My husband adores Thai food, so we often venture to local restaurants in search of a great Thai meal. We’ve found a few descent places, but none of them have really knocked our socks off. A few months ago I decided to teach myself some of the basics of Thai cuisine, so I could start cooking the dishes we love at home. I started with my husband’s favorite Thai dish, Tom Kha Gai—spicy coconut chicken soup.
Preparing Thai food can be challenging, because some of the ingredients are pretty exotic. I’m lucky to live close to a Thai neighborhood here in Los Angeles, but for those of you who don’t it can be tough getting hold of things like galangal and kaffir lime leaves. Kosher Thai cooking can present an even greater challenge; ingredients like red curry paste and fish sauce can be difficult to track down with a kosher hechsher. Red curry paste often contains shrimp, and fish sauce has anchovies, which presents a problem for some. Most Jews consider fish neutral, or pareve, but some kosher cooks will not mix fish with meat.
Because of these challenges, I decided to create my own Thai-style soup using everyday ingredients. I wanted to capture that delicious Thai flavor in a recipe that is accessible to everybody, whether or not you live close to an Asian market. The most exotic ingredient on the list is lemongrass, which is available in the produce section of most American grocery stores. If your market doesn’t carry fresh lemongrass, it will likely carry lemongrass paste near the fresh herbs or in the Asian food section. If you can’t track it down, don’t worry—the soup will taste good without it, too. But if you can find the lemongrass, I highly recommend it– the herb has a distinctive flavor that really enhances the dish.
This soup is rich, creamy, spicy, subtly sweet, and full of flavor. If you’ve never tasted Thai soup before, you’re in for a treat… it’s really unique! Adjust the spice by adding cayenne to taste (it’s really spicy, so add with care). If you’re sensitive to salt, use a low sodium chicken broth. Add soy sauce to taste for more saltiness. I like using light coconut milk in the broth to cut down on fat and calories; use regular, if you prefer. They both taste great.
To make this recipe gluten free, make sure your soy sauce and coconut milk are certified GF. Many soy sauces contain gluten, but a few are GF certified– check the celiac forums online for recommended brands.
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Thai-Style Coconut Chicken Soup
- 1 quart chicken stock
- 1 lb chicken breasts, sliced into thin 2-inch strips
- 3 whole scallions, sliced into rings
- 2 stalks lemongrass, sliced into quarters (or 2 tbsp lemongrass paste)
- 2 tbsp fresh grated ginger
- 2 tbsp soy sauce (or more to taste) (for gluten free use a certified GF tamari sauce)
- 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (or more to taste)
- 6 oz fresh oyster and/or shitake mushrooms, sliced
- 28 oz light coconut milk (2 cans)
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1 tsp fresh grated lime zest
- 1/2 cup fresh lime juice
- 2 tbsp fresh chopped cilantro
- Pour chicken stock in a large soup pot. Add the sliced chicken breast meat, sliced scallions, quartered lemon grass stalks (or paste), grated ginger, soy sauce, and cayenne pepper.
- Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer. Let the mixture simmer for 30 minutes.
- Add the sliced mushrooms to the pot and stir.
- Turn the heat to low. Shake the cans of coconut milk briskly before opening. Pour them into the soup and stir to blend. Stir in the sugar and lime zest.Slowly increase the heat, stirring constantly, till the soup reaches a slow simmer. Keep the soup at a slow simmer for 15 minutes, stirring often; do not let it boil too briskly.
- After 15 minutes, turn off the heat. Stir in the fresh lime juice and chopped cilantro. Remove the lemon grass stalks with a slotted spoon. Taste the soup; add more cayenne pepper and/or soy sauce to taste.
- Serve hot. Can be poured over steamed white or brown basmati rice for a more filling meal-- doing this stretches the recipe to 8 servings or more.