Tom Kha Soup

tomkhaI love love love LOVE Thai food. Cant get enough. You’ve heard me say this before and I’ll say it again—Thai is the food culture that, to me, has the perfect balance of sweet, salty, sour and hot.  Its basically taste-bud nirvana.  And if you had to take this perfection and put it in a bowl with a touch of coconut milk to give it a luscious mouth feel, you would have Tom Kha — the amazingly delicious Thai soup that will cure all of you ills, keep you warm on a rainy winter day and somehow magically be a refreshingly light dinner in the scorching heat of summer.

I cant say enough about the beauty of this soup. But I can certainly say something about its practicality— its easy to make, completely adaptable to your taste, and there’s a simple substitution for all of the exotic ingredients you may not have access to.

tomkhaveggiesThere is currently a mini-blizzard outside of my window and this morning I walked to work through freezing rain—so I’ll be sharing the heartier version of this recipe (i.e. more creamy rich coconut milk, less broth.)  However you should feel free to play with the proportions how ever you’d like. This is a recipe that has hundreds of variations, so depending on what you like, feel free to add more chili for heat, more fish sauce to up the umami, more lemongrass for a lovely herbal aromatic note or an extra squeeze of lime for a sour kick to punch things up. You can’t really go wrong if it tastes good to you.

A quick note about specialty ingredients: This recipe calls for things like kaffir lime leaves, galangal and lemongrass—items that you may not be able to find in your typical grocery store. I have provided substitutes where I can, but what I would really suggest is making a trip to an Asian grocery store every few months to store up on these and other great ingredients. I buy all of the above fresh and then freeze them in ziplock bags for up to 3 months.

Tom Kha Soup
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Serves: 4
  • 2 inch piece of galangal, peeled and sliced thinly (can be replaced with ginger)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, cut in half or crushed
  • 6-8 kaffir lime leaves (can be replaced with 1 heaping tablespoon of lime zest)
  • 3 stalks of lemongrass
  • 2 shallots, sliced thinly
  • 1 thai chili, whole (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons of fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoons of palm sugar (can be replaced with 2 tablespoons of brown sugar)
  • 2 13oz cans of coconut milk
  • 4 cups of chicken broth
  • 16 medium shrimp, deveined
  • 2 cups of oyster mushrooms (or shiitake mushrooms)
  • 1 teaspoon of cilantro seeds
  • vegetable oil
  • To garnish:
  • sliced chili
  • chopped cilantro
  • lime wedges
  • chili oil
  1. First cut the top and bottom off of each stem of lemongrass. Peel back the first three roughest layers of each stalk. Then chop up the rest of the stalk into ¼ inch pieces.
  2. In a medium-sized sauce pan, bring the galangal, garlic, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and corriander seeds to a boil in the chicken broth over high heat. Once the mixture reaches a boil, immediately reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes.
  3. In the meantime, in a small saute pan, saute the shallots and mushrooms over medium heat with a table spoon of olive oil for 6-8 minutes until the shallots are starting to turn golden brown. Remove from heat.
  4. Drain the chicken broth over a colander into a clean bowl. Discard the debris of galangal, garlic, lime leaves and lemongrass and return the strained broth into a the pot. Add the coconut milk, fish sauce and palm sugar to the pot with the chicken broth and raise the heat to medium low, stirring occasionally for 5-10 minutes . Add the shallots, mushrooms, thai chili and shrimp and allow to cook until the shrimp is cooked through, about 2 minutes. Fish out the chili before serving.
  5. Serve garnished with your choice of chili oil, cilantro, chili, or lime wedges.



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