My first line of defense in cold and flu season is to make a hearty chicken soup. It’s never exactly the same, but it does follow a familiar pattern of ingredient and method. I find it a comforting process to create this soup for a sick loved one. When Paul came down with a bug a week ago, he forwarded me a recipe for Tom Kha Gai, a Thai coconut milk and chicken soup. A friend suggested we try this instead of my usual offering. It was a little twist in our recovery routine, but I welcomed it since Tom Kha Gai is spicy, and I am always craving a kick of heat when I’m sick. I followed the recipe Paul sent, but was only moderately impressed. After a little more research and a successful ingredient hunt at Berkeley Bowl (galangal and kaffir lime leaves can be tricky to find), I have a Tom Kha Gai that will be a favorite in our house.
Preview: You are going start by infusing your chicken broth with lemongrass, galangal (blue ginger), and kaffir lime leaves. You will then cook and shred the chicken, add coconut milk, chosen vegetables, and chilis. Makes 4 servings.
32 oz. low sodium chicken broth (or cook chicken first to make your own)
1 stalk lemongrass, cut into 2″ pieces and crush with the side of your knife
1, 1″ x 2″ piece of galangal (blue ginger), peeled and sliced into 1/4″ pieces
4-5 kaffir lime leaves, center stem pulled out
1, 12 oz. can light coconut milk
1# chicken* (I used 2, bone-in breasts)
3 red Thai chilis, crush with the side of your knife
1 T chili paste (nam prik pao)
8 oz. pioppini mushrooms (or other small cluster mushroom)
1 T fish sauce
2 limes, slice 1 into wedges for garnish
1/2 c. cilantro leaves
Simmer the lemongrass, galangal, and kaffir lime leaves in chicken broth for 20-30 minutes. Add coconut milk and return to a simmer. Add chicken and cook 20 minutes or until done. Remove and shred the chicken. Fish out the lemongrass, galangal, and kaffir lime leaves and discard. Return chicken to the pot along with the chilis, chili paste, and mushrooms. Cook 2-3 minutes until mushrooms are done. Turn off the heat and add fish sauce and juice of 1 lime. Garnish with cilantro and serve with lime on the side.
*Variations: Most recipes I found for Tom Kha Gai called for boneless dark meat, cut into bite-sized pieces, then cooked in the infused broth. I prefer the texture of chicken pulled from the bone or shredded, so that is a modification I made. Also, most recipes called for 1 tsp. of sugar to be added at the end. I intended to add sugar, but forgot, and then realized the lime added enough sweetness for me. You might wish to experiment with the amount of spice by using 2 chilis or 4 chilis or more/less chili paste. Variations also use onion, bamboo shoot, or other vegetables.
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