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Thai Coconut Chicken Soup

Reprinted from Feeding the Whole Family by Cynthia Lair (Sasquatch Books, 2008)

Otherwise known as Tom Ka Gai, this traditional Thai soup uses coconut milk, lemon grass and fish sauce to form a flavorful base.  For a vegetarian version omit chicken and fish sauce (you will need to add additional salt to compensate for this) and add raw or fried tofu
cubes with the bok choy and cilantro.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, thinly sliced into half moons
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons grated
˝ teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 6-8" stalk lemon grass
˝ pound boneless, skinless
chicken breasts
1 14-ounce can
coconut milk
2-3 cups water
3-4 tablespoons fish sauce
1 large baby bok choy, sliced thin
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Heat oil in a small soup pot over medium heat.   Stir in onion, garlic and salt and sauté until onion is translucent.  Add ginger, red pepper, coriander and cumin and cook until fragrant, 2 minutes.  

Bisect the lemon grass stalk lengthwise.  You will see a small core at the bottom.  Cut out the core and chop ˝" or so of the stalk where it is tender.  To WATCH how to cut lemon grass,
click here.  Add the chopped lemon grass to the other spices and reserve the rest of the stalk.  

Tenderize chicken breast with a meat pounder on both sides and then cut it diagonally into thin strips.  Add chicken to onion and spices and cook, stirring, until chicken is white on the outside.  

Stir in coconut milk,
water, fish sauce and the lemongrass stalk and simmer until chicken is thoroughly cooked and flavors are well blended, about 10 minutes.  Add bok choy and cilantro and simmer another 5 minutes.  Remove stalk before serving.

Preparation time 30 minutes
Makes 4 servings



Christina Bogar
Cooking for my vegetarian family, I've had good luck substituting fish sauce with fermented black bean paste, which I get at an Asian grocery store. It too is very salty and has that funky-smell-delicious-taste quality that makes fish sauce so magical.
January 21, 2011, 1:31 pm

can you use galangal? Lime leaf? Do they make a difference? I like the idea of just ginger cause it's so available.
January 21, 2011, 2:26 pm

Michelle D
This was fantastic! I was wondering what to have for lunch and this showed up in my inbox, I had everything, and WOW! Quick, easy, deee-liciou!
January 21, 2011, 2:42 pm

Sarah Kingston
Wow, I'm so jealous of Michelle D. I'm missing all the important things (lemongrass, chicken, fish sauce) and it's 1 degree outside, so I'm not going to get them.
January 21, 2011, 2:50 pm

Cynthia Lair
Christina - good call on the fermented black bean paste - a great vegetarian substitute. Paul - YES you can thrown a Kaffir lime leaf in there. It only makes it better. I haven't tried also adding galangal but why not?!
January 21, 2011, 4:02 pm

Shelly N
This is one of my absolute favorite recipes from Feeding the Whole Family!! It's so flavorful - love it!
January 21, 2011, 4:11 pm

Emily Kaminsky
Can you substitute lemongrass in a jar for the fresh? Our coop doesn't sell it fresh at least not in the winter but it's in the Asian section in a jar. Thanks!
January 21, 2011, 6:24 pm

Cynthia Lair
I've never tried jarred lemongrass. Anyone else? Seems like it could work.
January 22, 2011, 11:04 am

Liza H
This soup is sooo yummy! I've been wanting to make it ever since I bought your cookbook. Last week I finally saw lemon grass in our grocery store :) Thanks for the how to video. And thanks to my baby girl for napping long enough for me to make it.
January 24, 2011, 1:31 pm

Julia Elman
I made this last night and it was SUPER yummy! I did use about a 1/4 cup of the jarred lemongrass, minus the liquid that came in it. I wanted to make sure that no other flavors besides the lemongrass was included in the recipe. It turned out great and my picky husband LOVED! Thank you Cynthia!
January 26, 2011, 12:40 pm

Cynthia, it's time again for our appreciation weekend and this is on our list to make for the weekend. i am trying to decide on one or two other recipes of yours to make as well!!!....maybe fish tacos?? What's your favorite dinner dish?
January 27, 2011, 2:18 pm

Cynthia Lair
Oh my goodness Sara. So hard to pick something out. What I'm excited to cook changes like the weather. I do love the fish tacos. Sometimes a teriyaki sounds just right. I also adore Indian food so I'm up for the Chickpea Vegetable Curry with Raita or the Chicken Tikka Masala... Your appreciation means so much to us!
January 28, 2011, 9:08 am

Cookus gang, This soup was amazing and the best treat was meeting Steve that night!!! I laughed so hard I cried! So so great!
February 7, 2011, 2:40 pm

Elizabeth Anderson
OH MAH WORD!! This was simply Husband said that this was better than any he had had in a restaurant (of course, we are in Virginia)My new years resolution was to simply eat more veggies...that is how I found your website. Oh how I love your fun non-preachy whole foods recipes and improv demos! Keep it up...I love watching! there an order one could watch the videos so that you can get the character development better?
February 15, 2012, 12:36 pm

Phyllis Strickland
Looks like a great recipe but what can I substitute for lemongrass? I live in a semi-rural area where grocery stores do not carry exotic Asian ingredients.
February 16, 2012, 1:55 pm

Bethy Levy
I LOVE tom ka, and have made it many times. Thank You for posting this lovely recipe, Cynthia! I would suggest not necessarily using galangal and ginger together (although you wouldn't get arrested), but I would never think of making it without kaffir lime leaves or mushrooms. My favorite version to make and eat includes scallops and prawns as well. Sriricha is a condiment that goes hand-in-glove with tom ka. Now I need to make some! mmmmmmmmmmmm
February 16, 2012, 3:18 pm

Cynthia Lair
Phyllis, try adding a teaspoon of lemon or lime zest to replace the lemongrass.
February 16, 2012, 4:32 pm

Amy Fleischer
How did you know I was going to make this today? I got all the ingredients the other day after finding it in your archives and just today I received your prompt in my inbox. Clearly, it was meant to be. This soup is delicious!
February 16, 2012, 8:23 pm

Chelsey Craven
First of all, I discovered this site when I was searching for a recipe that would turn me into a kale lover. Found it! The massaged kale salad is now a staple in my house. I watch these videos all the time now! I'm wondering if I could cut up and saute a giant white chantrelle mushroom instead of the chicken. I'm toying with the idea of becoming a vegetarian. I can't wait to make this soup!
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