my version of tom kha: thai coconut soup

my sister and i rendezvous at our favorite thai restaurant for lunch more often than i’d like to admit. we always start with a pot of green tea and the thai coconut soup (tom kha), which we gulp down practically before we say hello (only a slight exaggeration)! this morning i got up literally thinking about the soup-which could have had something to do with the fact that it was hailing (in {sunny} san diego this is quite a rare event….ehem…) just as we were waking up. even though the storm has now passed, and i could venture out for some soup or perhaps all the ingredients to (attempt to) make it, i decide to stay put and go rummaging in my pantry and refrigerator for the ingredients. this soup has always seemed rather exotic and out of reach to me, but i’ve looked at several recipes, and have a general idea of what i need to possibly make it work at home. the good news is i usually have a pretty well stocked pantry-so i quickly grab some shallots and garlic, ginger root (instead of the recommended galangal), two cans of coconut milk (a staple in my pantry), and a couple of limes before looking in my refrigerator for the essential lemongrass (yipee! had three stalks), cilantro, kaffir lime leaves (slightly dried up-but still), thai chili peppers (nope), and fish sauce (yeessss). from what i’ve gathered, this is a rather easy soup to make if you have all (or most of) the ingredients. this is what i used to make my oh-so-deliciously-fragrant soup (success!) based on what i had available:
  • 2 cans of coconut milk
  • 3 shallots
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic
  • 12 (more or less) kaffir lime leaves
  • 5-6 stalks of fresh lemongrass
  • fresh ginger root or galangal (about 1/4 cup)
  • a small bunch of cilantro (use the stalks for the broth and the leaves as garnish)
  • 3-4 tbs good fish sauce
  • thai chili peppers (to taste)-i substituted green chili peppers
  • 3-4 limes
  • 4 tbs raw cane sugar
  • 12-15 button mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 of a red bell pepper, julienned (thinly sliced)
1. process the ingredients: cut the tops off the lemongrass and cut in half, then smash (crush) them a bit to release the flavors, peel and cut the shallots, peel and crush the garlic cloves, cut the peppers in half, peel and crush the ginger or galangal, crush the lime leaves, and cut the stalks off the cilantro (save the leaves for later). there is often white chicken meat or shrimp added to this soup, but i prefer mine (almost) vegetarian except for the fish sauce (which you could substitute with sea salt or tamari).
2. pour the coconut milk in your soup pot with about 1/2-1 cup water (or you can add chicken broth), then add the lemongrass, shallots, garlic, peppers, ginger or galangal, kaffir lime leaves, cilantro stalks, fish sauce, and cane sugar. bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium low, and simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes with the lid on (partially).
3. pour the soup through a mesh sieve, then add the resulting broth back to the pot with the mushrooms, red bell peppers, and lemon juice (juice of 2-3 limes). heat the soup back up (for just a minute or two) and remove just before boiling.
4. serve with a lime wedge, a few thin slices of chili pepper (spicy), and lots of fresh cilantro leaves. can you feel your sinuses clearing up as we speak?
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