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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Tom Kha Gai

Thai food is one of my favorite cuisines. When I go out for Thai food the part of the menu I get most excited about is the soup section. This probably isn't surprising to any of you who have been reading my blog for any length of time...I seem to be a bit obsessed with soup. I once joked that I should officially change my food blog into a soup blog. In fact, a quick search shows me that the word "soup" was mentioned in 17 of my 45 cooking related posts.  17 is the same number of posts in which I mention the word "flour" in the baking section, and actually several more mentions than the word "project" in my home and DIY themed posts, which I often feel ridiculous for overusing. What can I say, I am a lover of soup.

Should I officially convert this into a soup blog, guys? Do you all love soup like I do? Think of all the possibilities...I have never even posted a chilled soup, such as cold cherry soup or gazpacho! And I have never posted a chicken matzo ball soup recipe (what kind of nice jewish girl am I?)  But anyway, back to Thai food, alright?

I can never decide if I prefer Tom Yum Goong, with its spicy-sour broth and decadent shrimp, or Tom Kha Gai with its lively coconut milk, cilantro and lime combination.   I have made Tom Kha Gai at home several times, and have yet to attempt Tom Yum...maybe soon! I think I would rather not choose a favorite. I will just settle to like them both equally. 

If you, like me, dig Tom Kha, and its aromatic coconuty broth, I think you'll be happy to know that making it at home is really quite easy. I had success finding most of the ingredients I needed by going to a big asian supermarket near my house, Super 88 (psst...click that link to read an old post I wrote about Super 88 and omelets...it also includes a funny Japanese commercial), but in my search for recipes I also discovered a lot of helpful substitutions which may come in handy if you don't live around the corner from a mammoth Asian specialty grocery store.

Here are some of the ingredients I used:

fresh cilantro, scallions, lemongrass, thai peppers, galangal, coconut milk and lime

I also used: chicken broth, chicken breast, sliced white mushrooms, fish sauce, a bit of brown sugar, and some thai curry paste. They didn't make it into the picture.

If you are worried you won't find thai specialty ingredients, I urge you to be optimistic! Check your local grocery store in the international section. My local Stop&Shop carries thai curry paste (which can be used in place of the thai peppers), coconut milk, fish sauce, and a whole slew of other basic thai ingredients. I have found lemongrass at whole foods in the past, and occasionally thai peppers, too. In the past I have had trouble finding galangal (though I got lucky this time) an aromatic root similar to ginger, but more floral. I have substituted ginger in its place on two occasions, and though it may not be the most authentic, it still came out delicious. So never fear, substitutions can be made. 

I have unfortunately never been successful in finding Kefer lime leaves, so  I end up leaving them out, and including a little bit more lime juice than the recipes I have found call for. Believe me, it still turns out delicious. 

Because when I make soup I don't usually stick to a recipe but rather a guideline, here is the basic process I followed. Taste as you go, and alter things as needed...don't be afraid to experiment a bit!


2 cans of coconut milk
thinly sliced chicken breast
juice of 1 or 2 limes (at least 3 TBS)
fresh cilantro
lemon grass, (just the bottoms, bruised)
galangal, roughly chopped
thai chili peppers
chicken broth
white mushrooms, sliced
fish sauce (roughly 2 tablespoons)


  • Start with the aromatics- Chop up some galangal (I used about an inch by inch piece, chopped roughly) and put it in the bottom of your soup pot over medium heat with a bit of oil. Add a few pieces of lemongrass, bruised to bring out the flavor, and chop a couple of thai peppers, removing most of the seeds and ribs, or throwing them in whole, depending on the level of spiciness you desire. Add a little bit of chopped cilantro, too. 

  • Cook until fragrant, adding the chicken broth, one can of coconut milk and fish sauce at this time. Give the liquid some time to simmer, and then strain the broth to remove the aromatics. 

  • Next add the remaining coconut milk and mushrooms. 

  • In a saute pan, lightly cook the chicken in thin strips, then add to the soup.

  • Remove the soup from the heat, add the lime juice, taste and add brown sugar, more chili peppers or curry paste if desired. 

  • Serve hot, garnished with plenty of sliced scallions and chopped fresh cilantro, and some thai peppers for color and extra spice. 

Have you made Thai food at home before? Have you experimented with cooking a new cuisine lately, or tried to figure out what to substitute for ingredients that are hard to come by in your region? Are you obsessed with soup? What is your favorite thing to order at a Thai restaurant? Let me know in the comments, maybe I will try to make your favorite dish next!

1 comment:

  1. I am SO going to try this, it looks and sounds utterly delicious.


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