I am freezing. I have been for a few days now. I just can’t seem to get warm.
Thank you, Negative-20-Degree Wind Chills. Pleasure knowing you. Now please leave.
Soup. All I think about is soup. I’ve said it many times already, and I’ll say it again: I love soup. It’s my go-to meal when I can’t think of anything else to make or when I’m craving something warm and cozy. It’s perfect for the deep freeze Philly has been experiencing this week.
A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I met for lunch at one of his favorite local Thai restaurants. We each ordered delicious noodle dishes that were hearty and complex in flavor. Delightful.
To start, though, we each had a cup of soup. I chose the Thai coconut soup…and I’m so glad I did. It was sweet and savory, light and creamy, intensely flavorful, and absolutely delicious.
When my bowl was empty, I told my hubs that I was going to have to attempt it at home. He heartily agreed.
I developed this recipe with some internet research but mostly from my own lunch experience. The flavors of that soup were so fresh, it made them easy to identify. I have an occasional tendency to overdo things…ya know, by throwing a million things into a pot and hoping it all meshes together.
Sometimes when I’m developing a recipe, my mind takes me in too many directions, and the result is a confused disappointment. This time, I showed some restraint. I really wanted to highlight the same simple flavors without muddling them: ginger, lemongrass, coconut, lime, and salt.
The soup was incredibly clean tasting, and I wanted my at-home version to echo that. In this case, less is more. It’s a new way of thinking for me…at least when it comes to cooking.
Great news: I managed to cobble something together that was absolutely delicious and pretty close to the restaurant version! Exciting stuff, if you ask me.
After doing some serious research online, I learned about galangal root. A key ingredient in this soup. I had never heard of it. Turns out, it’s similar to ginger in looks, but it has a uniquely floral taste. It is a MUST in this recipe. Read all of my notes before starting. I bought mine online and have some helpful hints for tracking down some of the ingredients for this soup.
The other new-to-me ingredient was kaffir lime leaves. Now, I had heard of them but never cooked with them. I couldn’t find them anywhere locally, so I ordered some dried ones online and have been using them ever since. They work wonderfully! They add that special flavor and keep FOREVER in the pantry.
After many trials, I have nailed down how to get this soup to taste exactly like the one I love from Thai restaurants. The key is to cook the aromatics – garlic, shallot, ginger, Thai chiles, lemongrass, galangal, and kaffir lime leaves – until they are very soft and fragrant and have released all their wonderful flavor into the pot.
Then we add stock for the aromatics to infuse. Once that part is done, we strain the stock and discard the aromatics (they’ve done their job). The rest of the soup really is all about getting the broth just right. It’s the main component of the dish, and it must be seasoned and tended to!
We add in coconut or palm sugar (a traditional ingredient), fish sauce, lots of fresh lime juice, and coconut milk. Please use full-fat coconut milk here. It really makes a huge difference.
We allow the broth to simmer for a while so that all the flavors can come together harmoniously. I taste and tweak throughout the whole process until I get it JUST where I like it. It’s sweet and savory and salty and tangy – just like it should be.
I add in cubed chicken breast next, but you can definitely keep this vegetarian by omitting the chicken and swapping in vegetable stock for the chicken stock. Shrimp would also be a delicious swap. Heck, you could even throw in some noodles or rice. And even though it pains me to admit this, mushrooms would probably be a good addition, too. If you’re into that sort of thing…which I am wholeheartedly NOT.
The chicken breast poaches in the hot broth until tender and cooked through. All that’s left to do is add in the last couple components: fresh tomatoes and sliced raw onion. It might sound really odd, but I promise you, it’s delicious. And it’s also the way I have always had this soup served to me at Thai restaurants.
The idea is to barely poach the tomatoes and the onion so that they are still mostly raw when you serve the soup. They add wonderful texture and flavor.
This soup is, hands down, my number one soup recipe. It’s cozy, comforting, nourishing, and absolute perfection on a cold winter day.
I could eat an entire pot of this right now…brrrr…only 70 more days until the first day of spring. With soups like this one, I think I’ll make it.Print
This Thai Coconut Chicken Soup is based off of traditional recipes for tom kha gai. It is a bowl of creamy comfort flavored with ginger, garlic, Thai chiles, lemongrass, galangal root, and kaffir lime. It’s nourishing, sweet and savory, tangy and salty, and crazy delicious!
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil
- 2 shallots, thinly sliced (or ½ of a red onion)
- 2 dried Thai chiles peppers (you can use fresh), left whole
- 2 tablespoons lemongrass paste (this is my favorite; see Notes below)
- 5 fresh or dried kaffir lime leaves (I buy mine online; see Notes below)
- 1 (4-inch) piece of fresh galangal root (I buy mine online; see Notes below), thinly sliced (no need to peel)
- 1 (4-inch) piece of fresh ginger root, thinly sliced (no need to peel)
- 5 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed but left mostly whole
- 6 cups low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth
- 3 tablespoons coconut or palm sugar (optional but very traditional!)
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- Juice of 3 limes (roughly ⅓ cup), plus more for serving
- 2 (14-oz) cans full-fat coconut milk
- 1.5 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cubed
- 1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced
- 1 cup chopped tomato (beefsteak, plum or even halved grape/cherry tomatoes)
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Fresh cilantro, for serving
- Chopped scallions, for serving
- To a large pot set over medium heat, add the coconut oil. Once hot, add the shallots, chiles, lemongrass paste, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, ginger, garlic, and a generous pinch of salt. These will be the aromatics (or base flavorings) for the broth.
- Sauté the aromatics in the oil until softened and fragrant, about 10 minutes.
- Add the broth, sugar, and fish sauce, partially cover the pot, and bring everything to a simmer. Simmer over medium-low heat for 30 minutes to allow all the flavors to meld. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper.
- Carefully pour the broth through a fine mesh strainer into another pot. Discard the aromatics.
- Return the broth to the heat and stir in the lime juice and coconut milk. Return to a simmer.
- Add in the cubed chicken and cook, stirring frequently, until the chicken is cooked through, about 10 minutes.
- Stir in the tomatoes and thinly sliced onion – the idea is to sort of poach them in the hot broth. They should still be somewhat raw when serving.
- Adjust the seasoning as necessary. I often add another pinch of sugar, fish sauce, salt, or more lime juice at this point. Keep adjusting until you get the broth where you want it.
- Serve the soup by ladling it into bowls, making sure each serving gets chicken, onion, and tomato. Garnish with fresh cilantro and chopped scallions and additional lime wedges.
- The traditional version of this soup (tom kha gai) is often made with mushrooms. I prefer to omit them, but if you like mushrooms, feel free to add them in with the onions and tomatoes so that they lightly poach in the hot broth.
- Kaffir lime leaves add an important flavor to this soup. If you cannot find fresh, I recommend buying dry online. I keep them in my pantry for months and they still add wonderful flavor to dishes like this.
- If you cannot find galangal root, you can omit and sub in more ginger instead. I do highly recommend galangal root, if you can find it. It adds the signature flavor to this soup that cannot be replicated. I buy it online and break it into portions and then freeze the portions. It will keep in the freezer for months.
- You can use fresh lemongrass in this recipe as well. Chop it, sauté it, and strain it out with the other aromatics. I cannot always find fresh lemongrass; the paste works in a pinch. The paste is often in the produce section at the grocery store, near the fresh herbs.
- Prep Time: 5 minutes
- Cook Time: 1 hour
- Category: soup
Keywords: Thai coconut soup with chicken, tom kha gai soup recipe, homemade tom kha gai soup, homemade Thai coconut soup