Tom Kha Gai

by jenna on November 10, 2010

Yesterday I decided to make some soup.

I was feeling a little under the weather after two crazy weekends spent traveling, many late nights, and an excess of wine, coffee and lamb chops.

My throat ached, my head hurt and I needed something with green things in it. Thus, a quick and easy version of tom kha gai was born. You know, the creamy coconut-y thai chicken soup. The soup that is both spicy and cooling, and offers big chunks of fragrant thai ginger along with pungent lemongrass and slivers of milky chicken breast.

It only took me about twenty minutes to prepare, start to finish, and afterward, as I was sitting on my couch tipping the bowl to get the last bit on my spoon, I realized that I felt better. My sore throat had all but vanished and my left nostril, which had previously been so stuffed that I couldn’t even smell the cilantro, had magically unplugged. My headache was gone and my tummy was happy.

I still have to go to traffic court and do lunges to fit into my skinny jeans, but for a moment, all was right in the world.

truth? I’ve never attempted to make tom kha gai at home before.

I’ve never even wanted to.

Actually, I’ve never even really liked tom kha gai at thai restaurants!

But…for some insane reason yesterday, I was feelin’ it. And you know what they say—don’t fight the feeling.

And, like I said before, the soup is easy enough to make. You may have to seek out a local Asian market to find the specialty ingredients (galangal and kaffir lime leaves), but it’s really no big deal.

Plus, cilantro makes everything better.

You start by assembling all your ingredients: lemongrass, galangal (thai ginger), kaffir lime leaves, a serrano pepper, mushrooms, cilantro, chicken breast, chicken stock, coconut milk, lime juice and fish sauce.

Yes, fish sauce! In general, it’s really, really, really gross…..but good in this. I promise!

So, basically you just throw everything in the pot (except for the cilantro) and simmer till the chicken is done. It’ll take about twenty minutes.

Vegetarians can totally make this with tofu…that would be yummy.

Next time I make this, I might throw some fluffy jasmine rice in at the last minute. I know that might be untraditional, but that’s the beauty of cooking at home. You’re the boss!

Tom Kha Gai (thai coconut soup)

serves 4

1 can coconut milk

4 cups chicken stock

1 lb boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into small strips

1 stalk lemongrass*, halved and cut into four sections

1 1/2 inch piece galangal*, peeled and chopped

4 small kaffir lime leaves*, torn into pieces

1 serrano pepper, minced

3 T fish sauce

juice of two limes

4 ounces chanterelle mushrooms, sliced in two

big bunch of cilantro

Bring the chicken stock to a simmer with the lemongrass, galangal and lime leaves. Add the lime juice and fish sauce, simmer again, and then the chicken, minced pepper, mushrooms and coconut milk. Continue simmering until the chicken has cooked through, about fifteen to twenty minutes. Ladle into bowls and serve with cilantro on top.

* available at large grocery stores or Asian markets

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{ 58 comments… read them below or add one }

Jessica @ How Sweet It Is November 10, 2010 at 7:03 am

As a self-proclaimed coconut addict, this has to be next on my list. I would normally think something like this is very difficult, but you make it look easy. And I just bought some lemongrass on monday. Did you post this just for me?!?


Camille November 10, 2010 at 7:11 am

Haha, I didn’t know that doing lunges (as squats!) was a real thing that other people did to fit in to their skinny jeans! I feel slightly less weird now :)


Maria November 10, 2010 at 7:12 am

Great soup recipe. Lemongrass makes life so much better!


Molly November 10, 2010 at 7:15 am

This looks marvelous. I need a cure for life right now…and this may just do the trick.



Angharad November 10, 2010 at 7:16 am

I love thai soups! I ate so much of the spicy good stuff in Thailand but I’ve only really tried to recreate red and green curries at home. I love visiting the Asian grocery store though – love it! Any excuse…and this is a good one.


Cathy B. @ Bright Bakes November 10, 2010 at 7:19 am

this looks incredible…i love coconut/cilantro everything, and as of late I seem to be incapable of making anything that isn’t “comfort-food-and-spoonable”…so this fits right in the queue! Gotta get ingredients…
cathy b. @ brightbakes


Rebekah @ Rebeltarian November 10, 2010 at 7:19 am

coconut milk= love. I just made an excellent jamacian sheppards pie with loads of coconut milk in it. I will have to try this next!


Angela @ Eat Spin Run Repeat November 10, 2010 at 7:29 am

I hear ya on the fish sauce.. I remember almost hurling the first time I smelled it but cooked up it adds so much flavour!


