April 2, 2012

Tom Ka Gai

Quick chicken and coconut soup based on Tom Ka Gai.
Tom Ka Gai, Reduced Fat Version

Tom Ka Gai is the classic Thai Chicken Coconut soup. This reduced fat version is both quick and easy to make.

There are two or three ingredients you might not be familiar with that are common to Thai cooking and used in this soup. Galangal is a rhyzome similar to ginger, but with a more medicinal taste; if you can't find fresh or dried galangal, ginger can be used. Kaffir Lime Leaves are...wait for it...leaves from the Kaffir Lime tree. They really aren't any more pleasant to eat than bay leaves, but they impart a wonderful flavor and aroma. If you can't find them fresh, you might find them frozen or dried at an Asian market. If you can't find them at all, thick strips of lime skin can be used instead. Lemongrass is, well, the woody stalk of a grass with a lemony aroma. It is reasonably easy to locate in most grocery stores in the produce department.

The version of Tom Ka Gai that I typically make isn't really traditional, but it comes close and is lower in fat content. If you want a traditional recipe, visit Steamy Kitchen. Let's make some soup.

First some prep. Start by cutting boneless chicken into bite-size chunks (thigh meat works well), then season and sauté until just cooked through. For seasoning I use the Coconut Thai Blend from Spice and Tea Exchange; it's a blend of coconut flake powder, garlic, salt, onion, cilantro, ginger, chili flakes, and lemongrass. You'll also need scallions, cut into "horse ears" (that's the green part cut on the bias). Optionally, some carrots, thinly sliced and short strips of red bell pepper add flavor and color.

In a pot on the stove, bring one quart or liter of chicken stock and one can of coconut milk or cream to a simmer and stir to combine; the traditional soup uses all coconut milk. Add some lemongrass cut into small chunks, or do like I do: cut the root off and use the stalk to stir the soup, leaving it in the soup during cooking. Add a 1½-inch piece of peeled galangal or slightly less peeled ginger; leave it in one chunk if you plan to remove it before serving, or cut into small slices if you plan to leave it in the soup. Toss in about four Kaffir Lime Leaves or the lime strip substitute. Then add the sautéed chicken. Let simmer about 10–15 minutes.

Add the scallions, and the option carrot and bell pepper, then let simmer five minutes or so. Adjust the seasoning; I like to toss in a pinch or two of red Thai curry spices; the traditional soup includes cilantro. You may either remove the lemongrass, galangal or ginger, and lime leaves before serving, or leave them in and serve it the traditional way. You might want to warn guests that the lemongrass, leaves, and galangal or ginger aren't actually meant for eating.


  1. Tina@flourtraderApril 3, 2012 at 4:06 AM

    This does look like a great soup.  Love the mix of heat, sweet and tart flavors.  Also, good that your version is lower in fat than the standard.   Great post!

  2. I adore tom ka gai - such a beautiful dish. :)

  3. MeredithannmeyerApril 3, 2012 at 5:52 AM

    This was the first Thai dish I ever made and is still one of my favorites!

  4. Yum! This looks really good and refreshing. If you can believe it, we're getting snow here in New Mexico, so I may need to make this! :-) And thank you for the substitutions, they really help!

  5. Snow during Easter week? I guess you won't want to hear about the warm weather here in Western North Carolina then.

  6. Jolene (www.everydayfoodie.ca)April 3, 2012 at 5:49 PM

    This is one of my favourite kinds of soup.  It seems I love anything with lemon grass and kafir lime leaves.

  7. I fell in love with this soup when I lived in Thailand! I can't wait to try your version :)