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Hi, I'm Jaden, a professional recipe developer, food columnist and food photographer specializing in fast, fresh and easy recipes for the home cook. Most of my recipes are modern Asian! About meFast, fresh & easy recipes for the home cook.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Thai Chicken Coconut Soup (Tom Ka Gai)

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So a couple of weeks ago I was chatting online with one of my friends who has a food blog but doesn’t go by her real name so that she can hide her real identity. Because you know, food blogging is so much sexier when you’re STEALTH blogging. She said some people, herself included is freaked out about their names being revealed for fear that their real names show up in Google search engines.

I’ve never been shy about talking about my life or my family…and I really don’t care to blur out my face nor do I put a black bar over my eyes like they do in back of magazines to show fashion DON’Ts. My kids get no cutesy, clever nicknames. Who knows if one day this whole blog will blow up in my face! I’m sure some of the things I’ve posted about my kids that are cute-ha-ha-funny will someday be cha-ching! for the therapist. Better set aside some money now. Seriously. But that’s just who I am. Loud, brash and confessional.

This is why I love blogs and books that aren’t bashful about opening their front door and welcoming us in with open arms. When I was in Los Angeles last year, I stopped by the soon-to-be-closed (sniff sniff) The Cook’s Library Bookstore where I picked up a copy of apples-for-jam Tessa Kiros’ Apples For Jam, A Colorful Cookbook fully intending it to be a gift for a friend, but after an afternoon alone with the cookbook, I decided to keep it for myself and bought her a bag of donuts instead. What a good friend I am. (WHAAAT? Hey, at least I didn’t arrive empty-handed!)

Tessa’s publisher, Andrew McMeel sent me a copy of her latest book, falling-cloudberries Falling Cloudberries, A World of Family Recipes which is part of Gourmet’s Cookbook Club. Tessa Kiro was born in London to a Finnish mother and Greek father, has lived in South Africa and worked as chef in Sydney, Athens, Mexico and London. Her life of global travels inspired this book with nearly 400 pages of recipes, stories and stunning color photographs (170 recipes, 185 color photos).

I wanted to share a recipe with you from her Falling Cloudberries book – Tom Ka Gai Soup, or Thai Chicken Coconut Soup. I’m sure you’ve had this soup before if you’re a fan of Thai food. The Tom Ka Gai soup is warm, tingly and creamy.

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About Kaffir Limes Leaves (or Makrut)

Thai Chicken Coconut Soup (Tom Ka Gai) uses fresh kaffir lime leaves to give it that unmistakable Thai flavor and aroma. It’s citrusy, bright and its aroma is as exuberant as its taste.

And I’m lucky enough that in Florida the Kaffir Lime Tree grows like crazy. Even neglected, it looks like this:

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While my tree doesn’t bear any fruit (I think something called “neglect” might have something to do with it) the leaves are plentiful. And the leaves are the valuable part of the tree anyways. Another name for Kaffir Lime Leaves is “Makrut,” as I just found out that the word “Kaffir” is a deragatory term (I’m off to research and find out the details on that to confirm).

How to use Kaffir Lime Leaves

The Kaffir Lime Leaves come in doubles. It’s a pretty thick leaf with a tough spine in the middle. The Kaffir Lime Leaf is used whole and discarded after cooking, unless you cut into very thin slivers.

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For Thai Chicken Coconut Soup (Tom Ka Gai), fold the Kaffir Lime Leaf in half along the spine and then tear, stopping at the tough spine.

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So that when you open it, the Kaffir Lime Leaves stays whole. This makes it easy to pick out and discard after cooking. Tearing the Kaffir Lime Leaves opens the aroma and flavors. Now scratch the screen and a whiff…WOW!

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Just throw the leaves, torn and whole into your soup, cook, then pick out and discard. Well, I guess you don’t have to. You can leave the Kaffir Lime Leaves in the soup and make your guests pick it out.

Substitutions for Kaffir Lime Leaves

If you don’t have access to fresh Kaffir Lime Leaves, you can find them at the Asian markets frozen or dried whole. You can also substitute Kaffir Lime Leaves with thick strips of lime peel. Take a whole lime and a vegetable peeler. Peel thick strips. Use your hands to tear a few places along the strip or just crush/fold the strip to bruise it a bit to release its flavor and aroma. Discard after cooking. Use one 2-inch x 1-inch strip of lime peel for every Kaffir Lime Leaf the recipe calls for.

Thai Chicken Coconut Soup (Tom Ka Gai Recipe)

Photo and recipe of Thai Chicken Coconut Soup (Tom Ka Gai) courtesy of my buddies at Andrews McMeel Publishing. A note on galangal/ginger: while often used together, they are not the same ingredient and taste very different! Many recipes will have you substitute ginger for galangal (which can be difficult to find), which isn’t really a “substitute.” Think of it as – if you can’t get galangal, ginger would be great in this soup too. Find galangal at the Asian market – sometimes you can get fresh galangal otherwise you may find it frozen. ~jaden

Tessa’s intro: “I just wouldn’t cope with not knowing how to make some version of this soup. I love it. You can add a few mushrooms, a couple of fresh spinach leaves or some slices of zucchini in with the chicken. Also wonderful instead of the chicken is to cook some large, shelled shrimp on a barbecue or grill pan and toss them into the soup just before serving. The fish sauce is the salt in this soup so adjust the quantities according to your taste (and the same with the chile). I like it not too strong. Keep the cilantro stems in your freezer to add flavor to a broth or stew.”

