I've been monitoring the aftermath of the Japanese earthquake, and my heart weighs heavily for those enduring tragedy and uncertainty from that disaster. I've only been in one major earthquake in my life, Loma Prieta in 1989, which registered 6.9 on the Richter Scale. And while that was considered a big one for California, it is in orders of magnitude smaller than the one in Japan. In fact, because of the logarithmic measurement of the Richter Scale - meaning that the magnitude goes up exponentially - the 9.0 Japanese earthquake was roughly 900 times stronger than Loma Prieta. That's astounding considering that Loma Prieta was able to topple the upper deck of the Bay Bridge and ignite several fires throughout San Francisco. I can't imagine the damage nor the human tragedy that Japan must be sustaining at this time and my heart goes out to them.
From start to finish, this soup can be made under an hour. If you are a vegetarian or vegan, firm tofu and vegetable broth can easily be substituted for chicken, with very subtle differences in flavor. If you are in the New York area, kaffir lime leaves can be found Eataly, and occasionally at Whole Foods. However, if you do not have access to either, grated lime zest works well as a substitute. For a richer broth, I recommend using coconut milk from Native Forest, which I found at Whole Foods or Chakoah, which can be found at most Asian supermarkets.
Tom Kha Gai Chicken Coconut Soup with Lemongrass
From Williams Sonoma
- 4 cups chicken broth
- 8 large slices peeled fresh galangal or 4 slices peeled fresh ginger
- 1 large lemongrass stalk, cut into 2-inch pieces, crushed
- 16 fresh kaffir lime leaves, torn in half, or grated zest of 1 large lime
- 2 cans (each 14 oz.) coconut milk
- 1/4 cup lime or lemon juice
- 2 to 3 tablespoons Thai fish sauce
- 2 Tablespoons light brown sugar
- 1 Tablespoon red chili paste
- 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts, (or firm tofu for a vegetarian option), cut into bite-size pieces
- 1/2 lb fresh white mushrooms, brushed clean and thinly sliced
- 5 small fresh red or green chilies, sliced crosswise paper-thin (optional)
- Fresh cilantro leaves for garnish (optional)
- In a large saucepan, combine the broth, galangal, lemongrass and lime leaves. Place over medium heat and slowly bring to a boil. Boil for 1 minute.
- Reduce the heat to low, add the coconut milk, stir to combine and bring to a simmer. Add the lime juice, fish sauce, brown sugar and chili paste; mix well and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the chicken pieces and simmer until tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and simmer until tender, about 1 minute more.
- To serve, ladle into warmed bowls. Float the chili slices and cilantro leaves on top. For a more satisfying meal, place a scoop of soft steamed white rice at the bottom of the bowl prior to ladling. The rice will plump up with all of that wonderful aromatic coconut broth.