Beth @ Beth's Journey to Thin November 10, 2010 at 7:30 am

That looks UNREAL. I loooove thai soups. So delicious and comforting!


tina November 10, 2010 at 7:30 am

ahhhh fish sauce scares me… could you leave it out?

sounds yummy, i love me some cilantro… on ANYTHING! 😉


jenna November 10, 2010 at 7:31 am

i wouldn’t leave it out…that is what makes this soup taste like the kind you get at thai restaurants! just don’t smell it…muhahahah


Julie November 10, 2010 at 12:32 pm

Yuck. I once watched a food/travel show episode on how to make fish sauce and I will *never* eat it again. Gross, gross, gross


Natalia - a side of simple November 10, 2010 at 7:30 am

Seriously laughed out loud at the traffic court/lunges comment. Maybe if you do lunges IN traffic court they’ll let you off the hook 😉


Michele @ Healthy Cultivations November 10, 2010 at 7:31 am

I’m guessing the lemongrass is what really makes this soup divine.


Mary (What's Cookin' with Mary) November 10, 2010 at 7:33 am

This soup sounds SO rediculously good Jenna! I’ve not been able to find the lime leaves at anything but an Asian market… will have to make a special trip 😉


sarah November 10, 2010 at 7:35 am

more recipes to use up the bottle of fish sauce…? 😛


jenna November 10, 2010 at 7:36 am

when you find some, send them my way. as for now, i take comfort in the fact that this large bottle was only two dollars.


sarah November 10, 2010 at 8:06 am

wow I thought it sounded like it would be 3 times as much!


emily November 10, 2010 at 9:20 am

Pad Thai, Laab (a spicy ground chicken salad that has like 5 ingredients and is literally the simplest recipe on earth), I often add fish sauce when I make a peanut sauce…..the possibilities are endless!


Tina @ Faith Fitness Fun November 10, 2010 at 7:37 am

I could use some of that right now as I’m not feeling my best.


Raya November 10, 2010 at 7:38 am

I must make this today!! Would you recommend any substitutes for the lime leaves if I can’t find them? And would I be able to use regular ginger? I only ask b/c I don’t think I will be able to go to an asian supermarket today. That and they (meaning the stores) kind of scare me. :-/


jenna November 10, 2010 at 7:39 am

hmm do you have an asian market near you?? they will definitely have them. if you can’t get to a market, just leave them out!


Raya November 10, 2010 at 7:41 am

There is one, but I don’t think they will take the Target gift card that I’m using until payday. Haha


rori November 10, 2010 at 11:01 am

Haha Raya, I’m so feeling you right now :)


Tracey @ I'm Not Superhuman November 10, 2010 at 7:42 am

This sounds great, though I can’t do cilantro. It’s like chewing soap.


Moni'sMeals November 10, 2010 at 7:45 am

One of my favorite soups! I like your twist on it!
I make mine with Tofu and add bamboo shoots and peanuts. :)


Lu November 10, 2010 at 8:06 am

Yum. I have nothing more to say. Well, maybe yum yum yum!


Lindsay November 10, 2010 at 8:15 am

It’s funny that you posted this today. Just last night, my housemate cooked a big thai dinner, including all these ingredients, for a couple of us and some other friends. So, I know this would be good!


katie November 10, 2010 at 8:17 am

Wow, this looks so easy. I love this soup. Thanks!


Kristin November 10, 2010 at 8:19 am

more soup, more soup, more soup!! Thanks Jenna!


Lena November 10, 2010 at 8:26 am

What are you talking about, fish sauce is gross?? It’s AMAZING! Obviously never eaten Asian food in Asia…humph.


Megan (Braise The Roof) November 10, 2010 at 9:14 am

There’s something about cooking with coconut milk that makes you feel so accomplished, isn’t there? And spicy soup = extra healing. :)


Heather (Heather's Dish) November 10, 2010 at 9:14 am

sounds like the hardest part of the soup is finding the ingredients! and Lord knows i am going to need a bowl of that stuff with the changes in the weather we’ve been having…


JENNA November 10, 2010 at 9:21 am

interesting. :)


Hope November 10, 2010 at 9:28 am

Yum! I have a fab go to recipe for Tom Yum soup that seems to make life better. Must make this tonight!


Evan Thomas November 10, 2010 at 9:37 am

This sounds really good! I’ve never made a real Asian dish since the recipes always seem unapproachable, but this I could handle


chelsey @ clean eating chelsey November 10, 2010 at 9:54 am

Love this! It is packed with so many powerhouse nutrients!


