Tom Kha is something I've been around my whole life - that's not the same thing as saying I've been eating it my whole life mind you. If you keep up with me and have read stuff I've written in the past, I wasn't into Thai food much when I was a kid. I do remember how the house would smell when my mother, who is Thai, was using the mortar and pestle to crush Thai Chilis, garlic, and lemongrass.
Those peppers though...the heat could kill you! Seriously. My mom would grow them by the acre and you better believe she was using them too. My first experience eating her beautiful food made me gun shy for years. Then before you know it, Shelby and I were married and off on our own. Boxes of Potato Au Gratin, cheap cuts and that nice Army E-4 pay had us on a affordable diet for years. I'm not knocking it, seriously. I go to Ollie's and pass the rows of boxed spuds, pasta, and Hamburger Helper and think about the good ole lean years. I wouldn't trade a minute of them.
I was talking about soup right?
Anyway...Tom Kha is good. You'll like it and I'm going to show you how to do it. The photo up top has seafood in it obviously. You can do that if you like, the seafood version of this dish is called Tom Kha Talay. Tom Kha is usually made with chicken though, that version (below) is called Tom Kha Gai.
The recipe I put together isn't so much different than most you'll find out there. It's primary components consist of this: Galangal, Kaffir Lime Leaves, Lemongrass and Coconut Milk.
Galangal has nothing to do with that M.I.A. song, it is a root known as the Thai ginger. You might see it sold in the stores as "Baby Thai Ginger" but please don't confuse it with ginger. Galangal and ginger taste totally different and if you make this soup without galangal it's not really Tom Kha (which translates into "galangal soup" basically.) That being said, you can make it with the ginger we're familiar with if you're in pinch, it just won't taste exactly as it should. It'll be still be good, but different. Galangal can be bought fresh or frozen in your local Asian market. Ask the someone behind the counter to help you out if you're having a hard time finding it.
Let's make some soup! Here's what you need to make Tom Kha at home.
- 1 Can of Coconut Milk
- 3 large Kaffir lime leaves
- 1 Lemongrass, large stalk, trimmed
- 2 Thai Chilis
- 1 Tsp Sugar
- 1/4 Yellow Onion, minced
- 1 Package of mushrooms shiitake/oyster preferred, approx 8 oz., chopped
- 2 Tbsp Galangal, slivered
- 1 Lime, large
- 3 Tbsp Fish Sauce
- 3 Cups of Chicken Stock
- Cilantro to Garnish
- Optional: Thai Chili Powder
Before You Start:
- Important! Do not boil the coconut milk. If you boil the coconut milk at a high temperature, it will not remain emulsified and the fat will separate from the liquid. Just like what happens to butter when it is heated at high temperatures.
- You can use chicken or seafood (shrimp, mussels, squid, etc...) with this recipe. Eat what you like!
- Chop up everything you need to put in the soup. I like to cut my galangal up in small, thin slivers. I do this so it can stay in the soup and not be strained out. Most recipes will have you remove or strain the galangal after the first phase of their recipes, I like to keep it in the soup. Getting a little bite of the root, almost crunchy, almost nutty, is great. If you prefer not to have it in, just slice it in larger pieces then strain before you add your chicken or seafood.
- Trim the lemongrass taking off any rough or brown bits. It a lot of recipes you would only use the white, fleshy part of the lemongrass. The reason is because it it easier to eat, we're not eating the lemongrass it's being steeped in the broth essentially. I'll admit to finely cutting up some lemon grass and leaving it in the soup when the mood hits me.
- Crush the lemongrass, Kaffir lime leaves, and Thai chilis. Use your pestle, a muddler or back of a heavy spoon to open up them up to release flavor. Remove chili seeds if you don't want it too hot.
- I do not remove all of the aromatics from the stock pot before I add the meat, but I do before I add the coconut milk.
- Chili powder can be added for more flavor, this is optional.
- Add the chicken stock, sugar, onion, Kaffir lime leaves, Thai chilis, lemongrass and galangal to a medium sized stock pot. Bring to a rolling boil for about 10 minutes.
- Add mushrooms, continue to boil for about 8-10 minutes to cook mushrooms.
- At this time if you wish to remove large pieces of aromatics (Kaffir lime leaves, lemon grass, chili, galangal) do so after the mushrooms are done.
- Add your chicken or seafood now, cook for about 10 minutes in the boiling broth. Remove any foam that might float to the top of the broth.
- After the meat is cooked through, pour in the coconut milk, fish sauce and lime juice, lower heat to a light simmer for 10 minutes.
- Serve with cilantro and lime wedges and maybe have a little more fish sauce on hand.
This is pretty easy to make and after a couple of tries it'll be a breeze. We use leftover chicken sometimes, if we do it doesn't need boiling as long. Just lower the heat to a simmer, cook for the same amount of time as you would the raw. Continue to follow the directions.