Dashi and miso soup are staple Japanese soups. Phở is one of the traditional Vietnamese soups. Cardamom infused lentil soup makes for a classic Indian soup. This blog’s survey of Southeast Asian soups would be incomplete without Tom Kha Gai: Thai coconut milk soup.
The basic recipe, combining coconut milk, fish sauce, chicken broth, and lemongrass is great, but I think it is even better with a few additions. This time I put in some rice vermicelli that I had saved from the Vietnamese summer rolls, as well as some straw mushrooms and Thai chilis. You can also add shrimp, pork, or tofu instead of chicken.
As a classic soup, there are many varieties to the broth; particular disagreement appears to be over the ratio of coconut milk to chicken both. One recipe suggests 1 1/2 cups chicken stock and 4 1/2 cups coconut milk, while another uses 4 cups chicken stock and only 10 ounces of coconut milk. After some experimentation I found that the arrangement I like best is two cans of coconut milk for every quart of chicken stock — but feel free to experiment yourself.
Thai Coconut Milk Soup with Chicken and Rice Vermicelli - Tom Kha Gai
- 2 cans coconut milk
- 1 quart chicken stock or low sodium chicken broth
- 4 stalks lemongrass
- 3-4 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1/4 teaspoon or to taste palm sugar or honey or brown sugar
- 3-4 kaffir lime leaves
- 1-1 1/2 pounds chicken breasts cut into thin strips
- 1 piece ginger or galangal pealed and 3/4 of an inch long
- Juice from 1 lime or to taste
- 3-4 small Thai chilis or a few squirts of sriracha or something else spicy optional
- 1/2 cup rice vermicelli optional
- 1 small can straw mushrooms optional
- 1/2 cup chopped Thai basil and/or cilantro to garnish
Preparation: Trim lemongrass stalks, discarding all but the bottom third. Cut into 3-4 inch lengths and smash lightly with a heavy knife. Mince Thai chilis (if using), removing seeds and/or ribs as desired. Cut the ginger into thirds. Cut or rip kaffir lime leaves into large pieces. Make the rice vermicelli according to package instructions and leave aside in separate bowl.
In a medium to large pot or dutch oven add stock, ginger or galangal, lemongrass, lime leaves, and half the chilis. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium and add coconut milk, bringing only to a gentle simmer. Do not boil coconut milk - it might separate. Add the chicken and simmer until cooked through, 3-5 minutes. Fish out and discard the ginger and lemongrass. Or you can leave them in, but don't serve them.
When chicken is done add fish sauce, straw mushrooms, lime juice, the rest of the chilis, and sugar and simmer for 5 minutes. Place some vermicelli in bowls and ladle soup on top. Serve topped with chopped cilantro and/or Thai basil.