Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Tom Kha Gai

Tom Kha Gai is a Thai coconut and ginger soup, and also happens to be a soup I like to order when going out for Thai food.

It's one of those things that's a little difficult to pass up- sometimes it can be hard to try something new when you know perfectly well that there's something else you like just fine (and you have no idea when you might be back to have it again- however, a panang curry will also suffice).

It's savory and a little sweet, a little citrusy, a little spicy, and very aromatic. It's got everything.

While it's good to go out sometimes, I can't do it all the time as it would get slightly expensive.

This is a version composed of what I could find at the grocery store. All-in-all, this is cheaper than ordering multiple rounds of soup, and it gives a sense of accomplishment when the soup is finished.
It SHOULD have pieces of woody galangal and Kaffir lime leaves floating in the soup. However, I don't happen to be in a citrus-growing climate, and these things aren't readily available in run-of-the-mill groceries. Asian, yes (but to go to an Asian grocery store takes actual planning).

The not exactly perfect but acceptable substitutions are fresh ginger and lime juice and zest. Along with the stalks of lemongrass and coconut milk, it's still in the realm of slightly exotic homemade soups. 
For a meat-free version, vegetable broth (or water) and shrimp can be substituted for both the chicken broth and chicken (but then it wouldn't be "gai").

And you know, although the cilantro and green onion isn't such a vibrant green, the overall flavor seems to improve after a little time (i.e., it makes for great leftovers).

Serve Tom Kha with a side of steamed jasmine or basmati rice, or sticky rice.

Tom Kha Gai
serves 6-8

4 c chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
1 c water
12, 1/2 cm large diameter slices of fresh ginger, plus 1-2 T grated ginger for later use
2 stalks lemongrass, bruised and sliced into 2 inch pieces
4 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 serrano pepper (or a jalapeno if you want a little less heat), halved lengthwise, seeded, and coarsely chopped (optional)
2 limes, washed
1 lb. skinless, boneless chicken, cut into 1 inch pieces (or 1 lb. shrimp, shells removed)
2 T fish sauce (nam pla)
2 T brown sugar
1/2 t red pepper flakes
1 1b. mushrooms
2, 14oz. cans coconut milk
4 T green onion, sliced
3 T cilantro, coarsely chopped

For serving: lime wedges, sambal oelek or sriracha

Place broth, water, sliced ginger, lemongrass, garlic, serrano or jalapeno pepper, strips of of zest from one lime and juice from one lime in a large pot. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer 25 minutes.
While the soup simmers, prepare the mushrooms. Clean and slice the mushrooms and saute in a frying pan over medium heat with a little olive or vegetable oil. Stir occasionally, and cook until all the juices have evaporated.
Once the broth has finished simmering, remove the lime strips and sliced peppers. Add the fish sauce, brown sugar, chicken pieces, and 1 t salt to the broth and simmer about 5 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. Add the mushrooms, red pepper flakes, grated ginger, and coconut milk. Stir occasionally and simmer very gently about 10 minutes so the flavors meld. Grate the zest of 1/2 lime and squeeze the juice of 1/2  lime into the soup. Sprinkle on the green onion and cilantro, stir through, and taste for seasoning. Add more lime juice, zest, or salt as necessary.
Serve the soup with extra lime wedges, sambal oelek, or sriracha to suit individual tastes. 

1 comment:

  1. P.S. Nam pla is potent stuff... don't spill. While you don't need a lot, it seems to make quite a difference in the finished product.