Emily @ For Sweets Sake November 10, 2010 at 9:56 am

Definitely looks like a great easy recipe! But I don’t think those are ingredients we could find in Northwest Florida, the hub of ethnicity that it is 😛


Anon November 10, 2010 at 10:04 am

I can’t get light coconut milk here. Only the full-fat canned coconut milk. How to adjust for that?

Also, I asked Kath and a few other busy bloggers this a long time ago and was wondering about yourself: do you spend much time reading blogs? I remember Kath saying she had a ton on her reader, but they changed all the time. I’m wondering how much you read blogs and how much its changed over the years.


Cathy November 10, 2010 at 10:40 am

You can always use 3/4 portion full-fat coconut milk and 1/4 portion water, maybe even 1/2 and 1/2 as long as it doesn’t dilute the overall flavor of the soup.


Anon November 10, 2010 at 4:07 pm

Sounds like that could work.


Susan November 10, 2010 at 10:29 am

Jenna, that soup looks delicious (although I’m more of a Tom Yum soup girl)!

Just wanted to tell you that Groupon is starting in Santa Rosa! I just got an email about it for some odd reason (odd because I don’t live in Santa Rosa)!


Krystina (Basil & Wine) November 10, 2010 at 10:33 am

Our Whole Foods actually sells keffir lime leaves and lemon grass, so this would be easy for me to make. 😀


Cathy November 10, 2010 at 10:33 am


I understand the smell of fish sauce can be overpowering, but it is actually a really great salt substitute. I use it in place of salt even in my pasta meat sauce and it adds a completely different dimension it without being weird-tasting. Italians totally use anchovies in their cooking, so this is a legitimate cooking technique. I’m Vietnamese and recommend the “Squid Sauce” or “Viet Huong 3 Crabs” brands – I prefer the former. Anyway, glad you’re venturing out and making South East Asian dishes that you love in restaurants!



Averie (LoveVeggiesAndYoga) November 10, 2010 at 10:49 am

The soup looks great and isn’t it amazing how real homecooked soup can just make you feel so much better, and so fast?! I love that about soup! And your take on Thai looks delish!

And I love that foods can be healing and medicinal. Especially after wine, coffee, and running around all weekend :)


Mitzi Song November 10, 2010 at 12:02 pm

i put fish sauce in my burger patty meat before grilling- i think i got this idea from White on Rice. And then when its done i top the burger with tons of cilantro (instead of lettuce). YUMMMMM i love cilantro….i think i can eat a salad made up of just cilantro…


kate November 10, 2010 at 1:03 pm

This soup looks perfect and comforting.


the salty girl November 10, 2010 at 1:59 pm

I read that kaffir lime leaves were the secret to making authentic thom gah kai soup, but I can never find them. I guess I need to make a trip over to the Asian market, because I really want to make that soup!


Faith @ lovelyascharged November 10, 2010 at 3:32 pm

When I think Thai food, I never – EVER – think soup…but I’m thinking I’m going to have to make this! I love thai flavors and I love soup, so why on earth havent I tried combining them?


liane November 10, 2010 at 3:42 pm

I’ve never had this type of soup before, but I have a go-to Tom Yum recipe I use all the time, especially when I’m starting to feel under the weather. Enough garlic and ginger and blast the germs away :)
I will have to mix it up and use this recipe next time!


Dee November 10, 2010 at 5:49 pm

ooh, that sounds amazing! especially to this girl who seems to be in her 10th week of being sick. LOL! 😉


Bobbi McCormick November 10, 2010 at 5:56 pm

Hubs and I get this every time we go out for Thai! Now I will have to make it for him at home :)


Jenny November 10, 2010 at 6:45 pm

I’ve never even heard of this! Sounds and LOOKS delicious!


Kristy November 11, 2010 at 4:34 am

We did a tasting in culinary school a few weeks ago and I tried a fish stock plain then one enhanced with fish sauce. OMG! Def one of those “secret ingredients” :-)


The Healthy Apple November 11, 2010 at 10:53 am

Love this recipe; looks fabulous, Jenna; you’re getting me in the mood for a lil soupy! Perfect for a crisp Fall day. Thanks so much for sharing; this is surely on my ‘to-make’ list this weekend! Have a great day.


Janel December 13, 2010 at 2:11 pm

This is hands down my favorite soup… and I’ve been on the hunt for a good, reliable recipe. Thanks!


Sheila September 15, 2013 at 4:29 pm

What would you substitute for fish sauce if you were to make this vegetarian?


jenna September 15, 2013 at 4:46 pm

Just leave it out!


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