Tom Kha Gai Soup and Ginger Coconut Rice
Tom Kha Gai soup is far and away my favorite appetizery dish to order in a Thai restaurant (often as an entrée).
I like it better than Tom Yum soup because of the richness of the coconut milk. And I like it better than other milky soups because the coconut milk is not too creamy or overpowering; it is perfectly balanced by the sour hints of lemon grass and lime leaves, and the zing of chilies.
The first time I ever made Tom Kha Gai* at home, I pulled the recipe out of a Thai cookbook, and was remarkably happy with the results. So I’ve been sticking to that recipe– with only a few little tweaks– ever since. This time, I was flipping through that same cookbook marveling at how I should really try out more of its recipes,** when I stumbled across one for “Ginger-Infused Toasted Coconut Jasmine Rice,” and thought, “I want to make that… right now!” (Good thing I always keep dried shredded coconut and fresh ginger in the house!)
The rice was simple and tasty, with the very subtly sweet and nutty flavor of toasted coconut. And since I think the best way to eat Tom Kha soup is to dip spoonfuls of jasmine rice into it, one at a time, the ginger coconut rice was the perfect accompaniment for it.***
Spicy, sour comfort food to warm your kitchen on a wintery evening.
* Tom Kha Gai soup is made with chicken (that’s the gai, or kai), but you can also make Tom Kha Goong with prawns, or make Tom Kha with tofu; see my notes in the recipe for modifications.
** Does anyone else essentially use EACH cookbook for only ONE recipe?! Almost the same way that at each restaurant I frequent, I tend to order one specific dish…
*** Although lovely as a side for the soup (and the leftovers were also good as a side for this Vindaloo Chicken!), I think the rice might have stood up even better as a snack on its own with a little touch of garlic.
Ginger Coconut Rice
(Only slightly adapted from the recipe for “Ginger-Infused Toasted Coconut Jasmine Rice” from the book New Thai Cuisine by Nathan Hyam.)
(Makes 4-6 servings)
~ 1 ½ cups jasmine rice
~ 2 ¼ cups water (or basically any 3:2 ratio of Water:Rice)
~ ½ cup shredded coconut
~ 1 Tbsp. fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
~ pinch of salt
~ 1 clove of garlic, minced
How to Make it:
1. Toast the coconut: Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees, and spread the coconut out on a cookie sheet. Bake for 4-5 min., or until lightly brown.
2. Place the rice, water, toasted coconut, ginger, and salt in a heavy-bottomed non-stick saucepan, and stir to mix. (I found that this recipe doesn’t need oil or butter because of the coconut.)
3. Bring to a boil, then give it one more stir, replace the lid, and lower the heat all the way down to simmer for 15-17 minutes (until all of the water has been absorbed and the rice is soft).
4. Remove from the heat, keeping the lid on to let the rice continue steaming for an additional 5 minutes (until fluffy). Serve warm.
Tom Kha Gai Soup
(Only slightly adapted from the recipe for “Chicken and Coconut Milk Soup” from the book New Thai Cuisine by Nathan Hyam.)
(Makes about 4 servings)
~ 3 ½ cups coconut milk (2 cans)
~ 3 stalks lemon grass, cut in 2-inch pieces
~ 5 kaffir lime leaves
~ 3-4 slices galanga (dried or fresh; available at most Asian markets)
~ 1 lb. chicken (I use skinless boneless thigh meat), cut in bite-size pieces (or shrimp or tofu)
~ 2 red/orange chilies, diced and optionally de-seeded
~ 8 oz. or about 1 cup mushrooms (sliced button mushrooms, or straw mushrooms)
~ 3 Tbsp. fish sauce (or for a vegetarian version, add salt to taste)
~ 4 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
~ 1 Tbsp. palm or brown sugar
~ 1 green chili, mostly de-seeded and diced
~ ¼ cup fresh cilantro, chopped (to garnish)
How to Make it:
1. In a large stockpot, combine the coconut milk, lemon grass, lime leaves, and galanga. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, covered, for about 30 minutes.
2. Add the chicken, chilies (green will make it spicier), mushrooms, fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, and mushrooms. Bring back to a boil, then simmer for about 5 more minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. (Note: If substituting tofu or shrimp for the chicken, add about a cup of water or vegetable stock to thin out the broth.)
3. Remove the lemon grass, lime leaves, and galanga if you like (they are not for eating). Garnish with fresh chopped cilantro and serve warm. (I like to eat it with a side of jasmine rice, which I can dip into the soup by the spoonful.)