This Tom Kha Gai soup is SUPER easy and loaded with all the great flavors and textures you’re looking for such as tangy lime, creamy coconut, spicy cayenne, and tender chicken!
I never thought I’d be able to make really good Thai food at home, because the flavors are SO delicious and complex. I was pleasantly surprised, however, that one of my favorite dishes: tom kha gai, is incredibly easy.
This soup is just as quick to make as any other soup recipe . . . . the rich, complex flavors come from creamy coconut, spicy ginger, salty fish sauce, and earthy lemongrass. All which are pretty easy to find at your standard grocery store.
What is tom kha gai soup?
Tom Kha Gai is a creamy, spicy, slightly sour Thai chicken soup. It’s a variation of the traditional Thai dish, Tom Kha. The “gai” translates to “chicken” which is added!
The creaminess comes from full-fat, canned coconut milk, the spiciness comes from a dash of cayenne pepper and freshly grated ginger, and the sour comes from traditional fish sauce and loads of lime juice.
This is a surprisingly simple ingredient list for such a complex soup:
- Chicken Breast – soaks up the flavors in the soup and adds some delicious protein to the dish.
- Vegetable Oil – has a neutral flavor perfect for highlighting the strong flavors brought to the dish by the other ingredients.
- Coconut Milk – adds a creaminess to the broth. I find coconut milk in the “international aisle” of my grocery store.
- Chicken Broth – is the base of the soup and adds so much flavor.
- White Mushrooms – soak up the flavor of the broth and add texture to the soup.
- Fresh Ginger – adds zest to the flavor profile. Although most Tom Kha Gai soups use gangalal, I decided to use ginger instead to make it easy since gangalal isn’t always as accessible.
- Fish Sauce – creates an earthy, savory, salty taste. Fish sauce gives that traditional “Thai” flavor. I find coconut milk in the “international aisle” of my grocery store.
- Lime Juice – offsets other bold flavors with its bright citrusy taste.
- Cayenne Pepper – adds spice and heat.
- Lemongrass – perfectly highlights the lime juice with additional fresh, citrus flavor. No lemongrass? Try the zest of 1-2 lemons instead (*not tested).
- Green Onion – makes a great garnish and adds just a little of that onion sweetness.
- Cilantro – is another great garnish and adds just a little earthy, tangy flavor to finish out the soup.
You shouldn’t have any trouble finding any of these ingredients at your local grocery store other than the lemon grass. If you can’t find lemon grass, you’ll often to be able to find lemongrass paste near the herbs in the produce section. If you can’t find the paste, try lemon zest like I suggest above.
How to make thai tom kha gai soup
- Cook chicken in a skillet with oil.
- Mix chicken and veggies into prepped broth in a large stockpot.
- Simmer, garnish, and serve!
Chicken is sautéed in a bit of oil before stirring in the remainder of the ingredients to seal in the juices and add a bit of flavor. Once everything else is added the soup is simmer allowing the chicken and mushrooms to cook through and deepen the flavor of the broth.
Coconut milk shouldn’t really curdle, but if you’re worried about it, be sure to keep your soup at a simmer, not a boil.
What’s the difference between tom yum and tom kha?
Tom Yum is another hot and sour Thai soup. Although they are both similar and delicious, the primary difference is that Tom Kha soup has coconut milk added which gives the broth a creamier texture and fuller flavor.
Personally, I prefer Tom Kha soup just because the coconut milk works to balance the heat added by the spices creating a well-rounded flavor profile.
Another great Thai recipe that uses coconut milk is my Slow Cooker Thai Chicken Soup Recipe!
How to make tom kha soup vegetarian
Making Tom Kha Soup vegetarian is easy:
- Omit the fish sauce (you may need a couple glugs of soy sauce to make up for the umami flavor)
- Swap chicken broth for veggie broth
- Replace the chicken with tofu
How to serve
This soup is so good stand-alone but if you want to bulk up your meal a bit it’s also so delicious served over a bed of steamed, brown rice! So healthy, so simple, and SO tasty!
How to store
If you have leftovers you can store it in the refrigerator for up to five days or in the freezer for up to three months.
The great thing about soup is that it tastes just as good, if not better, leftover!
Tom Kha Gai Soup
Equipment for this recipe
- 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts*
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 (14 oz) cans coconut milk
- 2 cups chicken broth
- 1 (4 oz) white mushrooms sliced
- 1 (1 inch) piece ginger peeled and halved
- 3 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper or more to taste
- 2 stalks fresh lemongrass tough outer layers removed, and cut into 4 pieces
- thinly sliced green onion for garnish
- chopped fresh cilantro for garnish
- Cut chicken into chunks. Heat pan over medium heat. Add in oil and chicken and sauté for to 2 to 3 minutes. Salt slightly. The chicken won’t be cooked through, it’ll continue to cook in the soup later on.
- In a pot, bring coconut milk and chicken broth to a barely simmer over medium heat. Whisk to break up milk.
- Add in the chicken, mushrooms, ginger, fish sauce, lime juice, cayenne powder and lemon grass. Simmer until the chicken is done and the mushrooms are tender, 10 to 15 minutes. You may need to lower heat.
- Sprinkle with green onion and fresh cilantro and serve steaming hot. I also love serving this over steamed brown rice!
*Note: Nutrition information is estimated and varies based on products used.
This post was originally published on February 13, 2015 and has been updated to provide more detailed information.