Saturday, October 3, 2009

Tom Ka Soup: Thai Coconut Soup

I am a soup afficionado. I can honestly say I have never met a soup that I didn't enjoy. I may have not always finished the whole bowl, but I enjoy a steaming bowl of soupy goodness. One of the strangest soups I ever had was in Bangkok, Thailand.

Justin and I were a little bit lost in the city and where led into an alleyway by amazing food smells. The narrow road was filled with food carts. Business people and school kids were crowding the stools and tables. At a particular stand, an old man was working over a large cauldron. The folks around him were slurping bowls of soup.

We sat down and were quickly handed a large bowl fragrant soup, our mouths watering. Herbs floated on the top, hand rolled rice noodles swam beside...what is that...I think organs. Justin bravely dove in. Slowly, I tasted the broth. Rich and herbal. The noodles were thick and amazing. But I never did try the organs in the bottom of the bowl. Justin finished off the hearts, liver, and who knows what-else. I am once again off of our theoretical Amazing Race team.

So even though I love a good soup, I can't always handle knowing what makes it so good.

In the case of Tom Ka soup, there is no concern. The fresh ingredients shine in this soup. In 20 minutes you will have a steaming pot perfuming your kitchen with lemongrass, chilis, kaffir lime, and cilantro. It takes less time then calling it in for take-out and if far more delicious. The galangal can be difficult to find, but it does impart a different flavor then ginger. If you can't find galangal you can substitute half as much ginger and the juice of 1/2 of a lemon.

Tom Ka Soup
2 quarts of vegetable or chicken broth
3 inch piece of galangal, sliced into thick coins
4-5 fresh lemon grass stalks, cut into 3 inch sections and smash with the side of a knife
6-8 kaffir lime leaves, center vein removed
1-2 small thai chilies, smashed with the side of a knife, but left whole
1-2 cups mushrooms, cut into bite sized pieces. I like oyster mushrooms, but button work fine
1 chicken breast, sliced very thinly
handful cilantro leaves
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved or 3-4 small roma tomatoes, sliced to bite size pieces
4 tablespoons (or more) of fish sauce
4 teaspoons sugar
juice of one lime
1 can coconut milk

1. In a large soup pot bring stock to a boil. Add galangal, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, and chilies. Simmer 5 minutes, or until fragrant.
2. Add chicken, tomatoes, mushrooms, and cilantro. Simmer until chicken is cooked. If you sliced it very thinly it should take only a minute or two.
3. Add coconut milk, fish sauce, sugar, and 1/2 of the lime juice. Taste. Adjust seasoning to your liking. I like mine tangy and salty, so I usually end up adding all the lime juice and some additional shakes of fish sauce. This is really good over some leftover rice too!

** Don't eat the lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, or galangal. You can remove them before serving, or just eat around them**

What is your favorite soup? What is the strangest soup you have ever eaten? (Or chose not to eat!?)


  1. We have a Vietnamese Pho restaurant up the street from my house that serves wonderful soup. Some of the options to go in the soup are things like tripe. I think my husband has eaten it, but I've just never had the stomach for it (ba dum-bum).

  2. What a lovely recipe. This is one of my favorite soups. I usually add chicken to mine. Have a great day.