Thai food instills a profound weakness in me whether it be a perfect yellow curry or a delicious sweet and sour soup, I simply cannot for the life of me resist it.
Years ago when I worked at a pet store near UCLA I would often go looking for new places to eat during my lunch break. I had a whole hour to spend which was more than enough time to explore, find a place that looked interesting, order, eat, and get back to work. There was this tiny little Thai place I always overlooked. It looked a bit dingy from the outside and I was intimidated by Thai food. I had never eaten it and I wasn’t yet accustomed to visiting little hole in the wall type places. Not yet anyway.
After working nearby for over a year I was finally getting bored of my frequent haunts so one afternoon I decided to go to the little Thai place. I remember opening the door, a tiny string of bells tinkling as it swung open. The inside was cozy, and sure, a little run down but you could tell it was carefully tended. Each table was covered in very clean white linen set with carefully placed silverware, a vase of fresh flowers, and small tea light candle. There was a shrine in the corner placed with offerings. All the woodwork inside gleamed. A pleasant aroma of unfamiliar spices wafted in the air. It smelled good.
That place became such a sanctuary, a tiny little paradise outside of work. I remember eating my way through the menu, each dish more amazing than the last but one in my mind rose above the rest; Tom Kha Gai.
For those unfamiliar with Thai food (I feel such profound sympathy!), Tom Kha is a coconut-milk based soup comes to us from Bangkok and the central plains of Thailand. It is typically served with shrimp or chicken and sometimes has straw mushrooms or bok choy. It has a wonderful balance of sweet and sour flavor helped along with the fragrance of fresh lemongrass, cilantro, galangal, and lime.
Thai food itself seems intimidating to make, but I assure you, this soup is easy!
Traditional Tom Kha Gai is made with a few ingredients that might be difficult to find depending on where you live but I have added substitutions that result in a VERY delicious soup regardless.
A nicely done recipe of Tom Kha Gai is at once savory, sweet, sour, salty, and spicy. Its complexity lends itself well to fighting colds and flu, warming up the extremities, and easing the senses. Most people who try this soup get utterly hooked, so why not learn how to make it yourself when the cravings get rough?
How to Make Tom Kha Gai
The ingredients in this soup are simple and fresh so try to find the best ones you can at the store.
Here’s What You’re Going To Need:
• 2 cups full fat coconut milk
• 6 thin slices of fresh galangal root (sub very good ginger)
• 2 fresh stalks of lemongrass, sliced at an angle and bruised (lower half to be used only)
• 5 fresh kaffir lime leaves, torn (dried may be used and can be found at WFM or here)
• 8 oz sliced chicken breast
• 5TB good fish sauce
• 2TB organic sugar
• ½ cup of freshly squeezed lime juice
• 1 tsp black chili paste (may sub sambal oelek or freshly crushed chilies of your choice)
• ¼ cup of fresh cilantro
• 5 green Thai chili peppers, thinly sliced (may sub serrano chili)
Loving Preparation- How to Make Tom Kha Gai
1. Begin by getting all of the ingredients ready. It doesn’t take long to make this soup so be prepared
2. Combine half of the coconut milk with the galangal (or ginger if using), lemongrass, and kaffir lime leaves in a large sauce pan and simmer until boiling
3. Next, add in the sliced chicken, fish sauce, and organic sugar. Stir well to combine and simmer for about 5 minutes
4. Now add in the remaining coconut milk and heat just to boiling
5. While you wait for the soup to come up to a boil, grab your serving bowls and add the desired amount of chili paste and lime juice to the bottom
6. Ladle the hot soup over the chili paste and lime juice
7. Garnish with fresh cilantro and the sliced peppers
This recipe makes enough for 2 people but I always double this recipe because my fiancé and I can’t stop eating it. Tom Kha Gai soup is best eaten fresh the same day but it still tastes great the next. If you do happen to save leftovers, just be aware that the soup does tend to separate but is no less delicious.
***If you are lucky enough to find fresh galangal you’re in for a real treat. Tom Kha Gai is actually named after this amazing root Tom meaning to boil Kha meaning galangal and Gai meaning chicken. The sharp citrusy galangal gives the soup a truly authentic flavor. You can typically find galangal at your local Asian food store.
The Healing Power of Lemongrass
This soup has so many l wonderful herbs in it that are so amazing for different things but none so powerful as lemongrass…well, except maybe ginger 😉
Since ancient times, lemongrass has been used in a variety of preparations to aid digestion, lower a fever, heal wounds, and ease a troubled mind. Its volatile oils give it a strength and effectiveness against common ailments that make Thai food so special; you’re literally eating your medicine.
Lemongrass is loaded with essential vitamins and minerals and is a potent source of antioxidants. Its lemonal/citral content is what gives it its aromatic and medicinal qualities making it a powerful ally to keep in your kitchen and medicine cabinet.
Lemongrass is known to aid:
• Various stomach disorders
• Respiratory ailments
• Circulation and vein health
• Aches and pains
• An overactive mind
• Boosts milk production in lactating women
• Soothes menstrual cramps
• Combats body odor
• Is also a great bug repellant
What have been your favorite Thai food recipes? I’d love to know!
Beautiful photos by New Kid on the Wok. Please be sure to check her out cuz she’s got some great recipes!
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