Thai coconut soup, with its spicy but not overpowering kick, lemony, earthy flavor, and creamy, silky texture, is a favorite at Thai restaurants and in Thai homes. It isn't difficult to make and you can vary the vegetables and protein to fit your particular taste.
Tom kha, or Thai coconut soup, has many forms. It can become tom kha gai, which would be Thai coconut chicken soup, or Tom kha goong, which would be Thai coconut shrimp soup. Or it can be a vegetarian soup, simply made without any heavy protein, or with tofu instead of meat. Tom kha hed is another vegetarian version that includes mushrooms rather than meat.
Galangal is key to creating an authentic Thai coconut soup. Galangal is a root not dissimilar to ginger in appearance; it is even referred to as Siamese ginger, but ginger is really not an adequate substitute. Galangal has a sweet, spicy, earthy flavor in its pure white flesh. You can purchase dried and powdered galangal, but the fresh root is far superior. Lemongrass, an herb commonly used in Thai cuisine, has an aroma similar to citronella and a pungent, lemony taste when used in cooking. Lemon juice, lemon peel or other lemony herbs such as lemon balm don't have the same piquant flavor as lemongrass. It's best used fresh. Coconut milk, of course, is an essential part of a soup with coconut in its title. Made from pressed coconut, it is available canned in most major grocery stores. Coconut milk is the source of most of the fat present in Thai coconut soup and it adds a lustrous, creamy texture and subtle tropical flavor to the soup.
Of course, the amount of calories, fat and sodium is going to vary from recipe to recipe. Generally, you are looking at between 150 to 200 calories per serving and between 10 and 14 grams of fat per serving with about 50 percent being saturated fat. The amount of sodium ranges widely (depending on the type of chicken broth you use and the amount of salt you add), and sugar is very low, only about 4 grams per serving on average. You can reduce the calories and fat by using light or low-fat coconut milk, but you will also reduce the creaminess of the soup.
Thai coconut soup offers many health benefits from its ingredients. Galangal, for example, is often used to calm nausea, relieve cold and flu symptoms, and increase blood circulation in homeopathic medicine. Lemongrass is known to have calming properties that help reduce stress and anxiety. Lemongrass also has antifungal, antibacterial and antiseptic properties. Kaffir lime leaf, another ingredient, is considered a great digestive aid.
Here's a basic recipe for Thai Coconut Soup that produces the flavorful soup to which you can add your choice of vegetables and meat or tofu:
1 quart chicken stock
1 (14 oz.) can of coconut milk
2 stalks of lemongrass, white part only, crushed
6 kaffir lime leaves, crushed
1 (1-inch) piece galangal, peeled and thinly sliced
2 small chile peppers, thinly sliced
2 tbsp. fish sauce
3 tbsp. brown sugar
3 tbsp. lime juice
Salt and pepper to taste
Combine the chicken stock and coconut milk and bring to a simmer. Add the lemongrass, lime leaves, galangal and chiles. Let simmer for at least 10 minutes, then strain and return the soup to heat. Add the fish sauce, brown sugar and lime juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with fresh cilantro.
- Photo Credit paper or plastic?, liza31337, AquarianBath on Flickr.
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