Is This Healing Green Soup Thailand’s Healthiest Dish?

Is This Healing Green Soup Thailand’s Healthiest Dish?

Today’s shared plate is a piping hot bowl of mushroom soup known by locals as ‘gaeng hed‘. The soup’s popularity pales in comparison to Thai cuisine’s soup juggernauts such as tom yam, and tom kha soups. However, despite not having as strong a reputation, we believe this enchanting green soup too, will leave newcomers craving a second taste.

Dwight leads special guests from the US Embassy to shop for herbs in the local market.

The soup isn’t only great tasting, with a sneakily slow and building brand of spiciness, but gaeng hed is also good for you. Contrary to popular belief, the soup base isn’t tinted green from the mix of herbs and mushrooms added, but is given its color by blending together ‘yanang‘ leaves (ใบย่านาง).

Unfortunately, there isn’t a great name for yanang in English. The scientific name is tiliacora triandra, and it’s popular with older folks in the countryside, especially the area called ‘issan‘ that borders Laos. Wise in their years, they will often drink the grassy tasting herb as a juice, to most quickly benefit from yanang’s anti-inflamatory, anti-cancer, and pain relieving properties.

All of the herbs and vegetables used commonly in gaeng hed curries or soups.
Closeup of the yanang (tilicoria triandra) leaf that gives gaeng hed it’s deep green color and medicinal properties.

When you factor in the benefits from the fresh acacia herb (cha om or ใบชะอม), sweet Thai pumpkin, and a flurry of mushrooms, you’d be hard pressed to find a healthier Thai soup. The health benefits from the acacia alone, a common ingredient in gaeng hed, include antioxidant properties, a source of vitamin A, and helping to regulate body temperature.

These amazing herbal properties and their Lao-issan origin, made the dish our choice to cook for US Embassy guests, including Dr. Joanne Hyppolite, curator of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). Both the dish, and the often appropriated Lao-issan cuisine in general share some commonalities, and ingredients with African American soul food. This ranges from the darker skin, socio-economically disadvantaged people of the region, to gaeng hed’s culinary versatility allowing it to be easily supplemented with herbs and vegetables you may have on hand.

A small handful of delicate acacia leaves (ใบชะอม or the scientific name Senegalia pennata or climbing wattle).

Most interestingly is the texture of the soup. Named as a ‘gaeng’ in Thai, which implies a curry or curry-like, thick consistency, however, this is a bit of a misnomer. Instead gaeng hed is eaten as more of a thickened soup, with many recipes calling for the addition of tapioca starch. The starch, used similarly to how many people use corn starch, gives the soup a consistency that is similar in mouthfeel to the natural thickener of African American cooks in generations past, okra.

Dr. Hyppolite gives Courageous Kitchen a gift from NMAAHC, the Sweet Home Cafe Cookbook.

Although not commonly included in this soup, Thais too love their okra. The young soft okra (aka ladyfingers, kra jiap, or กระเจี๊ยบ) fruits are steamed or eaten raw as an accompaniment to traditional Thai chili pastes. Fortunately, Courageous Kitchen has 3 six-foot okra trees which produce fruit every 2-3 days. This made it easy to grab a few from the garden and quickly slice them for our guests from the US Embassy.

Gaeng hed may be a little known dish outside of Thailand, but it certainly brought two seemingly disparate food histories together at Courageous Kitchen recently. We’re all about using food to start discussions, break down barriers between people, and heal ourselves. We hope you’ll be intrigued to find out more about this healing soup and the spice and herbs that make it special. Happy eating, please share this plate with someone!

If you’re curious about Thai food, especially any of the ingredients mentioned in this article, be sure to let us know to include them in your cooking class or street food tour with us in Bangkok.

Photo credit: Alisara Chirapongse

Shared Plates: Grease Popping, Batter Fried Thai Mussels

Shared Plates: Grease Popping, Batter Fried Thai Mussels

Today’s shared plate is a favorite Thai street food snack! Known as ‘hoi tod’ (หอยทอด) in Thai, this concoction of batter fried mussels is hawked most commonly by street food vendors selling pad thai. While the dish may be overshadowed by pad thai’s fame outside of Thailand, in the country in can go head to head with any greasy, super satisfying street food dish you can imagine.

If you’ve never seen this dish cooking before you’re in for a treat, it looks like a savory asian funnel cake is being created before your eyes!

With the cost of all the ingredients for pad thai, most street food hawkers outside the tourist hot spots can’t enjoy much success by selling it solely. So many of the vendors you see in Bangkok, whether you know it or not, may be making this delicious snack as well. The thing to look out for when you’re roaming Bangkok’s street food filled streets, are the carts with oversized iron woks. Great for cooking at a consistent temperature, the pure size of the woks allow the most skillful vendors to be making several plates at a time, often simultaneously cooking hoy tod, pad thai, and interacting with customers.

Making the dish at home without starting a grease fire can be a task. This is because you’ll need to get the batter frying in hot oil, and as it crisps up transfer it to a pan where in can continue to cook, but only shallow frying. This makes it easier to flip and get an even fry on all side, while allowing you to add an egg to spruce it up!

Special thanks to our guest Seth who requested this dish and was so much fun to cook with!

We prefer our hoy tod omelette crispy fried and golden brown. Normally, you will serve it with a chili sauce, and if you like the heat— you’ll love it with our homemade sriracha sauce.

When you visit Bangkok, you can request this dish in our cooking class or street food tour! We’re happy whether teaching you to make it, or encouraging you to hunt down a version to try it on your own. Happy eating, and remember to share this plate!