Tom Kha Gai / by Martha Keyes

I first tried Tom Kha Gai at Thai Drift in Orem. My sister had ordered it, and I snatched a little taste of it and immediately fell in love. Tom Kha Gai literally means Chicken Galanga Soup in Thai. As I looked it up online, I found many variations on the recipe, but most were clearly very Americanized versions, even substituting the "kha" part (galangal root) with ginger. I knew I didn't want to pay $10 every time I craved the soup, and I knew I wanted it to taste right, so I went in search of a recipe and then adapted it. If you want it to taste authentic, you have to use authentic ingredients. That means going to an Asian store for a few of the items--I love the Asian store, so I'll take any excuse I can get to head there. A word on these items that you may be unfamiliar with:

-Lemongrass: I actually buy this from Sprouts whenever I can, rather than the Asian store, as it's generally cheaper at Sprouts. I stock up on it, chop it up, and freeze what I'm not currently using, since it's been hit or miss to find it at Sprouts. You have to tear off the majority of the stalk leaves to get to the more rubbery center that's usable. It feels like a waste, but it's so worth the yummy taste!

-Bird's eye chili peppers: warning--these are very spicy peppers. They're small, but they are fierce. I found them at the Asian store in a pack of at least 100 and have made this soup probably 10 times since. I still have the majority of the pack left, and I keep them frozen. We use three in our soup, but I would probably recommend only using 1-2 to start out with until you know just how spicy you like it. Nothing is worse than a tasty meal that's so spicy you just can't enjoy it.

-Galanga: You won't find this anywhere but an Asian store. I've only had to buy it twice so far in all the times I've made the soup. It's another ingredient you can keep frozen. I just chop off a 3-inch chunk each time I make the soup and save the rest. Many people substitute ginger for this root, but you will absolutely miss out on the point of the soup if you do that. Ginger and galanga are similar roots, but they are definitely not the same. Don't miss this ingredient!

-Kaffir Lime Leaves: another ingredient I keep frozen. I've only found them at the Asian store, and they come in a refrigerated, mini Ziploc bag. They smell divine, and I keep them on hand for Tom Kha Gai and for my Thai curries.

Bird's eye chili, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, and galanga

Bird's eye chili, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, and galanga

-Coconut palm sugar: I bought some when I first made the recipe, and it is rock solid in its jar--it's been that way since I bought it. It is so hard to work with in that state. I'll probably have my current jar until I die. That's how much there is and how difficult it is to work with. I'm sure there's a secret to it, but I sure don't know it. If you want to leave out any one ingredient, I'd say this is one you could skip, especially since it's a very minimal amount and could easily be replaced with brown sugar.

Coconut palm sugar

Coconut palm sugar

-Fish sauce: you can buy this at any grocery store on the Asian/International food aisle, and you definitely need it for this recipe (and for many Thai curries). Fish sauce gives Thai food much of its recognizable flavor. It adds a lot of saltiness, as well. It smells awful on its own, but it really adds a lot to a dish, so don't skip it. Just don't overdo it with the fish sauce, as it can definitely spoil a dish in excess. 

Now for general recipe notes. I always take about half an hour and prepare all the ingredients before starting. This recipe is not at all difficult--it just takes a fair amount of ingredient prep work. I also always cook the rice as I'm prepping, because otherwise I forget the rice altogether. I've divided the recipe up into three sections. The first is the broth. You will let this simmer and then strain the solid ingredients out. Aside from the cilantro, none of the chunks are ones you'd enjoy eating. I use a slotted spoon to strain them out, as most of them rise to the top of the soup, making it easy to remove them. Some people put the shallots in the broth and strain them out. I personally enjoy eating them as part of the soup, so I put them in with the other veggies after straining out the broth ingredients. You can add other vegetables as you like (sweet pepper rings, carrot slices, baby corn, etc.). As for eating it, my husband and I prefer to have a shared bowl of rice separate from the soup--we spoon some rice and then spoon some soup next--but some people just dump rice into the soup before serving it. It's up to you!

Now, on to the recipe!

Broth Ingredients:

6 cups chicken stock
28 oz. coconut milk
1/2 tsp. salt
2 stalks lemongrass (center chopped into 1-inch chunks)
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
2 red bird's eye chili peppers, cut into small pieces
3-inch chunk galanga, sliced
6 kaffir lime leaves, torn and bruised
2 tsp. coconut palm sugar

Soup Ingredients:

1 lb. boneless skinless chicken breast, chopped into 1-inch chunks
2 cups mushrooms, chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped into small pieces
6 red shallots, peeled and chunked
1/4 cup Thai fish sauce
2 Tbsp lime juice

Garnish:

Handful fresh cilantro
Dash of Sriracha

Instructions:

1. Cook rice separately
2. Put chicken stock and coconut milk into a large soup pot
3. Add lemongrass, galanga, cilantro, bird's eye chilis, and lime leaves
4. Bring to a simmer for 10-15 minutes. 
5. Strain broth so that no lemongrass, galanga, chilis, or lime leaves remain
6. Add chicken, mushrooms, shallots, tomato, and any other vegetables. Simmer until chicken is cooked and mushrooms are tender (5-10 minutes)
7. Add lime juice and fish sauce. 
8. Garnish with cilantro and Sriracha
9. Serve with rice and enjoy!