spicy coconut noodle soup recipe

A little bit salty, a little bit spicy, a little bit sour and a little bit sweet. This is my idea of the perfect bowl of soup. Add in some slippery noodles and a tangle of Asian greens and I'm one happy lady. As I've mentioned before, soup is not something I cook all that often. I love it, Ada loves it. But the boys of the family just don't get it. 

I've been up every night over the long weekend nursing my poor little sick babies. So today while they were home off school for another day, I thought it would be the perfect time to treat Ada and I to a bowlful of spicy soup. (Kye was still too sick to eat much so was happy just eating a piece of toast as we tucked in). This is one of those curry-esque type soups that's fragrant and full of all the Southeast Asian flavours I love; kaffir lime leave, lemongrass, chilli and ginger, although galangal would be much more authentic to use if available and affordable where you live (same goes for using shallots in place of red onion if you can). Candlenuts are used as a thickener and also lend a beautiful flavour to the soup. But of course if you can't track them down I've listed a bunch of alternatives in the recipe notes below, so everyone can make it!

I like to use fermented tofu in place of shrimp paste in Southeast Asian recipes as it gives the same kind of full bodied flavour, without the shrimp. It's easily picked up from your local Asian grocery store and can be kept indefinitely in the fridge once opened. 

I've keep things rather simple here using finely sliced carrots and Asian greens, but this soup is the perfect base to add whatever vegetables you may have lurking in the depths of your fridge. 

Lastly, aside from looking after sick kids it's been a pretty exciting week for me and this here blog. I'm still coming down from being featured on Oprah.com and just yesterday was listed as one of Australia's top 10 food bloggers on She Knows. I gotta say, it feels pretty nice to be recognised for all the work that I put into this blog.
And one quick final note... just making sure you've all watched and shared this short film and this one also? Please help spread the word people. Xx~Emm

spicy coconut noodle soup
Find candlenuts, fermented tofu, lemongrass and lime leaves at your local Asian grocery store. While you're there, pick up a packet of your favourite rice noodles. If you have leftover kaffir lime leaves, these can be frozen and used straight from the freezer next time. If you can't find candlenuts, an okay substitute is raw macadamia nuts, brazil nuts, cashew nuts, or raw blanched almonds. They don't taste the same, but do give the same texture to the soup. I used rice vermicelli, but feel free to use whatever rice noodles you like, and simply cook them according to the instructions on the packet. As always, make sure you check the ingredients on your can of coconut milk. It should read coconut kernal and water. That's it. Don't buy ones with nasties in them...  Lastly, don't be tempted to have a nibble of the raw candlenuts. They are slightly toxic until cooked!
serves 4-6

spice paste

  • 5 candlenuts 
  • 1 medium red onion, peeled and finely sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely sliced
  • 1 long red thai chilli, finely sliced
  • 3 tablespoons drained fermented tofu
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder


  • 2 tablespoon rice bran oil
  • 1 lemongrass stalk, white part only, bruised
  • 2 cm piece of ginger or galangal, peeled
  • 4 kaffir lime leaves
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and cut into thin matchsticks/julienne
  • 2 cups (500ml) coconut milk
  • 2 cups (500ml) cold water
  • 1 bunch Asian greens, washed well
  • juice 2 limes + extra lime wedges to serve
  • fine sea salt, to taste
  • cooked rice noodles, to serve* see head notes 
  • finely shredded kaffir lime leaves, to serve
  • crushed chilli flakes, to serve, optional

To make the spice paste, grind candlenuts in a mortar and pestle. Add red onion, garlic and chilli. Pound until relatively finely ground. Add fermented tofu, ground coriander and turmeric. Pound to form a paste. Alternatively blitz the whole lot in a food processor until a fine paste forms, scraping the sides down a few times to help move it all along.

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the spice paste and cook out for 3-4 minutes or until fragrant. Add lemongrass, ginger, kaffir lime leaves and carrots, cook for a further minute or two, stirring constantly. Add coconut milk and water. Bring to the boil, stirring constantly to prevent the coconut milk from splitting. Cook for a minute to soften the carrots then add the Asian greens, stir until just wilted (1-2 minutes). Remove from the heat, add lime juice and season well with sea salt, to taste. Pick out lemongrass and ginger if you can fine it and discard and warn everyone to pick out the kaffir lime leaves. Serve soup over cooked rice noodles, sprinkle over a few pinches of shredded kaffir lime leaves and a pinch of chilli flakes. Serve immediately with extra lime wedges. 

To store leftovers; cool, then transfer the soup and veges to one container and keep the noodles in another. Cover and refrigerate for up to 2-3 days. Reheat soup gently in a pan then pour over noodles to re-heat them.

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  • Reply
    jas - the gluten free scallywag
    June 6, 2012 at 2:54 am

    This looks delicious and congrats on the features, I know how hard you work on this blog 🙂

  • Reply
    The InTolerant Chef
    June 6, 2012 at 9:05 am

    What a lovely soup, I hope it brings health and happiness in its steamy goodness! Its lovely to be recognised for all your hard work, well done! 🙂

  • Reply
    June 6, 2012 at 10:35 am

    This looks interesting, I'd love to dare try it because I'm not the biggest fan of soup either. I've never even heard of candlenuts either! Congratulations on your 'features'. 🙂

  • Reply
    June 6, 2012 at 12:13 pm

    Congratulations on your success!! This is what keeps most of us going. I love the recipe. It will be easier to pick up ingredients next time I venture into an Asian store.

  • Reply
    leaf (the indolent cook)
    June 6, 2012 at 12:37 pm

    Congratulations on all the recognition! Also, your noodle soup – I totally get, it looks awesome!

