Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Tom Khar Kai (Thai Coconut Chicken Soup)

When you're sick with winter sniffles, chicken soup might be the most comforting of foods. But sometimes, when I'm really clogged up and sore of throat, old-fashioned grandmotherly chicken soup just doesn't register with my dulled senses. That's when I pull out the big guns-- punchy lime, spicy fresh garlic, tangy-hot fresh ginger, and red curry paste that packs a sinus-clearing wallop.

That's right-- Thai. Its good for what ails you! Garlic, citrus, ginger, onion-- all chock full of antioxidants, and supportive to an immune system under duress. But don't wait for the flu to make this wonderful soup-- its awesome any time of year, and although there are a few ingredients that might send you hunting the aisles, once you have them on hand, its easy to throw together. We make this soup at least once a month, and more during the snuffly-sniffly days of late winter and early spring.

This is one recipe where I'm going to exhort you not to swap out dried ingredients for the fresh ones specified, and BEG you not to skip the garnishes. This soup is not complicated, but it is a sum of vital parts, and if you leave anything out, it suffers. Have someone keep you company while you chop and mince; stick a bunch of cilantro in their hands and enjoy a quiet chat while the luscious smells mingle together and waft up from your knife and cutting board to tantalize you. Breathe deeply. This is food the way it was meant to be.

Tom Khar Kai
Serves 6
Garnish: 2 limes, cut into wedges; 1/2 bunch of cilantro, rinsed and plucked.
  • 1/4 c. minced garlic
  • 1/4 c. minced ginger (I throw these both into my mini food processor together.)
  • 2 T. red curry paste (Adjust to taste-- this amount would be mild by my estimation.)
  • 1 lg. sweet onion, cut into 1" chunks
  • 1/4 c. of coconut oil (or vegetable or peanut oil)
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1" chunks
  • 1 - 2 lbs. mushrooms, sliced (Traditionally straw mushrooms, but I've used many types and been pleased! Cremini or white are my favorites, and more readily available than straw.)
  • 3 stalks fresh lemongrass, cut diagonally into 1" chunks (I cheated and used lemongrass paste here-- not the best option, but fresh was out of stock.)
  • 1/4 c. chicken soup stock base (I use paste-type bouillion)
  • 2 - 14 oz. cans of coconut milk (plus 7 c. water, or 4 - 14 oz. cans' worth)
  • 1 t. sea salt, to taste
  • 2 T. fish sauce (nam pla), to taste
Prepare and set aside all ingredients (except garnish, which can be prepared during the simmer stage). Like all Thai curries, this goes together in a rush, so have everything ready and waiting at hand. I can't overemphasize this step.

Heat coconut oil in large, heavy bottomed pot over as high heat as you are comfortable with. I work over pretty high heat, but the first time you may want to start lower, until you get a feel for this process.

When oil is hot, add curry paste; smush with a rubber spatula, stir-frying till bubbly and spread into a thin layer.

Add garlic and ginger; stir-fry, keeping it moving constantly, scraping the pan, till amalgamated and garlic is softening slightly.

Add onions, stir well to coat; then stir in stock paste. Continue stirring and scraping till onions are starting to soften and become translucent.

Add chicken, and salt; stir-fry. If pan is sticking, go ahead and add coconut milk at this point. Otherwise, wait till the chicken is white on the outside, then add coconut milk, lemongrass, and 4 cans of water.

Bring this to a boil; then add mushrooms. Reduce heat to medium, and simmer about 10 minutes, or till chicken is fully cooked in the center and mushrooms are softened slightly. Add fish sauce, adjust to taste.

I usually add 1/4 c. or more fresh lime juice after I take the soup off the heat, but I'll leave that up to you; certain times of year, limes are more readily available and less expensive than others!)Either way, garnish with lots of cilantro and fresh lime wedges for squeezing.


ms. v said...

this sounds pretty delicious! and THICK. :)

Gwuinifer said...

Ah, I forgot to put into the ingredients list (though it is in the step-by-step instructions) that there are four coconut milk cans full of water, too. :) Thanks for catching that for me! You rock!

Michelle said...

How did I not know you had a food blog? Tom Khar Kai should have kaffir lime leaf. I'm lucky enough that kaffir lime leaf and lemongrass stalks sell for $1 (for a lot) at our local farmer's market. I make this stuff all the time!

Gwuinifer said...

@ Michelle-- Yes, it is definitely best with kaffir lime, fresh lemongrass, and real galangal. However, the only store that sells those items in my neck of the woods is over an hour's drive from here. :( Another awesome reason to live in Hawaii, eh? :D

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