December 24, 2008

Tom Kah Gai: Chicken Coconut Soup

I've always been a fan of Thai food, but Thai cooking somehow seemed rather mysterious. Then Amber told me about a wonderful cookbook called Quick & Easy Thai. (Now, I've seen some "easy" Indian food cookbooks that don't seem to have a quick recipe in them, so I was a little hesitant.) But, the author--previously a Peace Corps volunteer in Thailand--wrote these recipes for busy people to cook on a weeknight.

As it turns out, many Thai recipes are not difficult to prepare and can be made any time, not just on fancy special occasions. The recipes I've tried are pretty amazingly simple, but still incredibly delicious. Some of the recipes call for exotic ingredients (that is, if you live in Oregon and not California), but most of the time you can substitute or skip an ingredient and your dish will be fine.

This is an impressively flavorful soup! It pairs well with other recipes in the book, like chicken satay or crab cakes.

  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 2 green onions, thinly sliced crosswise
  • 6 wild lime leaves, cut into quarters (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped cilantro
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened coconut milk (a light version is available at Trader Joe's)
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken broth (or vegetable broth or water)
  • 10-12 slices galanga (this is a relative of ginger--I substitute fresh ginger slices)
  • 2 stalks fresh lemongrass (available at Whole Foods and Safeway--do not leave this out!)
  • 3/4 pound boneless chicken cut into bite-sized chunks (or tofu!)
  • 1 cup thinly sliced fresh mushrooms
  1. In a small bowl, combine the lime juice, fish sauce and green onions (plus half of the wild lime leaves--optional). Set aside. Put chopped cilantro in a separate small bowl and set aside.
  2. In a medium saucepan, add the coconut milk and the chicken broth. Bring to a light boil over medium-high heat. Stir in the galanga or ginger and lemongrass (plus remainder of lime leaves, if using.)
  3. Add the chicken and mushrooms. Return to a gentle boil and simmer until the chicken is cooked--about 10 minutes.
  4. Remove from heat. Pour the lime juice mixture into the pot and mix well! Ladle soup into serving bowls and sprinkle chopped cilantro. Serve immediately.
*Serves 4*

I substituted the chicken for tofu only because I was also serving another chicken dish, but if you use vegetable stock, tofu and leave the fish sauce out this would be vegan. The fish sauce does add a distinct depth to the soup, though, as it does to a lot of Thai dishes. If you have vegetarian friends who eat fish, leave it in for best results.


  1. Thanks for posting this Alexis, it's one of my all time favorites, and really easy to make!

    Suggestions for additions: If you have exotic mushrooms available (shittake, button, oyster, etc), I recommend adding them, since they really add a great layer of flavor, and if they're small enough, no need to cut them. I would also add in at the end some thai basil and quartered tomatoes or halved cherry tomatoes.

  2. Oh yeah, and you can add thai noodles to this dish as well, and then it's called something else I can't remember right now...Tom Yum Sum? Any veggies you add can be delicious, so don't be afraid to experiment.

  3. I'm surprised the recipe doesn't call for red curry. I added a good 2-3 tablespoons of that, as well as some brown sugar and tomato wedges as suggested above, and it turned out well. I will make this again and next time I will add even more red curry and maybe marinate the chicken beforehand to give it a little more flavor.

  4. Second on the adding of mushrooms for an 'extra layer' as amber put it. Also, don't forget to peel off the out layer of lemon grass and smash it (cleaver works well) to release the juices.


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