my childhood,” says Tila. “I have memories of my grandmother making khao soi in the kitchen while I would sit next to her in a high chair as an infant.”

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Tila first learned to cook under his grandmother's wing, and grew to appreciate the playground of flavors of Thai cooking -- sweet, sour, spicy, salty -- through his time with her in the kitchen. Unfortunately, his grandmother passed away before his culinary success, so this rich bowl of noodle soup is his homage to her.

The soup's name is directly translated to “cut rice”, and is a signature dish to Northern Thailand. Traditionally, large sheets of rice noodles are tinted with turmeric, turning them a beautiful saffron yellow. Then they get "soi" (cut) into fine flat noodles similar to fettuccini, poached, and added to a rich coconut broth infused with kaffir lime leaves and tamarind. Khao soi is always served with plenty of classic garnishes including pickled greens, diced shallots, and a mixture of cilantro and scallions, and is then topped with some fried flat noodles to add another element of texture and flavor.

It truly is one of the best dishes of traditional Northern Thai cooking. You can whip up a bowl yourself this weekend before the festival. Kop kuhn ka (thanks) for sharing, chef.
Here's how it's done:

Khao Soi Northern Curry
Serves 4

Ingredients for soup:

2 tbsp yellow curry paste
2 tbsp red curry paste
2 kaffir lime leaves, fine chiffonade
4 cups coconut milk
1/2 cup demi glace or rich beef stock

1 lb beef tenderloin, sliced finger width about 2” long
2 tsp fish sauce
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp tamarind paste

Ingredients to serve:

½ lb. fresh flat egg noodles, boiled, rinsed, and drained.
½ cup Chinese pickled mustard greens, drained and sliced thin
½ cup shallots, peeled and small diced
2 scallions, bias sliced
½ cup cilantro, leaves picked off the stem


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In a medium saucepan, heat 3 tbsp of coconut milk to medium and stir in curry pastes and lime leaves. Stir-fry for about 1 minute until paste starts to brown and is thick and fragrant. Stir in remaining coconut milk into curry paste. Increase heat to high until boiling. Allow to boil for about 5 to 10 minutes or until reduces about ¼ or coats the back of a wooden spoon.

Reduce to simmer, then add demi glace or broth, fish sauce, tamarind, and sugar. Taste and adjust as necessary. Add beef filet at the last possible moment before serving.

To assemble:

Separate the noodles into 4 bowls. Ladle about 6 to 8 ounces of the rich broth over each noodle bowl. Garnish with mustard greens, shallots, scallions, and cilantro on top.

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