This tom kha soup recipe (or Thai coconut chicken soup) is absolutely perfect. Rich and creamy yet tangy and salty, this Thai coconut chicken soup recipe is filling but light and positively bursting with flavor. The very best tom kha gai recipe I’ve ever made or tried. With Whole30, paleo, and vegan options, too.
Let’s go ahead and talk about the best soup of all time.
That’s right: tom kha soup. AKA Thai coconut chicken soup. AKA tom kha gai. And you know what? I have a really solid story to go along with this recipe.
Why This Is the Best Tom Kha Soup Recipe (Ever):
- There’s a secret ingredient that adds a savoriness to this Thai tom kha gai coconut chicken soup recipe that takes it all to the next level.
- It’s creamy and sweet and salty and spicy and bright all in one.
- This tom kha soup recipe is actually quite easy to make and doesn’t require too many weird ingredients. You should be able to get everything from the regular grocery store!
- I’ve included Whole30 and vegan options so you can enjoy this tom kha soup all the time, even if you’re avoiding added sugars or you don’t eat animal products.
Restaurant-Style Tom Kha Gai Soup
When I was in college, I fell in love with cooking. Like, swept me off my feet, fall flat on my back, obsess over it day in and day out in love. And so, it being 2006, I started a recipezaar.com account. I went into detail about my obsessions and how the one recipe I always wanted to learn to make was the fresh salsa from my favorite Mexican restaurant. In fact, you can read the story here and get the recipe for the best restaurant style salsa ever by clicking here. You’ll thank me later (pretty sure).
What happened was this: a guy at my college found my profile on the recipezaar.com and saw that it was my lifelong dream to recreate this salsa. He reached out to the head of marketing or CEO or something like that at the restaurant in question and told her this sob story about how we were engaged and living abroad and I was terribly homesick and all he wanted to do for Christmas was make me a giant feast to remember home, including this salsa that I loved so much, of course.
So what did she do? She gave him the recipe of course. Of course.
And then he gave me the recipe of course. Of. Course. And then we got to talking and, no, unfortunately our leading fella isn’t my husband and the father of my children (Because wouldn’t that be just too damn much?), but he did the same thing for me later with this tom kha soup. You see, there’s something about this recipe that’s just not like the others. Something better.
This tom kha soup is based off the exceptional dish found at a local chain of restaurants in the state where I went to college. It was different than the Thai coconut chicken soup I’d had before, and it sold me forever and ever on Thai food. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it solo, though, but it all made sense when he got me the secret recipe.
A Secret Ingredient
It turns out it’s quite simple, really: red curry paste. Just a bit of red curry paste added to an otherwise pretty traditional recipe for tom kha soup, and oddly enough, fewer “authentic” ingredients, making it way easier to make on a regular basis. You still use lemongrass, of course, but you swap ginger for galangal and fresh lime juice for kaffir lime leaves. As much as I love the international market, I just don’t get there enough to satisfy my Whole30 Thai coconut chicken soup craving if I have to use those hard-to-find ingredients!
So here’s the deal: this tom kha gai (Thai coconut chicken soup) is perfection. It’s creamy and a bit tart and salty and a bit sweet, and the chicken is tender, and the mushrooms are filling, and the fresh cilantro adds the perfect herbaceous edge, and I can’t get enough of this soup. I don’t think you’d ever need another Whole30 Thai coconut chicken soup recipe, or heck, a plain ol’ non Whole30 Thai coconut chicken soup recipe for that matter, because this recipe is so damn good.
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What I love most about Thrive Market is that it makes stocking up on healthier products easy and affordable, especially when it comes to those sometimes hard-to-find but oh-so-delicious staples like
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How to make the best tom kha soup:
The first step is the most important: sweat some garlic, onions, chiles, lemongrass, and–here it is–red curry paste in a bit of oil in a saucepan until the onion is softened. Add the chicken broth and simmer for about 30 minutes.
Strain out the aromatics (the garlic, onions, lemongrass, etc.) and add coconut milk, chicken, and mushrooms. Simmer until the chicken is just cooked through, then add the fish sauce, lime juice, and coconut aminos or brown sugar. Stir to mix well then taste and adjust seasonings, adding more fish sauce for saltiness, brown sugar or coconut aminos to enhance the natural sweetness of the coconut milk, or lime juice to brighten up the whole thing and balance the spiciness.
Ladle the tom kha gai into serving bowls and top with fresh cilantro and green onions. Serve with slices of lime and more fish sauce!
