Tom Kha Kai

This cold and flu season has been murder. But it gave me a chance to finally perfect this soup I love, but never found a good at-home recipe for.

There used to be a small thai/chinese restaurant near my old office, and on cold days we’d get their chicken soup with coconut milk and kafir lime leaves–Tom Kha Kai. It was a light but rich dish, chicken stock with sweet coconut and sour lime, sour but sweet and salty–and a bit spicy–all at the same time. Really warmed you up–and cleared any stuffy noses with its spice. A perfect cold-day, sick-at-home soup.

I’d tried it lots of other places–on travels and at any new Thai restaurants–but none were quite as good as that little strip-mall hole-in-the-wall version. I looked for a good recipe, but could never seem to get all the exotic ingredients–coconut milk, curry paste, fish sauce, kafir lime leaves–on hand at the same time. Then I stumbled on one over at Tasty Kitchen, tried it, tweaked it and… yum. I’ve been eating it all season. And some of my peeps asked me to share. So here ya go.

Tom Kha Kai (Chicken soup with coconut and lime)

whole chicken or wings/thighs (or whatever parts you like) and the basic ingredients to make chicken stock (water, carrot, onion, sage, parsley, thyme, salt, pepper)
cooked cut up chicken PLUS 5/6 c. chicken stock/broth

2 T butter OR 1T butter, 1T veg oil OR 2T olive oil
1 onion, chopped fine
mushrooms, chopped (8 oz can or 1/2 pkg fresh)
water chestnuts, chopped (6-8 oz can or as many as you like)

2 t curry paste (red or green, you can even use curry powder though it’ll taste a bit different)
2 T fish sauce
1/3 c sugar
1 can coconut milk (16 oz.)
3-4 kaffir lime leaves OR a bit of lime zest
1/4 t basil (dried) or a bit of fresh chopped basil or cilantro
1/4 t red pepper flakes (more or less, depending on your heat preference)

wedges of lime (for serving)

1. Make chicken stock, if you’re going that route. Remove the meat and vegs from the stock; cool and pick meat off bones. Reserve vegs in enough stock to cover for another use, strain/de-fat stock (or however you like it prepared) and set it aside. You’ll want about 5-6 cups of liquid; feel free to use stock and chicken broth, just chicken broth, or even bouillion if that’s what you have.

2. Sautee onion in butter/oil. When it’s soft and see-through, add the mushrooms, then the water chestnut, cook till shrooms and onion are done but not brown. (If you’ve only got uncooked chicken–like chicken breast or boneless, you could brown it here, then add the liquid to simmer it till done–so many different ways to make soup!)

3. Add 5-6 c stock/broth and give it a good stir. Add the curry paste or powder, fish sauce, sugar, coconut milk, lime leaves, and pepper flakes. Bring it to a very low simmer and let it cook an hour or two. Add the pre-cooked chicken meat, and let it simmer another :30 or so.

4. Squeeze a wedge of lime into each bowl, or serve with wedges of lime to be added at the table. Another suggestion is to serve this soup with a bowl of hot, cooked rice. Add the rice to the soup and it’s an even more filling meal.

2 responses to “Tom Kha Kai”

  1. Ikon Says:

    Ohm nom nom nom says me! :D

  2. Rebecca Says:

    Oooh, this is gluten- and dairy-free, too. I may have to give it a whirl. It’s my favorite Thai food.

    Fish sauce, though. Must obtain a gluten-free fish sauce somewhere.

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