  • Reply
    Angry Asian
    June 6, 2012 at 1:14 pm

    i am intrigued by the use of fermented (stinky) tofu. my boyfriend has tried multiple times to like this ingredient but it has not happened. regrettably, same with shrimp paste!

    • Reply
      June 7, 2012 at 6:22 am

      Haha yeah it is 'stinky' tofu 😉 My mother-in-law eats it straight from the jar over rice, but I'm not that brave. In dishes like this though, it works wonders!

    • Reply
      Nicky B
      June 8, 2012 at 12:28 am

      Hi Emma, if I do use shrimp paste, how much would you recommend? (Sorry, I couldn't get the link from the original recipe to open.) Looking forward to trying this and might use buckwheat noodles as have some in the cupboard.

      Hope your family are feeling healthier now. Thanks for your brilliant blog. It's definitely one of my go-to places for recipes now (and I don't have to eat dairy or gluten free so it's more about flavour and healthiness for me).

      Will check out those video links too xx

    • Reply
      June 8, 2012 at 2:57 am

      The original recipe used 2 teaspoons of roasted shrimp paste in the spice paste. (You just put the shrimp paste into a little piece of tinfoil and roast in the oven for 5 mins.) It also had dried shrimps in the actual soup.

    • Reply
      Nicky B
      June 10, 2012 at 8:42 pm

      Thank you 🙂

  • Reply
    June 6, 2012 at 1:45 pm

    I love the idea of fermented tofu in place of dried shrimp. I've been trying to develop a vegetarian fish sauce recipe recently. I'm going to be able to make all sorts of Thai food.

  • Reply
    Tania @ A Perfect Pantry
    June 7, 2012 at 1:48 am

    A perfect soup for a cold day.. which it is here:) I love spicy, noodle soups.

  • Reply
    Maureen @ Orgasmic Chef
    June 7, 2012 at 2:57 am

    Congratulations on all the wonderful things that have been happening to you. A quick browse of your blog tells me they weren't wrong!

    This soup is beautiful.

    • Reply
      June 7, 2012 at 12:54 pm

      Thank you Maureen! xx

  • Reply
    June 7, 2012 at 5:22 am

    I can have that bowl of soup every day! That's the kind of love I have for Thai food 🙂

  • Reply
    June 7, 2012 at 7:06 am

    Sorry to hear about your sick kids! If this soup doesn't fix it I don't know what would though 🙂
    Congrats on your exposure, so exciting!
    Watched both videos, happily – hope they make it in front of the eyes of the people who need to see them most…

    • Reply
      June 7, 2012 at 12:54 pm

      Me too love, me too xx

  • Reply
    June 7, 2012 at 12:19 pm

    I love soup, can eat it any time and this one looks wonderful. Emma you deserve all the recognition, you have a fab blog.

    • Reply
      June 7, 2012 at 12:54 pm

      Thanks so much Alli xx

  • Reply
    Treble Tart
    June 7, 2012 at 2:06 pm

    I've never been a huge soup fan until recently, and this one looks absolutely delicious! What a great way to use up any veggies that are hanging around. 🙂 Also, I'm so glad you're being recognised for all the hard work you've done with this blog — I love reading it!!

  • Reply
    June 7, 2012 at 2:22 pm

    One of my little darlings has been terrable sick too this week,looked up your fizzy juice recipe actually!!Your videos are giving me goosebumps{shiver}will share as best i can!!

  • Reply
    Hotly Spiced
    June 8, 2012 at 4:00 am

    I love all those flavours too. Great looking soup. Sorry to hear your kids have been sick – what a demanding time. Hope they are now on the mend. xx

    • Reply
      June 8, 2012 at 6:26 am

      Thanks they are doing much better. Ones back at school while the other has had all week off. Just trying to shake his hideous cough before he goes back…

  • Reply
    June 9, 2012 at 9:45 am

    A lovely, and yet extremely simple recipe. The pictures are absolutely beautiful. You have so much talent!

  • Reply
    June 9, 2012 at 5:34 pm

    oh yum! that sounds so comforting and delicious! i love a good bowl of soup! thanks for sharing!

  • Reply
    Mairi @ Toast
    June 10, 2012 at 3:50 am

    Love this soup….adore hot & sour so this is right up my alley 😉

  • Reply
    June 17, 2012 at 7:40 am

    I made this with my 'Yarn and Darn' girls last week (we take turns hosting the craft night and providing a recipe to cook) and it was awesome! We subbed out the pickled tofu for some shrimp paste but otherwise it was fairly similar. It's on my list to do again this week as it was so yummy and quick for a week night meal!

    • Reply
      June 17, 2012 at 11:37 am

      Yay! So glad you enjoyed it Amy xx

  • Reply
    January 20, 2013 at 11:42 pm

    So since the moment I saw this on Pinterest I have been DYING to make it! Last night it all came together! It was delicious! I did add a little sugar, and will probably use 3 cups water to 1 cup coconut milk next time, but the recipe is wonderful! I love your blog and cook many of your delicious recipes on a regular basis! I have been gluten/dairy free for 3 years, but recently went vegan and I would LOVE it if you might include the protein content of some of these dishes at the bottom.
    Thanks so much!

  • Reply
    June 28, 2013 at 9:08 pm

    This is absolutely delicious 🙂 thank you!

  • Reply
    March 16, 2015 at 4:23 am

    while i am crazy in love with shrimp paste, you took me to school about fermented tofu (which i also enjoy) being a great substitute. my test kitchen mind is blowing up as i type. thank you for this wonderful noodle bowl build and thank you thank you thank you for the ingredient advice. cheers~

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