When it comes to cooking, I know how to cook a lot of Middle Eastern food, a lot of American Southern food, a fair amount of Mediterranean food, and a bunch of one-off dishes from other cuisines around the world. I make a mean aloo ghobi, but I'd never claim to be proficient in Indian, I love making bao, but kung pao baffles me. This dish is one of my "one-offs," a Thai soup called tom kha gai.
I've made this version with shrimp, but it's more commonly made with chicken and can also be done with tofu. Tom kha, as we call it in my house, is one of our favorite appetizers when we go out for Thai, it's flavor packed with coconut, chiles, fish sauce, kaffir limes, and more.
It calls for a few unusual ingredients, but it won't be the end of the world if you can't find kaffir lime and galangal, though they're nice if you can. I like making it with shrimp because it's very easy to make a quick shrimp stock that gives a bright clean flavor to the soup, as opposed the powerful taste of canned stock. Also, unlike some soups that take lots of sauteeing and building of flavors, this soup comes together in minutes. There's a bit of prep work, but after that you're home free.
Tom Kha Gai
The word "tom" mean chicken, so I'm not sure what the proper recipe name would be using shrimp. No matter what you use, it should be tasty. If using chicken or tofu, substitute the appropriate stock and skip step one. Also, be warned the coconut milk separates out when the soup sits overnight, you can stir it back together and it tastes just the same, but it's not the prettiest thing in the world. Serves 4 as an appetizer.
6 cups water or stock
1 lb shrimp, or shredded cooked chicken or cubed tofu as desired
1 knob ginger, peeled and diced
1 1-inch cube galangal, thinly sliced
3-4 small pieces (about 2 inches each) lemongrass, bruised
2 kaffir lime leaves, or 3 tablespoon lime juice
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar, or to taste
1-4 whole red chiles, your choice
a handful of shitake mushrooms, enoki mushrooms are also nice
1 1/2 cups coconut milk
cilantro leaves for serving
1. If using shrimp, peel shrimp, reserving the peels and setting aside shrimp. Heat a small amount of oil in a pot and toast the shell under thickened but not completely pink. Add the water and a pinch of salt, and let simmer for 15-20 minutes (no longer). Strain out the shells and any debris and discard.
2. Place the stock back in the pan and add the ginger, galangal, lemon grass, kaffir lime, and shitake mushrooms. Let simmer 5 minutes or until the ginger is softened (test one, no one wants crunchy ginger in their soup). Add the fish sauce, brown sugar, chile pepper, shrimp, and coconut milk. Simmer 2-3 minutes, until the shrimp are cooked through but not overcooked They should be plump and pink, but not curled into a tight little ball. Taste for seasoning.
3. Serve immediately, garnished with cilantro.