Serves 4

1 1/2 inch piece of galangal or ginger, peeled and sliced
small bunch fresh cilantro with roots
4 kaffir lime leaves (makrut), torn
1 stem lemongrass, halved lengthways
3 tablespoons fish sauce
juice of 2 small limes
1 3/4 cups coconut milk
1/2 pound skinless chicken breast, cut into thin strips
1 red chile (chilli), seeded and sliced

Put the galangal, cilantro roots, lime leaves, lemongrass and 4 cups of water in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Add the fish sauce and lime juice, decrease the heat, and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove the cilantro roots. Add the coconut milk, bring back to a boil and boil for a couple of minutes. Add
the chicken pieces and cook for just a minute or so, until the chicken is soft and milky looking and cooked through. Throw in the chile and mix well. Serve in bowls with the cilantro leaves roughly chopped and scattered over the top.

— Recipe courtesy of falling-cloudberries Falling Cloudberries, A World of Family Recipes by Tessa Kiros/Andrews McMeel Publishing

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This Week’s Steamy Kitchen Giveaway

Two weeks ago, I gave away a zojirushi rice cooker, this week, the winner of art-and-soul-baking The Art and Soul of Baking is lakotakat@_.com!


And now I’m giving away a copy of falling-cloudberries Falling Cloudberries, A World of Family Recipes by Tessa Kiros. To enter, just sign up for the Steamy Kitchen email newsletter (form is below). Each week, I give away cool prizes to my loyal readers as a thank you.



65 Responses to “Thai Chicken Coconut Soup (Tom Ka Gai)”

  1. Gjazz — 2/5/10 @ 5:42 pm

    Just found your site, and looking forward to trying the baby bok choy recipe tonight. I love to cook, but unsure about Asian cooking and how to use many foods we find at the Asian Market.
    This looks like fun……!

  2. carole — 3/8/10 @ 3:21 pm

    Love your site!

  3. Amy — 11/5/10 @ 12:50 am

    Jaden…you are amazingness. I LOVE this soup more than anything. And I love Pho. And Korean BBQ. and too many of your other recipes to name! And now I can make them in the comfort of my own home. I have so many new ideas for wonderful asian dishes now! Thank youuuuuu :)
    very appreciative home chef

  4. SteamyKitchen — 11/5/10 @ 7:57 am

    You are so welcome! So happy that these recipes inspire you to cook! ;-)

  5. Just made this tonight using lime peel and ginger, as that’s what I had in the frig or growing (I have a regular lime tree). Do you really leave the slices of ginger in the soup and not pull them out with the cilantro stems? Loved the rest of it but the ginger slices were a bit much for me. Maybe it’s different with galangal…. The rest of it was lovely though. Made this and a Thai rice noodle and chicken salad. Perfectly lovely dinner. Thanks! The broth alone was to die for.

  6. Dan — 10/6/11 @ 10:53 am

    Hi this is a great recipe, i was just wondering if using lite coconut milk makes a difference in the quality of the soup vs regular coconit milk?

    • SteamyKitchen — 10/6/11 @ 11:01 am

      I used to be really against using lite coconut milk….full coconut milk has so much more flavor. However….my waistline has made me rethink :-)

  7. Sheila — 1/20/12 @ 7:32 pm

    I just made the Tom Ka Kai soup with all the usual ingredients but the Kafir lime leaves and lime juice (used lemon). It doesn’t taste like the soup in a Thai restaurant – something is missing!! Would the absence of the lime leaves and juice be the difference?

  8. Jodi — 4/26/12 @ 10:38 am

    The soup sounds delightful and light. As for the derogatory use of the word kaffir, the South African Caucasian population referred to the black South Africans as “kafirs” which was not a nice thing. Also, kafir is the term that Muslim’s use for anyone not Muslim. It is also a disparaging term. Note that the difference lies in the double “f”. Hope this helped.

  9. Danielle — 9/10/12 @ 5:15 pm

    I have made this a few times a week for a month now–I am obsessed! SO good! To the other posters, do not make any substitutions. Really. The recipe is perfect as is. I love to make variations by sometimes adding shrimp, various mushrooms, and baby corn, etc. , but I always stick to the basic broth ingredients.

  10. Chat 2 Friend — 12/28/12 @ 2:05 am

    Excellent tips & method about recipes, you have a wide range of indian recipes list available, helpful site – thanks
    Indian Racipes

  11. Whitney — 1/17/13 @ 12:06 pm

    I just made this soup today and YUMMY! Tastes just like what is served at the Thai restaurants! It was so easy and inexpensive to make, too! Definitely a keeper.

    I have “Falling Cloudberries”, “Apples for Jam”, and “Piri Piri Starfish”. I will be buying “Limoncello and Linen Water” soon, and I have all of Tessa’s other cookbooks on my wishlist as well! So beautiful and inspiring!

  12. Brendan — 6/14/13 @ 9:54 pm

    After reading the comments about Ginger and Galangal above, I thought I would add my 2 cents worth.
    “Ka” is the Thai word for Galangal. “Tom Ka Gai”, loosely translated means “Chicken and Galangal Soup”. So the use of Galangal in this soup is much preferable to the use of ginger for obvious reasons.
    Nice recipe by the way. I’m sure there will be many happy faces after making this soup.

  13. Eva Mondragon — 7/26/13 @ 1:05 pm

    Hi Jaden,

    I’ve been so busy I haven’t visited your site for a while. I’m glad I checked in today because I didn’t know of Tessa Kiros and her cookbooks. I will check my local Barnes and Noble today to see if they carry them. Your description of her books sounds absolutely appetizing.

    Tom Ka Gai is one of my favorites. I discovered it on my first trip to Thailand. I loved it so much that I asked for the ingredients. That was also the first time that I’ve heard of Kaffir tree. I never saw it in any of the nurseries that I regularly visit. I had to put in my order. You are right about this tree. It survives without much care, but I think I will dig it up and move it to a sunnier location. Hopefully, it will start bearing fruits.

    As always, thank you for your blogs…reading them always make me happy.

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