I first tried kaeng liang at one of my favourite restaurants in Bangkok, and haven't been able to shake the memory of the flavour since. After bemoaning the difficulties of sourcing lemon basil (bai maenglak, hairy basil, hoary basil) in England, the friend I was dining with flipped quickly through the menu as if looking for something specific. When he reached the page he was looking for, a smile spread across his face he and asked “have you had kaeng liang?”
Kaeng liang is a peppery herbal soup that can be made with any vegetables, but the two must-have ingredients are pepper and lemon basil. I have yet to find bai maenglak for sale in a shop, but have found luck from some online retailers. It’s not that you can’t use another type of basil in this soup, or omit it altogether, but it just wouldn’t be kaeng liang if you did.
Vegan Kaeng Liang Soup
Kaeng Liang is a soup made spicy from peppercorns, but I like the addition of a chili. It's a simple dish comprised of mixed vegetables (typically a type of gourd is included), pepper, and lemon basil. No other type of basil will impart the same flavour, but you can substitute Vietnamese balm because it is also a lemony herb. All of the various sauces listed in the recipe are covered in this Thai soy sauce roundup.
- 1 litre water or salt-free vegetable stock
- 50 grams (⅓ cup) roughly chopped shallot
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 red bird’s eye chilies, depending on heat preference
- 1 tablespoon Thai fermented soybean paste
- 1 teaspoon white peppercorns
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup chopped pumpkin or butternut squash
- 1 cup mushrooms (oyster is my preference)
- ½ cup 1 inch cubed tofu
- 1 tablespoon seasoning sauce
- 1 tablespoon thin soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon palm sugar
- ½-1 cup lemon basil (bai maenglak)
- Add the water, shallot, garlic, chilies, fermented soybean paste, white peppercorns, and salt to a blender and liquidise until smooth. Pour into a saucepan, add the pumpkin or squash, mushrooms, and tofu. Simmer for 15 minutes, or until the pumpkin/squash is knife-tender.
- Add the seasoning and soy sauces, palm sugar, and lemon basil. Simmer for 5 more minutes.
- Serve with steamed jasmine rice.
- Serves: 3-4, with rice
- Cuisine: Thai