A few months ago we ate at a local Thai restaurant and they served Tom Kha Gai soup to start the meal. We’ve eaten in a hundred Thai restaurants over the years and somehow had never tried this soup. It’s a flavor explosion of lime, lemongrass, galangal, ginger, and coconut. Once I discovered it, we’ve been Thai restaurant hopping around town to try different versions. And though the broth is similar, every restaurant has a unique twist on the other elements. I’ve made a dozen versions to come to this Tom Kha recipe – it’s a perfect balance of salty, tangy, creamy, sweet and spicy.
It turns out that it’s very simple and amiable to variation. I’ve added a few more vegetables than restaurants serve, but it makes for a heartier soup.
I improvised on a couple of traditional Tom Kha that can be difficult to find: Chinese broccoli and kaffir lime leaves. I swapped in standard broccoli for Chinese and the juice and zest of two limes instead of the lime leaves. If you can find either of the traditional ingredients, use them! 10 to 12 lime leaves for the lime juice and zest and an equal amount of Chinese broccoli. And if you can’t find galangal, use an equal amount of standard ginger.
How to Make Tom Kha Gai Soup:
1. Boil soup aromatics (lemongrass, galangal, ginger, shallots, jalepeno, lime juice and zest) in chicken broth.
2. Strain and discard aromatics.
3. Add vegetables to pot and layer with raw slices of chicken breast; cover to steam.
4. Stir steamed chicken and vegetables into soup. Stir in coconut milk, Sambal Oelek and salt to taste and bring to boil. Garnish with fresh cilantro and serve.
Tom Kha Gai (Thai Coconut Chicken Soup)
- 2 stalks lemongrass tough outer layers removed, smashed and cut into 2" pieces
- 1 1/2 inch piece galangal root peeled and coarsely chopped
- 1 inch piece ginger root peeled and coarsely chopped
- 2 shallots peeled and quartered
- 1 jalepeno seeded and coarsely chopped
- 2 limes juice and zest or 10-12 kaffir lime leaves
- 2 teaspoons golden brown sugar or palm sugar
- 4 cups chicken broth
- 2 carrots thinly sliced into rounds
- 1/2 pound broccoli coarsely chopped, or Chinese broccoli also called gai-lan or kai lan
- 1/2 pound Savoy cabbage coarsely chopped
- 1/2 pound oyster mushrooms coarsely chopped
- 1 boneless skinless chicken breast half thinly sliced (you could also use thighs)
- 1 can full fat coconut milk
- 1 tablespoon Sambal Oelek or more
- salt to taste
- fresh cilantro leaves for garnish
Combine first 7 ingredients (lemongrass through chicken broth) in a soup pot. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer 8 minutes.
Strain and discard solids and return broth to pot. Bring to boil and add next 4 ingredients (carrots through mushrooms). Stir then layer sliced raw over vegetables and cover. Steam 5 minutes, until vegetables are tender and chicken is cooked through. Stir chicken into soup, separating any pieces that have stuck together.
Stir in coconut milk and bring to simmer. Add Sambal Oelek and salt to taste. Serve garnished with fresh cilantro leaves.