What’s the difference between tom kha and tom yum soup?
I’m a big fan of both of these classic Thai soups, but tom kha soup speaks to me on a whole different level: it features rich, creamy coconut milk that beautifully balances the Thai flavors of lemongrass, ginger, lime, and fish sauce. Tom yum is broth-based and frequently served with shrimp, and it’s quite spicy! I once read it was called the “fiery queen of Thailand,” and I posted a recipe for it ages ago. It’s perfect when you’re feeling sick and need to clear the head out!
Making This Tom Kha Gai on a Whole30
If you’re on a Whole30, you have to use Red Boat Fish Sauce. There’s no sugar added to that brand, whereas almost all others have that ingredients stuffed in the label. I beg you not to skip the fish sauce, too. Simply substituting salt won’t cut it! If you’re not on a Whole30, anything goes, sister!
Also make sure that you use Whole30-compliant chicken broth.
Finally, use 2 tablespoons coconut aminos instead of the coconut sugar. Add more to taste – coconut aminos add a nice sweetness to the soup.
Where can I find lemongrass?
I find fresh lemongrass in the produce section of almost every grocery store these days. If you can’t find it fresh, though, you can usually find a refrigerated tube of it, minced, in the produce area. Ask your clerk and tell them it’s important! You can’t make the best ever tom kha soup without it!
Making This Tom Kha Soup Vegan
To make this tom kha soup vegan:
- Use vegetable broth instead of chicken broth.
- Substitute soy sauce for the fish sauce.
- Add a 1-pound block of tofu, cubed into bite-sized pieces, instead of chicken.
And you won’t call it “tom kha gai,” if you don’t use chicken. You can call it “tom kha tofu”!
Other recipes you’ll love:
- Egg Roll in a Bowl with Creamy Red Chile Sauce
- Whole30 Thai Chicken Zoodle Bowl with “Peanut” Sauce
- Paleo Coconut Curry Zoodle Soup
- Whole30 Lettuce Wraps
- Peanut-Free Chicken Satay
Best Ever Tom Kha Gai - Thai Coconut Soup
This tom kha soup (Thai coconut soup) is absolutely perfect. Rich and creamy yet tangy and salty, this Thai soup is filling but light and positively bursting with flavor. The very best recipe I've ever made or tried. Whole30, paleo, and vegan options.
- 1 Tbsp. coconut oil
- 1/2 onion sliced
- 2 garlic cloves chopped
- 1/2 red jalapeno pepper sliced, or a couple Thai chiles, halved
- 3 quarter-inch slices slices galangal or ginger
- 1 lemongrass stalk pounded with the side of a knife and cut into 2-inch long pieces
- 2 teaspoons red Thai curry paste
- 4 cups chicken broth see Note 1 if vegan or on Whole30
- 4 cups canned coconut cream or coconut milk
- 2 medium chicken breasts cut into bite-sized pieces, see Note 2 for vegan/vegetarian or to use shrimp
- 8 oz. white mushroom caps sliced
- 1-2 Tbsp. coconut sugar if on Whole30, see Note 3
- 1 1/2 - 2 Tbsp. fish sauce plus more to taste, see Note 4 if on Whole30 or vegan
- 2-3 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
- 2-3 green onions sliced thin
- fresh cilantro chopped, for garnish
In a medium pot, heat the coconut oil over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, chile, galangal or ginger, lemongrass, and red curry paste and cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes, or until onions are softened.
Add chicken broth and bring to a boil. Reduce head and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes.
Add in coconut cream or milk, chicken breast (or tofu or shrimp), and mushrooms. Simmer until chicken breast pieces are just cooked through, then add fish sauce, coconut aminos, and lime juice, plus more of each to taste.
Cook 2 minutes, then ladle into serving bowls and top with sliced green onions and fresh cilantro.
If on a Whole30, make sure your chicken broth is Whole30 compliant. If vegan, use vegetable stock, preferably an Asian variety.
If vegan or vegetarian, use a 1-pound block of firm or extra firm tofu cut into bite-sized cubes. You can use regular or silken. To use shrimp, simply stir in 1 pound of raw shrimp instead of chicken. Simmer until just cooked through, pink, and no longer translucent.
If on Whole30, use 2 tablespoons coconut aminos instead of coconut sugar.
If you're on a Whole30, use Red Boat Fish Sauce. This is the only fish sauce I know of that does not include sugar. If vegan, use soy sauce to taste instead of fish sauce.