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Coco Loco

Summer soup makes a nutty comeback

Coconut milk is an ingredient as versatile as chicken stock. Whether it's sweetened with sugar as the base for sticky rice pudding or stirred into curry for silky texture, it imparts a mild, perfumed flavor and an unparalleled richness. At Aviary, a small-plates restaurant in Portland, Oregon, co-owner and chef Sarah Pliner infuses the multifaceted milk with the flavors of lemongrass, chile and lemon balm before ladling it over fresh tofu, crafting a refreshing soup for even the hottest summer nights.

Coconut and Lemongrass Soup

Recipe adapted from Sarah Pliner, Aviary, Portland, OR

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Cook Time: 1 hour


2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 medium yellow onions, sliced (about 2 cups)

2 medium shallots, thinly sliced (about ¼ cup)

6 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly slice

2 medium carrots, chopped

2 ribs celery, chopped

One 2-inch piece ginger root, peeled and thinly sliced

2 stalks lemongrass, thinly sliced

2 bay leaves

1 sweet red chile, such as Fresno 

1 medium tomato, cored and diced

2 cups water

2 cups coconut milk

4 sprigs basil

4 sprigs cilantro, plus more for garnish

4 sprigs fresh lemon balm (optional)


14 ounces firm tofu, cut into 1-inch pieces


1. In a medium stockpot set over medium heat, combine the olive oil, onions, shallots, garlic, carrots, and celery and cook until soft, about 10 minutes. Stir in the ginger, lemongrass, bay leaves and chile and cook for 5 minutes, until fragrant. Whisk in the tomato and water and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes longer, stirring occasionally.

2. Stir in the coconut milk and bring the soup back to a simmer. Stir in the basil, cilantro and lemon balm (if using), remove the pan from the heat and set aside for 10 minutes. Strain the soup through a fine-mesh sieve, pressing on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Season with salt and rewarm over low heat. Spoon the tofu in each bowl and ladle the soup over top. Garnish with cilantro sprigs and serve hot.

Test Kitchen Approved

We collaborate with a lot of talented chefs and tinker with everything in our test kitchen. Our goal is to make sure every recipe works as well in your home kitchen as it does in ours. So go on, cook with confidence.


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