Thai Coconut Soup (Tom Kha Gai)

>> Friday, March 13, 2015

Thai Coconut Soup (Tom Kha Gai)

I remember exactly when I first ordered this heavenly soup - it was on my first "unofficial" date with Joe.

"Unofficial" date? Joe and I had a complicated courtship. We went to two different churches that did a lot of things together, and people from the two churches had decided to start up a group for single adults in their 30s and 40s. It was a wonderful, hilarious, rowdy, supportive group. Joe and I were interested in each other from the very first meeting.

Problem was, we were both wary from bad relationships, so neither one wanted to make a move. Instead, we did silly things like maneuver into the same car on trips or try to sit next to each other at the theater.

Then Joe went on an evangelistic trip to Argentina and asked me to pray for him. When he came home, we met for pizza so I could hear about his adventures. Then he asked me if I was interested in checking out the new Thai place that had opened by my church. We had a date!

The awkward part was leaving from the singles' group bible study the following week. Everybody was asking if we wanted to go get a bite to eat, and we were lingering by our cars waiting for everyone to leave so we could secretly have our date. It was February and well below freezing, so we were relieved when we got to Lovely Thai and our group hadn't picked the place for dinner. Tom kha gai soup sounded delicious. Creamy, savory, tart, salty, and slightly spicy, it warmed me all the way through.

Recently I read that tom kha gai (say it DOM-kah-guy) is actually a super food for boosting your immunity. The lemongrass, lime leaves or zest, ginger, garlic, hot peppers, and coconut milk are immune system enhancers. Not only does it warm you up and loosen your respiratory system, it helps your digestion too. So when I was sick with strep throat last week, I made up a big bowl for lunch and dosed myself with soup health. I'd like another pot in front of me right now.

This time, I added water chestnuts and rice noodles because I wanted some bulk to my soup - fighting germs is always hungry work for me. There are a few substitutions here, since some of the ingredients may be out of season or hard to find.


4 cups chicken broth
1 2-inch piece lemongrass stalk
1 tbsp galangal or ginger, peeled and slivered
4 kaffir lime leaves, or the zest of 1 lime and 1 bay leaf
2 chopped red birds-eye chilies, or 2 tbsp chili-garlic paste
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 14-oz can straw mushrooms, drained and sliced, or 1 cup shiitake mushrooms, sliced
2 14-oz cans coconut milk
6 oz medium rice noodles (optional)
3 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp lime juice
3 green onions, sliced
1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves


Pour the chicken broth into a stock pot and add the lemongrass, galangal, lime leaves, and chilies. Cut the chicken into 1" cubes and add to the pot, along with the mushrooms. Simmer for 20 minutes. Reduce heat and stir in the coconut milk, noodles (if using) fish sauce, and lime juice. Simmer for 5-8 minutes, or until the noodles are tender. Do not let the soup come to a heavy boil or the coconut milk might curdle.

Remove the lemongrass, bay leaf, and kaffir leaves before serving. Serve topped with green onions and cilantro leaves.

Serves 4.


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