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Chicken Coconut Soup
tom kha gai
Posted: 15th February 2005

Chicken Coconut Soup with mushroom

I read in the newspaper the other day, that a research team from the UK had proved that an extract of galangal can both kill cancer cells and protect healthy ones from the disease. As this is a common ingredient in Thai stir-fries and soups I was intrigued to learn more. I went onto the Internet and googled "galangal". I eventually found a recipe for Tom Kha Gai (chicken coconut soup). As this is on my favourites list I decided to have a go at cooking it.

My first stop was my collection of cookery books. I soon discovered that although each book had a recipe for Tom Kha Gai they were quite different from each other. From my memory of eating this dish I decided to use the recipe from "Thailand The Beautiful Cookbook". I made a list of the ingredients before setting off to the supermarket. I needed: coconut milk, galangal, lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves, lime juice, coriander leaves and some chili. They wanted green but I wanted red.

(Left): galangal (Right): lemon grass

On the left is the galangal (kha). As you can see, it is similar in appearance to ginger. It is pinkish and has a peppery flavour. The label on the pack said it cost 45 baht per kilo. This pack cost 5.75 baht. More than enough. On the next shelf I noticed another pack with both lemon grass (right), galangal and kaffir lime leaves (below right). These are the ingredients for Lemon Grass Soup (more famously known as Tom Yum). As this was only 7 baht I decided to go for that. (1 US$ is presently 38 baht.) As far as I understand, although these two dishes have similar ingredients, Tom Yum focuses more on the lemon grass and Tom Kha Gai focuses more on the galangal. If you are wondering at this stage what "tom" means then I will tell you that it means "boiled".

(Left): coriander (Right): kaffir lime leaves

Next I needed the coriander or "pak chee" in Thai. There were two varieties on the shelf. One was "pak chee tai" and the other "pak chee jeen". I guess the former was Thai and the latter Chinese. As "pak chee jeen" was translated into "coriander" on the label I knew which one to pick. This only cost 4 baht. Next on my list was the small green limes, coconunt milk, chilis and of course the chicken. Oh yes, did you know that the red chilis that are labelled in English as "red bird chili peppers" are called in Thai "mouse shit chilis"! I wonder why they didn't translate that properly in the supermarket?

Tom Kha Gai - Chicken coconut Soup

2 cups of coconut milk
6 thin slices of galangal
2 stalks of lemon grass (cut into 1 inch strips and crush with cleaver)
5 fresh kaffir lime leaves (torn in half, not cut)
250 g of boneless chicken
5 tablespoons of fish sauce (naam blaa)
2 tablespoons of sugar
Half a cup of lime juice
1 teaspoon of black chili paste (nam prik pow)
Quarter cup of coriander leaves
5 green chili peppers (I will use red chilis)

Method 1:
(1) Combine half the coconut milk with the galangal, lemon grass and lime leaves in a large saucepan and heat to boiling. Add the chicken, fish sauce and sugar.
(2) Simmer for about 4 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked. Add the remaining coconut milk to the saucepan and heat just to boiling.
(3) Place the lime juice and chili paste in a serving bowl then pour the soup into the serving bowl.
(4) Garnish with the torn coriander leaves and chili pepers, and serve.

Other recipes I have read don't include the lemon grass. I also saw another one that said add the chili at the same time as the chicken. I will do that. This next version of the same recipe comes from a book called "Simply Thai Cooking". I am thinking I will go for a mixture of the two. However, they say add lemon juice which I don't have!

Method 2:
(1) Slice the chicken into thin strips.
(2) Smash lemon grass with the flat side of a chef's knife once and then cut into 1 inch pieces; slice galangal into thin rounds; tear lime leaves into thirds; cut chilis in half.
(3) Heat coconut milk and water in a saucepan for 2-3 minutes. Don't let it boil. Reduce heat to a medium and add lemon grass, galangal, lime leaves, chilies and cook for another 2 minutes, stirring continuously and not letting it boil.
(4) Add chicken strips and cook for 5 minutes, stirring over medium heat, until the chicken is cooked.
(5) Add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, 1 tablespoon of fish sauce and quarter tablespoon of sugar. stir, and continue cooking for another minute or two/
(6) Transfer to a soup bowl and serve immediately, garnished with fresh corriander leaves.

Well, I think everything is ready. I am off now to cook some Tom Kha Gai. Wish me luck!

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