Contains: Fish sauce, coconut, optional nightshade. Is: Whole 30, Paleo, gluten-free.
Prepared for the start of the Asian Lunar Calendar, Year of the Rat. I absolutely LOVE Tom Kha style soups. I’ve finally made one that I’m happy to bring HOME with me!
I just discovered a great website filled with information about the Chinese lunar cycle and the meaning of each lunar year. I’ll post all that and a synopsis at the end of the recipe, so you can get to cooking now.
I am adapting a recipe from Russ Crandall’s book, Paleo Take Out: Restaurant Favorites without the Junk. Because I seriously prefer the dark meat of chicken, that’s what I’m using here. Bone-less, skinless, chicken thigh. I’m sure that over in Thailand they don’t limit themselves to the breast, even if that is how most of the recipes that land in the West are written. You are welcome to use whatever part of the chicken you prefer in this recipe. Or, a combination. I’ll note that supermarket American chicken breast seriously lacks much intrinsic flavor – so I have no quibbles about trying to make this dish taste appropriately better. In a supermarket, I still try to buy organic or better yet, humanely raised, chicken. More on principle there than actual taste.
Unfortunately for America’s Test Kitchen and their words o “wisdom”, in some instances you CAN overcook mushrooms, depending on their purpose. I simmer these for 2 minutes – enough to make soft and cooked without mushing them. This works for either the button, Portobello, or shiitake mushrooms. Enoki, being so thin, cook faster. I still need to work out optimal timing for oyster mushrooms. I hereby proclaim that mushrooms for Asian soups can definitely be overcooked if one is not careful.
Home grown ingredients here: My chicken stock came from home-grown cockerel chicken bones and feet. The kefir lime leaves were from my own kefir lime tree. Er, sapling. The lone Thai pepper was the last of my personal crop, admittedly quite a small crop.
Prep Time: 25-30 minutes.
Cook Time: About 30-35 minutes.
Rest Time: about 3-5 minutes, to keep from burning your mouth.
Leftovers: YES! The mushrooms may be a bit more mushy, but all is still good. Add any garnishes (cilantro, mint) at time of serving.
Tom Kha Gai (Chicken Coconut Galangal) Soup
- 3 cups / mL of chicken broth, preferably home made but do as you do. I recommend low sodium if you buy the boxed broth.
- 1.333 cups / 315 mL of water. You can be flexible here, depending on how strong your stock is.
- 4 kaffir lime leaves, fresh or dried. Tear roughly into small bits. In a pinch, use grated zest from one lime.
- 1 and a half stalks of lemongrass (white parts), slice thin. I used lemongrass powder, a heaping teaspoon. Nowhere near as good, but it is what it is.
- 1.5 inches of peeled galangal or ginger, minced. Galangal is preferred. Again, my galangal is here as a powder, so I added a heaping teaspoon of galangal, plus a half teaspoon ginger minced.
Combine all the soup base ingredients in your cooking pot, and boil with high heat. Once boiling, reduce to a good simmer for 15, maybe 20 minutes. Strain out solids. Return stock to stockpot.
- 11 ounces / 300 grams boneless, skinless chicken thigh, about 2 thighs. Cut off any fat. Slice into 1-2 inch / 1.5 – 3 cm long segments, about 0.3 – 0. 4 inches / 1 cm wide. You can use boneless skinless breast if you prefer – perhaps a little less as you’ll be removing less fat.
- 1 can/14 ounces/ grams full fat coconut milk. (I buy Taste of Thai or Thai Kitchen).
- 5 ounces mushrooms. You can use just about any type (no morels), but for this I prefer shiitake. Remove stems if shiitake.
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce. I like the Vietnamese “Red Boat” sauce.
- Chili pepper – I used finely diced Thai pepper (mostly de-seeded) and a small thinly-sliced jalapeno (also mostly de-seeded). Adjust to your desire.
- Juice of 1/2 lime.
- Salt to taste.
- Cilantro or mint leaves as garnish.
To the stockpot with the soup base, add the chicken. Return to a boil and reduce heat to a good simmer. For the thigh meat, simmer for 7-8 minutes. If you are using white breast meat, you only need to do this about 4 minutes.
Toss in the coconut milk,the fish sauce, and any chili pepper you like. Allow that to cook until the coconut milk mixes in, you will need to stir periodically. Perhaps five minutes.
Add the mushrooms, and simmer 2 minutes longer.
Add the lime juice, and mix. Then remove from heat. Taste and add salt as needed, perhaps about a half teaspoon. Adjust lime and fish sauce as desired.
Serve. Ideally, top individual servings with cilantro leaves. Torn mint leaves worked as well. This is indeed a highlight dish in my kitchen so far for 2020!!!
Yes, we are taking this delicious (I mean I LOVE this thing) over to the following linky-style party sites, and I’ll be adding them here:
About the Chinese cycle of years: (NOTE some of the other regional cultures may see this a bit differently.)
The Chinese (and east Asian) year of the rat starts January 25th, 2020. Despite the associations in much of the western world of rats being unsavory, unsanitary and disgusting, rats are really bright creatures. I even have a friend who has had pet rats for over 20 years – she wanted pets and her husband was allergic to cats and dogs, but can tolerate rat dander. I’ve worked with rats in my past career, and yes, they are intelligent and much more personable than, say, mice or guinea pigs. Yes, they can’t apparently be trained to eliminate body functions in a litter box, but if you want one as a pet, simply cleaning their housing every two or three days suffices, and they do groom themselves. Home-raised rats aren’t going to carry diseases any more than your home-raised dog or cat.
I don’t think it is a general thing for Asians to have pet Rats at home (they don’t tend to have pet Ox, Snakes or Dragons, either… ) Just noting that rats are not necessarily disgusting, if they’re not coming in from your sewers or such. And thus, being born in the Year of the Rat isn’t a bad thing.
So, anyhow, the Year of the Rat, which is the first year of the lunar cycle:
Rat Year qualities for people born in a Rat Year:
“Rats are quick-witted, resourceful, and smart but lack courage. With rich imaginations and sharp observations, they can take advantage of various opportunities well.”
In Chinese culture, rats represent working diligently and thriftiness, so people born in a Rat year are thought to be wealthy and prosperous.” Rats are least likely to get along with Horse or Rooster folk.
See, not so bad? But beyond this, there is a further 60 year cycle, with different types of rats (and other zodiac critters). There are Wood, Fire, Earth, Water and Gold rats – and so 2020 is a Gold Rat year. (The previous one was 1960.) A gold rat? “Smart, talented, hot-tempered, jealous, with a strong sense of self-awareness“.
Recent rat years: 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008, and 2020.
PS, I’m a Snake. Yeah, that’s me. (House Slytherin???) This sign also has good features (They all do). TBH I’m not sure about any form of astrology, but I find the ideas interesting in a benevolently-amusing way. AND I’m happy to celebrate the Asian Lunar New Year as far as I’m able, each year. I’m apparently also a Water Snake – does this make me a water moccasin??