Thai-Style Coconut Soup as a Main Dish

Tom Kha Gai Goong and more…

If you love Tom Kha Gai or Tom Kha Goong – that is the wonderful Thai soup with chicken (gai) or shrimp (goong) – here’s my double-whammy easy and quick recipe that you’re sure to love.

By adding more meaty ingredients such as shrimp, chicken, mushrooms, and more, this soup transforms into a great meal in itself. You can beef this up with so many proteins and veggies that I’ve found if you have a large crowd, you may want to put some items in dishes where people can serve themselves, if you have picky eaters, that is.

I’ve broken this down into two parts so you can decide what ingredients you’ll want to include to make it a meal.

Here are my suggestions to amp up your meal. You can use all, some, or any combination:

  • about 4 ounces of chicken tenders (this is the best cut for this dish), chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
  • about 4 ounces of shrimp, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
  • about a cup of mushrooms – try a variety: shiitake, brown oyster, button, king trumpet, maitake, straw, beech (enoki are a bit too fine for this dish)
  • about 4 ounces of firm tofu, cubed (see note about tofu at the bottom)
  • 1/2 cup vegetables such as zucchini, carrots, onion, snap peas or snow peas, baby corn, Japanese eggplant – cut into 1/2-inch rounds or thin matchsticks
  • 1/4 cup bamboo shoots, cut into matchsticks

Other possible options include lobster pieces, crab meat, chunks of fresh white fish like grouper or haddock. Each piece should be in small 1/2-inch chunks so you can get several bites of goodness on one spoonful.

DIRECTIONS: after deciding how many wonderful things you will be adding to your soup, pan fry ingredients over medium-high heat with enough olive oil until they are done. For mushrooms, be sure to caramelize edges as it adds another dimension of flavor to the pot. Set ingredients aside. If you have picky eaters, set those less desired ingredients in a separate bowl for fans to add later.

Essential ingredients for the base of the soup:

  • 1 Tablespoon of olive oil
  • 2 Tablespoons of minced ginger
  • 1 Tablespoon of lemongrass paste
  • 1 Tablespoon of red curry paste or chili garlic sauce
  • 1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes
  • 32-oz carton of chicken broth (I use low sodium)
  • 1/4 cup of Three Crabs fish sauce
  • 1 to 2 Tablespoons of brown sugar (can use coconut palm sugar, Dominos Brownulated sugar or cactus honey powder)
  • 2 to 3 cans of coconut milk
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 lime, quartered
  • 1 chili pepper, sliced in rings, optional garnish

In a non-stick pot, heat olive oil and add ginger and lemongrass paste and cook until ginger softens. Add the curry paste or chili garlic sauce and the red pepper flakes to release the oils, but don’t let it burn – it will only take a minute or two.

While the curry paste is more authentic, we made this dish with chili garlic sauce when we were out of curry paste, and we never missed it.

Add the carton of chicken broth, fish sauce, and brown sugar. Heat to just boiling, then reduce and simmer. While simmering, add two cans of coconut milk and cilantro. Taste to see if there is enough coconut milk. If not, add more. You want a deep undertone of coconut richness before adding the lime as the balance between coconut milk and lime is the key.

Now, squeeze enough lime quarters, tasting after each, until you pucker and want to shout, “Umami!” The amount of lime depends on the size and the juiciness of the lime, so it will vary each time. When I make this, I typically add up to 3/4 of a lime. If you continue cooking or if you add the lime too early, you will cook away that twang that is the hallmark of this dish.

When I get the balance right, I then add all the yummy proteins and veggies I previously cooked and warm a minute before ladling into a big bowl.

Note about tofu: if you like some crispy bits in your soup, you can pan-fry tofu until it’s a crispy crouton and add later. Alternately, you can add tofu in slices or cubes as is to the soup.

If desired, garnish with cilantro, chili pepper slice, and/or small lime slice.