I had this soup recently while eating out at a Thai place (actually, believe it or not, the restaurant was called “Thai Place“) with my mom. We were having lunch and had to choose the obligatory soup that comes with nearly all lunch specials in Thai restaurants, so I suggested my mom order the Gai Tom Kha. She had one of those reactions that people often experience when trying various amazing Thai dishes for the first time, informing me that “I think this is the best thing I’ve ever eaten. Seriously, I can’t think of anything I’ve ever eaten that was better.” I just love that reaction.
Anyhow, she ended up leaving the restaurant with an additional quart of the soup in a take-out container, and a good deal of anxiety about where she would get her supply when that was all gone. We were about an hour away from her place.
I very casually told her not to worry about it, that that stuff is so easy to make, oh, I’ve got at least a dozen recipes for that in my cookbook collection. I promised to email one to her. When I did begin scouring my cookbooks I quickly discovered that none of the recipes were exactly what I was looking for. I’ve been eating this stuff long enough to know that certain ingredients are crucial, in particular the lemongrass, galangal and lime leaves. I quickly dismissed any recipe that omitted any of these key ingredients, and soon ended up with a collection of zilch to share with mom. I decided to make my own version and a couple days later was happy to inform her that it was pretty much a spot on replica of what she’d eaten at the restaurant. She tried it about a day later and called to confirm that I had, in fact, nailed it.
I said this above and I’ll repeat it now, this recipe calls for ingredients that some might consider rather exotic. I’ve tried substitutions in the past, and while I ended up with something that was not bad, it wasn’t this. You want this soup, trust me. I was lucky enough to be able to find everything at Wegmans, so go there if you’ve got one. Otherwise, you can check out an Asian market or just order everything online. I’ve provided you with links in the recipe.
What isn’t crucial is the choice of veggies. I usually see some type of mushroom, a green (most often snow peas in lieu of the broccoli I’ve selected) tofu and maybe baby corn. You can get creative, as the real flavor in this soup comes from the broth.
This is a favorite, so I hope you give it a try. Oh, and I hope you react just like my mom did ;)
Gai Tom Kha (Thai Coconut and Lemongrass Soup)
- 1 tbsp. vegetable oil
- 1 tbsp. minced galangal or 1/2 tbsp dried galangal flakes
- 1 lemongrass stalk finely chopped
- 4 cups vegetable broth
- 1 can coconut milk
- 3 kaffir lime leaves or 1 tbsp. jarred sliced kaffir lime leaves
- 1 cup fresh baby corn chopped
- 1 cup shiitake caps chopped
- 1/2 lb. extra firm tofu cubed
- 1 broccoli crown chopped
- juice of 1/2 lime
- 2-3 scallions chopped
- 1/4 cup fresh cilantro finely chopped
- If using dried galanagal and or kaffir lime leaves, begin by soaking in warm water about 20 minutes before you begin cooking.
- Heat oil in large saucepan or stock pot over medium heat. Add lemongrass and galangal and sautee for about two minutes.
- Add broth, coconut milk and kaffir lime leaves. Bring to a boil, lower heat and add baby corn and shiitakes.
- Allow to simmer for about 20 minutes or until shiitakes are tender and baby corn is tender-crisp. Add broccoli, tofu and lime juice.
- Allow to simmer another five minutes, or until broccoli is tender.
- Divide into bowls and top with scallions and fresh cilantro.