Thursday, January 8, 2009

Tom Ka Gai Soup

The foods of foreign lands fascinate me and among my favorites are Thai dishes. I think the allure of world cuisines began early as my mother introduced us to the basics in Mexican, Chinese and Italian cooking. When I was eleven, our family adopted a little girl from Pakistan and Mom, with cookbook in hand, led us to Indian cuisine with its wonderful curry’s and flatbreads. We dabbled with Vegetarianism off and on throughout my childhood, and college brought an introduction to Greek and Japanese foods such as Gyros, Bento and Sushi.

When I was pregnant with my first child, I worked with a little Vietnamese woman who introduced me to kimche and told me that the spicy fermented vegetables she had buried in her back yard would positively bring on labor—it didn’t although at about that time, I also heard that Thai ‘spicy’ food worked much better for late babies. At any rate, I never got around to trying Thai food until a few years later when we moved to a new town that had a wonderful Thai restaurant, which we came to visit regularly. A budget crunch brought me my first Thai cookbook, and I was soon dabbling in making my own exotic dishes, which by now, were family favorites. You can’t imagine my delight when my brother-in-law called a few months later to say he was engaged to a Thai native—I now have a wonderful resource in May, his wife.

The recipe I want to share with you is one I created from about four or five I found on the internet but May assures me that it is authentic. I hope you’ll enjoy.

A note about special ingredients: This recipe has several ingredients that are special to Thai cooking. If you have an Asian market in your neighborhood, these ingredients should be easy to obtain. However, if you live in the Boonies as I do, not all is lost. What I usually do is buy in bulk when I’m in the “Big City” and then keep the ingredients stored in the freezer. I have also purchased them over the internet and I have listed two sites I have used with excellent results in the past. The ingredients are something of a nuisance to obtain but believe me—it is worth it!

Lemon grass—a citrus flavored grass native to India.

Galangal Root—also known as white ginger, has a unique taste but is similar in shape and texture to ginger you find in western markets. Do not substitute Ginger for Galangal Root.

Kaffir Lime Leaves—leaves from a kaffir lime tree…they have a pungent lime/citrus flavor that is delicious. Also of interest is their unique 'double leaf' shape.

Tom Ka Gai Soup (Thai Coconut Chicken Soup)

This recipe serves about 4. I usually double it and we eat it over jasmine rice.

1 can Coconut Milk (best is Aroy-D Brand)
1 ½ can Chicken Broth
4-5 Kaffir Lime leaves-bruised to release flavor
1 inch galangal root- sliced thin
4 Tbs Fish Sauce (best is Squid brand)
4-5 pieces (2”) lemon grass- bruised. (About 2 stalks)
2 boneless skinless chicken breast. Cut into thin strips
*2 fresh Thai chili’s minced to taste for spice
1 bunch scallions, minced
2 Tbs lime juice
1 fresh tomato, chopped
1-2 cups fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 ½ t sugar-taste to see if soup needs before adding
½ cup Cilantro, chopped

Place coconut milk, chicken broth, kaffir leaves, galangal root, and lemon grass in pot and bring to a boil.

Reduce heat. Add chicken and simmer about 10 min or until chicken is cooked. Add chilies, tomato and scallion and cook additional 3 min.

Add fish sauce, lime juice, cilantro and mushrooms. Heat through. Serve immediately.

*I usually do not add the chili’s directly to the soup because the kids won’t eat 'spicy' yet. We actually like a fried chili paste added individually to each bowl. This allows each individual to adjust the spice to his or her own taste. The spice is necessary…the soup is bland without it.

If you do find this brand at your local Asian market….beware! Fiery would be an understatement! A little bit goes a long way...but it is delicious.

Web Sites for Ingredients: or here

Photo’s of Kaffir leaves, Lemongrass, and Galangal Root snagged from:

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