We are three sisters united in our search for the divine - in food, libation, literature, art, and nature. This blog will capture the true, sometimes decadent, at times humorous, and every so often transcendent adventures of the Salvation Sisters.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Feel Better Soup—Linda's Tom Kha Gai (Chicken Coconut Galangal Soup)

by Linda

"Tom Kha Gai isn't just any dish; it's one of my top five most favorite dishes in the world, Thai or otherwise. At a risk of taking anthropomorphism of food a bit to far, I felt that if I let myself write about Tom Kha Gai with the kind of unbridled affection from the depth of my bowels, I'd bore—or scare—you. Yet if I held back, I'd be remiss for not giving the dish the love it deserves."
                                                                                  ~ Leela Punyaratabandhu @ She Simmers

Instead of trying to find fresh keiffer lime leaves when I need them, I grow a tree in a pot on my patio. They are easy to grow in California, and the flavor is distinctive and is not easy to find a substitute for. For more information on this beautiful tree whose leaves are used in Thai dishes click here
   I learned to love Tom Kha Gai (Chicken Coconut Galangal Soup) when I was first introduced to Thai food—an embarrassing fact about me is that it wasn't all that long ago. Living in the Santa Ynez Valley for most of my life, there just wasn't a Thai Restaurant in town (and there still might not be for that matter). Change comes slowly to the SYV except for all of the rapid change on the Chumash ancestral lands.

   When I was living part-time in Cayucos, California in 2003, my boyfriend at the time, Richard, and I began going to a Thai restaurant in downtown San Luis Obispo called Thai Palace. It was there that I fell in love with flavors that were tantalizingly unfamiliar to my American palate. Later, I became obsessed with finding out how to make it for myself. My first attempts were not that good when I compared them to the soup at the restaurant. I simply could not capture the exact flavor in the soup that I was making at home. My homemade soup was missing something.

   At long last, I am happy to report that I finally nailed it. Suffice it to say, that I can produce a soup at home that I like just as much as the soup prepared by the experts, and it is the soup that I always want went I am sick. Michelle craves her Big Batch Chicken Soup, but I want my homemade Tom Kha Gai.

   Learning to make a Tom Kha that satisfied my palate was a journey. The ingredients have become easier to find over the ensuing years, and I even purchased a keiffer lime tree so that I would always have leaves at the ready. Lemongrass stalks are usually available at my Whole Foods Market, but more often than not, I have to drop by the Asian market across the street from the store where I work to purchase fresh galangal root. My own addition to this classic Thai soup is a bit of fresh turmeric root. It adds a lovely pale yellow to the creamy broth, and, in my opinion and the current scientific research, the more ways one can find to eat turmeric the better. However, if you are a purist, you might not want to include it. I also had my honey simple syrup at the very end for a little sweetness and it adds to the perfumed fragrance of the final dish.

Linda's Tom Kha Gai (Chicken Coconut Galangal Soup)

   This soup is great anytime, and is comforting, especially on a chilly winter's day. As an addition to an Asian-fusion dinner menu, begin the evening with our Pineapple Martinis served along side our Szechuan-Style Ma-La Green Beans as an appetizer. Complement the Tom Kha Gai with Thai Pizza and Dragon Noodles or our Thai Spicy BBQ Chicken with Sweet Chili Sauce and you've served up a memorable meal. Oh, and while you are at it—extend the fun by offering refreshing sorbet for dessert—mango, coconut, or chocolate would be delicious, or a combination of all three.

A large soup pot
A fine mesh sieve
Cleaver or mallet

• 28 ounces homemade chicken broth, or one found in the freezer at your natural foods market (Whole Foods Market carries one called Stock Options that is good).
• 2-13.5 ounce cans of full fat coconut milk, preferably Thai Kitchen®
• 1 large galangal root knob, sliced into thin coins
• 2 fresh lemongrass stalks, sliced in half through the length and cut into three inch pieces. Beat with the back of a heavy chef's cleaver or a mallet to bruise and release essential oils
• 2-3 serrano or Thai chiles
•1 small knob of fresh turmeric cut into thin coins
• 9 smallish fresh keiffer lime leaves (aka kaffir, makrut, wild and Thai lime), stems removed and torn into large pieces. Crush the leaves in your hand before adding to the stock mixture—it's great to have your own tree in a pot
• 1/3 cup Tbsp fish sauce,  preferably Golden Boy or a natural brand with no preservatives
• 4 Tbsps honey simple syrup or coconut sugar
• Sea salt to taste, but the fish sauce should add plenty of saltiness
• 3-4 chicken boneless/skinless chicken breasts, cut into large bite-sized chunks
• 12 large button or oyster mushrooms, sliced (I personally do not like canned mushrooms, so I do not use the traditional straw mushrooms, but use those if you wish)
• 2 cups fresh corn sliced from the cob (optional, it's a great addition to the soup in summer)
• 1/4 cup lime juice, freshly squeezed
• Cilantro sprigs for garnish (optional)

1. Bring chicken broth and coconut milk to a simmer. Keep your temperature low.

2. Add galangal through honey simple syrup or coconut sugar. Simmer until broth is completely infused with the herbs, about 45 minutes. I usually strain the now infused broth through a sieve to remove the spent herbs and leaves. Discard.

3. Add raw chicken cubes to the hot liquid and simmer (do not boil—you want to poach the chicken) until cooked through, about 10 minutes.

4. Add mushrooms, simmer for about five minutes. Add lime juice. Serve in bowls garnished with fresh cilantro.

Servings: 8

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