20 January 2010

Sort of Tom Kha

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.


elsan said...

It's the word gai that means chicken, so I'd have thought just saying Tom Kha would be fine to refer to the soup with any central ingredient. You could call it Tom Kha Goong, goong referring to prawn (at least at my local Thai in Australia).

Anonymous said...

Tom kha is one of my favourite soups and I love and grew up eating Thai food. Yours looks delish. "Tom" is soup (or, more like a dish that's boiled), "kha" is galangal, and "gai" is chicken. Prawns/shrimp is "goong" or "kung" so it'd be tom kha goong. If you ever feel like branching out, tom yum is my second favourite soup, a boiled dish with the flavours of "yum", which is the hot/sour/salty combo.

I suppose my approach to food from South and Southeast Asia is maybe similar to your approach to Middle Eastern food. I love reading this blog because I've always been interested in Middle Eastern food without knowing too much about it, but I don't have much to say...so I have to admit that I was excited to be able to add to the conversation on this one.

It's funny, I always like being reminded that what's easily available and even commonplace in one place (like northern Australia) is of course not very normal in others. Makes me feel more relaxed about the things we don't really get... pomegranates, say...

decorating fabric said...

Thanks for the recipe. I sure need some new dish right now.

Boracay hotel said...

This is just what I have been looking for a kind of dish. Thanks.

James said...

Not to be pedantic, but I'm pretty sure it's the "gai" part that means "chicken", not the "tom" part (which I think means "soup").

Sally said...

I think 'gai' means chicken, and goong is prawn, so one might call this 'tom kha goong'. Looks terrific in any case!

M Smith said...

I too love this soup!

Where, in the DC metro area, do you find Kaffir Lime Leaves? I have looked everywhere I can think of in AA, Baltimore and Howard county and can't find them. Maybe I'm looking in the wrong area of the Asian markets?

Dad said...

That dark table sure sets your photos off well!

Looks delicious, will definitely try.

(no relation)

Mark Scarbrough said...

I love keffir lime leaves. We buy them in bulk from grocerythai.com. I've taken to adding one to chai tea.

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