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story.lead_photo.caption CAPTION 01: Photo by Lynda Balslev for Tastefood

Are you feeling the winter doldrums? January can be a blue time, post-holidays, when the dust settles and winter stretches ahead. It's tempting to daydream about far-flung escapes to steamy destinations, away from the cold, snow and darkness. Reality, of course, keeps us home for many practical reasons. So, as the saying goes, instead of cursing the dark, it's time to light a candle — or in this case, the stove. If we can't travel away, then we can bring the taste of travel home to our kitchen.

This is a perfect bowl for a winter day. Khao Poon is a traditional Lao soup with red curry and rice noodles, fragrant with lemongrass and coconut. It's light, spicy and aromatic, finished with a shower of fresh herbs, bean sprouts and chiles to create a meal in a bowl. Chicken is frequently added, but it's wonderfully flexible with proteins, including pork and fish, as well as tofu for a vegetarian option. And if that's not enough to lift your spirits, Khao Poon is a traditional celebratory soup served at Lao weddings and other festive events. So dig in to your bowl and vicariously join the party.

Once all of the ingredients are assembled, this soup comes together in 30 minutes.

LEMONGRASS CHICKEN CURRY SOUP WITH RICE NOODLES

Active time: 30 minutes

Total time: 30 minutes

Yield: Serves 4

8 ounces rice vermicelli noodles

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 pound chicken thighs, cut into chunky bite-size pieces

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 large shallot, finely chopped, about 1/4 cup

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon finely grated peeled fresh ginger

3 tablespoons prepared Thai red curry paste, or more to taste

1 teaspoon ground coriander

6 cups chicken broth, divided

1 stalk lemongrass, cut into 3-to-4-inch pieces, lightly smashed

1 (15-ounce) can light coconut milk

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice, plus wedges for serving

1 tablespoon brown sugar

2 teaspoons fish sauce

2 teaspoons Asian hot sauce, such as Sriracha

2 cups bean sprouts

1 cup packed cilantro leaves and tender stems

1 red jalapeno or hot chile pepper, sliced (optional)

Cook the noodles according to the package instructions. Drain and rinse under cold water and set aside.

While the noodles are cooking, heat the oil in a soup pot. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and add to the pot without overcrowding. Cook until colored on all sides, then transfer to a plate with a slotted spoon (the chicken will continue to cook later in the soup).

Pour off all but 1 tablespoon oil from the pot. Add the shallot and saute until softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds, then stir in the curry paste and coriander and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute more. Whisk in the chicken stock and lemongrass. Taste the stock, and if you prefer a spicier soup, whisk in 1 to 2 more tablespoons of the curry paste.

Return the chicken to the pot and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the coconut milk, lime juice, sugar, fish sauce and hot sauce. Bring to a boil and simmer until the soup is heated through.

Divide the rice noodles between serving bowls. Ladle the soup over the noodles. Garnish with the bean sprouts, cilantro and red chiles. Serve with lime wedges and additional hot sauce.

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