Real joy is a strange thing. It is one that whispers, it does not scream. It often exists in the most unlikely of circumstances where one would least expect it to pop up. Why? It does not depend on circumstance, or place, or things or people. Yet it exists. Not alone or in solitude, but one that intertwines its fingers with an otherwordly partner. It reaches beyond this earthly dimension in a way that truly is indescribable other than it is soft and quiet.
This new year needs a recipe that is delightful in a way that does not scream. One that cleanses and delights but is easily made. A milk soup. With just water and coconut milk as the base, this flavorful Thai soup, Tom Kha (loosely translates to: cooked galangal), dances in your mouth but is ridiculously simple. It includes the addition of coconut milk which differentiates it from Tom Yum soup. The soup can and often is made Tom Kha Gai by adding thinly sliced chicken but I went with shrimp because, well, I am increasingly eating less meat. Especially on Friday.
In Thailand, most recipes for Tom Kha soup typically include coconut milk, galangal root, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass stalks, Thai chili peppers, fresh cilantro (sometimes dill), straw mushrooms (or sometimes other mushrooms), a meat such as chicken or shrimp, fish sauce, and lime juice. Sometimes a fried chili paste is added on top. Don’t let the newness of these ingredients put you off. They all add to the nuanced flavor of the soup. If you wish to learn more about them, I added links to check them out individually.
This was not my first rodeo with Tom Kha soup so I was thrilled this time around because my dried Thai ingredients were given to me in one little beautiful pouch by my friends at Try the World. Their newest box from Thailand creates refreshingly healthy and simple recipes. Not having to hunt them down at the local ethnic grocer and coming together with my pantry staples just adds to the joy of this recipe!
If you want to make this extra simple, you can purchase the dried spices for Tom Kha online here (sold as Tom Yum which is the soup without coconut milk) in a convenient packet and throw this soup together in a heartbeat. Conversely you can order the spices with a Try the World box or order them separately from the box in their world shop. If you are feeling kind of antsy, you can seek them out fresh at your local Asian store one blustery and oppressive cabin fever day. Having a spicy, comforting simple dish that is a basic in a hot sweaty country across the ocean is often just what you need to get past that seasonal affective disorder that weighs so heavily on people from these parts.
Either way, I wish for the spices of Thailand and the elegant simplicity of Tom Kha soup will bring a spark of sunshine and joy to your wintry day!
- 2 cups of water
- 1 13.5 oz can of coconut milk
- 8 slices of galangal, dried or fresh
- 10-15 birds eye chili
- 1 long stalk of lemongrass, cut into 2 inch long pieces
- 10 kaffir lime leaves
- 2 1/2 cups of sliced button mushrooms (or for authenticity, straw mushrooms)
- 16 medium to large raw shrimp, shelled and deveined
- 4 Tbsp fish sauce
- 2 limes for juice
- 1/2 cup of cilantro to garnish (optional)
- Begin by bringing the water, galangal, chili, lemongrass, and kaffir lime to boil.
- Reduce to a simmer and add coconut milk. Continue to cook for a few more minutes to infuse the coconut milk with the spices.
- Add in the mushrooms and shrimp and cook until shrimp is no longer translucent and is a milky white color.
- Stir in fish sauce.
- Ladle into bowls and add squeeze half a lime into each bowl and garnish with cilantro.
- Serve immediately. (Hint) Sometimes the soup is served over rice as more of a curry sauce. A cup of cooked rice per person make a full meal.