Tom Kha (Thai Coconut Soup)
This is a vegan version of my favorite soup. I first tried tom kha in Thailand when studying there during college, and was left speechless. The astounding combination of flavors was unlike anything I had ever experienced. Here in Boston, the best spot for tom kha is, hands down, My Thai Vegan Café. Or, it turns out to be quite easy to make at home! All of the ingredients can be found at your local Asian grocery store. Fresh galangal is best, but I have made this soup quite successfully with dried galangal that I soak in water for a few hours ahead of time. If you have access to kaffir lime leaves, they are traditionally used rather than limes and impart a much more complex flavor to the broth. I recommend lite coconut milk to reduce the saturated fat content, though a full fat coconut milk brings an unequaled richness to the soup.
The coconut is the most famous member of the palm family, Arecaceae. Coconuts grow nearly anywhere tropical, and have planted themselves all over the world by floating across the seas. Its fruit is not a nut at all; it’s a drupe! And it is an indehiscent fruit, meaning that it has no built-in opening mechanism – hence the need for a hammer and nail to access its sweet water and dense flesh. Coconut is very high in saturated fat, but also offers high amounts of fiber and some micronutrients. Not only can it be consumed as food and drink; it is touted to have many health applications. The leaves, oils, shells and outer fiber are used to produce many goods including roofing, lubricants, fabrics, utensils, jewelry, and potting mix for plant propagation. The coconut’s high economic value supports the livelihoods of millions of people. A Phillippine proverb says, “He who plants a coconut tree, plants vessels and clothing, food and drink, a habitation for himself, and a heritage for his children.” In some classical Indian writing, the coconut palm is called Kalpavriksha, “the all giving tree.”
For the broth:
1 can lite coconut milk
3 cups vegetable broth
Bottom stalk/roots of one bunch of cilantro
2 large or 3 medium stalks lemongrass, sliced into wheels
¼ cup sliced galangal
1 large hot pepper, sliced in half
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 large or 2 medium garlic cloves, minced
Zest of 1 lime
salt to taste
For the body:
1 cup baby bok choi, quartered
1 cup mushrooms, sliced or chopped
¼ cup sundried tomatoes, finely chopped
1 package soft tofu, cubed
½ can cut baby corn, drained
½ can bamboo shoots, drained
1 cup cooked sweet potato chunks (optional)
½ cup steamed radish chunks (optional)
½ cup cilantro, chopped, for garnish
1. Combine coconut milk, vegetable broth, cilantro root, lemongrass, galangal, and hot pepper in a soup pot. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 30 minutes. Strain out chunks and squeeze well to get all the good juices into the pot.
3. Add bok choi, mushrooms, sundried tomatoes, tofu, baby corn, bamboo shoots, sweet potato, and radish. Simmer for 10 more minutes.
4. If a sweeter soup is desired, add 1-2 teaspoons of sugar. If a more sour soup is desired, add 1 tablespoon lime juice.
5. Serve topped with chopped cilantro.