This tom kha gai 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.
My Favorite Thai-Inspired Soup
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.
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.
And you know what? I have a really solid story to go along with this recipe.
Skip the Takeout and Make This at Home!
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 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 Then What?
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, 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 do 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.
Why This is One of the Best Soup Recipes 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 hard-to-find ingredients. You should be able to get everything from a traditional Western 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.
A Note from Cheryl: Years ago, we referred to certain ingredients in this recipe as “weird”, a term we erroneously used to describe harder-to-find ingredients that are generally unfamiliar to the average American reader. In using this term, though, we unintentionally contributed to furthering the stigma that these ingredients are somehow “not normal”. That was never our intent, but it was our impact, and that’s what matters.
What’s the 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, making it way easier for me to make on a regular basis.
Speaking of easier… you can also swap ginger for galangal and swap fresh lime juice for makrut 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!
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!
Can I Make This 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
- Vegan Chili
- Grilled Baked Potatoes
- Paleo Banana Bread
- Chicken Tikka Masala
- Mexican Chicken Stuffed Sweet Potatoes
- Perfect Keto Deviled Eggs
- She Crab Soup
- Chinese Vegetable Soup
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil
- half of one onion sliced
- 2 cloves garlic chopped
- half of one red jalapeno pepper sliced, or a couple Thai chiles, halved
- 3 ¼-inch 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 Notes if vegan or on Whole30
- 4 cups canned coconut cream or coconut milk, see Notes
- 2 medium chicken breasts cut into bite-sized pieces, see Notes for vegan/vegetarian or to use shrimp
- 8 ounces white mushroom caps sliced
- 1-2 tablespoons coconut sugar if on Whole30, see Notes
- 1 ½ – 2 tablespoons fish sauce plus more to taste, see Notes if on Whole30 or vegan
- 2-3 tablespoons 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, jalapeno or 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 heat and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes.
- Strain out the aromatics (the garlic, onions, lemongrass, and ginger) and discard. 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 (or coconut sugar), 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.
- Be sure to use coconut cream or coconut milk. Coco lopez and coconut creamer are not the same as coconut cream/coconut milk and will not work in this recipe.
- To use shrimp, simply stir in 1 pound of raw shrimp instead of chicken. Simmer until just cooked through, pink, and no longer translucent.
- Make it Whole30: Use compliant chicken broth. Use 2 tablespoons coconut aminos instead of coconut sugar. Use Red Boat fish sauce – this is the only fish sauce I’ve found to be compliant.
- Make it Vegan/Vegetarian: Use vegetable stock, preferably an Asian variety. Use a 1-pound block of firm or extra firm tofu (regular or silken) cut into bite-sized cubes. For vegan, use soy sauce (to taste) instead of fish sauce.
Number of total servings shown is approximate. Actual number of servings will depend on your preferred portion sizes.
Nutritional values shown are general guidelines and reflect information for 1 serving using the ingredients listed, not including any optional ingredients. Actual macros may vary slightly depending on specific brands and types of ingredients used.
To determine the weight of one serving, prepare the recipe as instructed. Weigh the finished recipe, then divide the weight of the finished recipe (not including the weight of the container the food is in) by the desired number of servings. Result will be the weight of one serving.