Twenty years ago, I went to a new Thai restaurant for lunch and had the most amazing Thai Coconut Chicken Soup, called Tom Kha Gai. It is also known by the shortened name Tom Kha. It had a very light broth, with a ginger, lime and floral flavor. I later learned that floral flavor was lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves. It was amazing! From that point on, I went out of my way to go get their soup. Unfortunately, a few years later they went out of business and I took that loss as an opportunity to figure out how to make my beloved soup. Tom Kha Gai Soup was born and I have been making it ever since. If you love Thai food as much as I do, you may also want to try my recipe for Thai Sweet Potato and Carrot Soup. It is a feast for the eyes as well as the belly!
Tom Kha Gai Soup is Thai in origin. It has a light broth made from coconut milk and chicken broth and a wonderful balance between, sweet sour, spicy and salty.
This is a pretty perfect soup because it has a coconut milk and chicken broth base, so it has a light creaminess to it. It is slightly spicy without being overbearing, a tad tart without being salty, a little sour from the lime and has just a hint of sweetness. You can amp up the heat or temper it, based on how much chili pepper you add. I sprinkle chopped cilantro, green onions and lime on top when I serve it. This adds a wonderful freshness.
One of the reasons I love this recipe for Tom Kha Gai Soup and make it often, is because it is such a quick soup to prepare. If you have never cooked with asian ingredients or spices, it may look a little intimidating, but don’t get caught up in that. Just about everyone of the ingredients listed (except the Kaffir lime leaves) I was able to get at my grocery store. The kaffir lime leaves, I get at the local asian market. You may have to ask them where they keep their kaffir lime leaves. My asian market has put their leaves in small packages that they keep in their freezer. Most of the packages I buy have enough leaves to make two or three batches, so I keep any extra leaves in my freezer until I need them.
Tom Kha Gai Soup has deep flavors and lovely aromatics. It is by far my favorite soup and once you make it, it will very likely be your favorite too!!
To make this delicious soup, I start by melting coconut oil in a large heavy bottom pot. I lightly saute the red chili peppers in the coconut oil. I store my chilis dried, so I crush them in my mortar and pestle when I need them. If you don’t have red chilis, you can substitute regular red pepper flakes, no harm no foul. Once these have started to toast, I add the coconut milk. Once this has come to a light boil, I reduce the heat and add in the chicken broth, the fish sauce, lime juice, coconut sugar (can substitute honey), sliced ginger, kaffir lime leaves and sections of lemongrass. The shredded chicken and sliced mushrooms get added in the end.
I want to talk a little about the ingredients for Tom Kha Gai Soup. Ginger is a major player in the flavor category of this soup. The ginger must be fresh. The dried ginger does not taste the same or pack as much flavor punch as fresh ginger. So, do not substitute dried ginger or your soup will be lacking part of the magic that fresh ginger offers. You don’t have to peel it if you don’t want to, but I usually do. To peel ginger, I simply use the tip of a spoon and lightly scrape it all over. The thin, delicate peel, comes right off without much waste. I then slice it into discs.
Lemon grass looks like a long, light green/white piece of grass. That is because it actually is from the grass family. It has a citrus-y flavor. You will want to strip off any old or damaged leaves. Cut the top several inches off and discard them. From here you will want to bruise the lemon grass by hitting the stalks with the back of a heavy knife or I often use the flat part of my ice cube mallet. Bruising and slightly breaking the lemon grass will help let out the most flavor when cooked. I then cut the rest of the stalk into sections about 2-3 inches long, then these get tossed into the pot with the ginger.
Once all of the ingredients are in the pot, I simmer this on low for 45 minutes to an hour. When it is almost done, I add shredded chicken and sliced mushrooms. For this, I often pick up a rotisserie chicken and shred the white meat and add it to the soup or I bake a few chicken breasts in the oven for this purpose. Sliced mushrooms are optional, as are the green onion and cilantro I garnish with. All of these flavors comes together in such a delicious way. So, the first time you make this Tom Kha Gai Soup, add all the accompaniments, just so you know how these lovely flavors compliment each other when it is done. Then after that, you can personalize it more to your taste. You will not be eating the lemon grass, leaves or ginger, so you can either strain them out before serving or remove them from your bowl when eating.
Tom Kha Gai Soup
- 1 tbsp coconut oil
- 7-8 ground dried red chilis (can substitute red pepper flakes)
- 3 cups shredded chicken
- 2-1/4 cups chicken broth
- 4 13.5 ounce cans full fat, coconut milk
- 3 inches peeled, sliced fresh ginger root
- 4 stalks lemon grass cut into 2-3 inch sections make sure to bruise it!
- 16 leaves washed, kaffir lime leaves if you don't have quite 16 leaves, that's okay, go with what you have!
- 1/2 cup fish sauce
- 1/2 cup lime juice
- 1 tbsp coconut sugar (or honey)
- 1 cup sliced, mushrooms
- 1 small lime in wedges for garnish
- chopped cilantro for garnish
- sliced green onion for garnish
- In a large pot, melt coconut oil and add ground, dried chilis and stir for 1-2 minutes.
- Pour in coconut milk and bring to a boil, then reduce heat.
- Now add in chicken broth, ginger, lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves, fish sauce, lime juice, coconut sugar and heat on medium-low for 45 minutes.
- After 45 minutes, turn to low, add in shredded chicken and sliced mushrooms. Heat for 10 minutes.
- You will not be eating the lemon grass, ginger or lime leaves, so you can either strain them out before serving or you can remove them from the bowl while eating.
- Serve in a bowl and garnish with sliced green onions, cilantro and a wedge of lime. *If you are not watching your carbs, add a spoonful of white rice to the bottom of the bowl before adding the soup. Delicious!!!
Tom Kha Gai Soup is one of those soups that tastes even better the next day. So, don’t let any leftovers go to waste. As I mentioned above, make this the way I have it listed the first time. Then afterwards you will know the flavor profile you are going for and you can alter the ingredients and personalize it to your tastes. If you like it hotter, add more chilis. If you like more or less ginger or lemongrass, make that change. This not only smells wonderful cooking, the taste is delicious and will stay with you AND have you considering making more, right away. Enjoy friends!!
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