I love Tom Kha Gai, that sweet and sour and delicious Thai coconut chicken soup. I had an urge the other night, but I didn’t want to go out and as I did a mental checklist of my pantry, I thought I could come up with something close.
I had some coconut milk, fish sauce, dried peppers and dried ginger. There was some chicken in the freezer I could thaw, and I had cilantro. No basil, but maybe the dehydrated basil would work. I thought I had some kaffir lime leaves, but couldn’t locate them so used lime instead. Oh, and I had a tube of lemongrass paste that I had picked up somewhere I can’t remember. I didn’t have any mushrooms or red pepper, basically this was going to be chicken soup.
Was this authentic? No. Did it taste great? Yes! I wanted to eat the entire pot in one sitting.
To start, I squeezed almost the entire tube of lemongrass paste into a dutch oven, then whisked in the coconut milk followed by a carton of chicken broth.Once everything was blended, I added some dried chilies and maybe a tablespoon of the dehydrated basil. I also tossed in a couple of chips of Penzeys dried ginger root.
While the broth came to a boil over medium heat, I thinly sliced boneless chicken breast on the diagonal. I also whisked together a tablespoon of fish sauce, a tablespoon of lime juice, a teaspoon of sugar, and a teaspoon of chili paste.
Once the broth was boiling I whisked in the lime juice mixture and added the chicken. I took a sip of the broth, and ended up adding some more lime juice and just a little more chili paste. This really was a matter of adjusting to get the balance of flavors to your taste.
Then I lowered the heat to a simmer and let it cook for about 10 minutes until the chicken was cooked through.
Remove the chilis and the ginger chips, and you have soup!
I know this isn’t really served with rice but I always like rice in my leftover Tom Kha Gai from a restaurant, so I had made some Basmati rice and now added a scoop of rice and sprinkled with chopped cilantro.
It was so good! Now that I tried this once without benefit of all the right ingredients I will definitely make it again and try to get a little closer to the traditional dish. In a pinch, though, what I did worked out well.
Faux Tom Kha Gai
1 15 oz can coconut milk (I used lite)
1 carton chicken broth
1 tube lemongrass paste (or better yet, 1 stalk of lemongrass, the white part, crushed)
3 dried birds eye chilis
2 chips dried ginger root (or better yet, several slices of fresh ginger or galangal)
(even though I used the dehyrdrated basil here, I wouldn’t do it again, it didn’t add anything)
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 tablespoon (or more) lime juice (or if you have kaffir lime leaves, add to the broth with the lemongrass)
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tsp sugar (palm sugar if you have it)
1 tsp or more chili paste (I had Sambal Oelek, worked fine)
Fresh Thai Basil (I didn’t have this time but would defintely try to have it next time)
Whisk together the coconut milk and chicken broth in a large Dutch oven. Add a stalk of lemongrass if you have it, or wish in lemongrass paste. Add chilis, ginger or galangal, and kaffir lime leaves if you are using them. Bring broth to a boil over medium heat.
Slice the chicken breast on the diagonal into then, about 1/4 inch, slices. If the chicken is still partly frozen this is easier.
In a small bowl whisk together the lime juice, fish sauce, sugar, and chili paste.
Once the broth comes to a boil whisk in the lime juice mixture, then add the chicken slices. If you have straw mushrooms or red bell pepper, you could add these now as well. Lower to a simmer and cook for about ten minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. Remove chilis, lemongrass stalk, and ginger or galangal.
Serve with rice if you like (although that isn’t really traditional). Top the soup with chopped fresh cilantro and thin slices of fresh Thai basil.