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Pon's Tom Kha

by Marleigh Culver May 08, 2020

Pon's Tom Kha

This recipe was gathered from my dad’s blog based on my grandma’s Tom Kha. My grandma came to the states from Thailand in the early 1970s with my baby dad in tow. She always has rice cooking on the counter, some kind of game or interesting fish in the freezer, and laundry baskets of chilis drying in her house. I have so many sweet memories of her letting me cook for her, her making me fish-head soup, her showing me her insane and sprawling garden in her backyard in Virginia. Her beautiful, dexterous, and skilled hands will always make me think of her cooking.
This is one of my favorite soups ever, for the sweet flavor, herbaceous base, and warm-weather dreaming it invokes. This will transport you right to my family’s house outside of Bangkok. You can also feel free to make it with a chicken or seafood focus. Another hot tip: we keep things like galangal, lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves in the freezer since they are hard to find.
Thank you to my family for this recipe!
Some notes before you start:
  • Important! Do not boil the coconut milk. If you boil the coconut milk at a high temperature, it will not remain emulsified and the fat will separate from the liquid. Just like what happens to butter when it is heated at high temperatures.
  • You can use chicken or seafood (shrimp, mussels, squid, etc...) with this recipe. Eat what you like!
  • Chop up everything you need to put in the soup. I like to cut my galangal up in small, thin slivers. I do this so it can stay in the soup and not be strained out. Most recipes will have you remove or strain the galangal after the first phase of their recipes, I like to keep it in the soup. Getting a little bite of the root, almost crunchy, almost nutty, is great. If you prefer not to have it in, just slice it in larger pieces then strain before you add your chicken or seafood.
  • Trim the lemongrass taking off any rough or brown bits. It a lot of recipes you would only use the white, fleshy part of the lemongrass. The reason is because it it easier to eat, we're not eating the lemongrass it's being steeped in the broth essentially. I'll admit to finely cutting up some lemon grass and leaving it in the soup when the mood hits me.
  • Crush the lemongrass, Kaffir lime leaves, and Thai chilis. Use your pestle, a muddler or back of a heavy spoon to open up them up to release flavor. Remove chili seeds if you don't want it too hot.
  • I do not remove all of the aromatics from the stock pot before I add the meat, but I do before I add the coconut milk.
  • 1 Can of Coconut Milk
  • 3 large Kaffir lime leaves
  • 1 Lemongrass, large stalk, trimmed
  • 2 Thai Chilis
  • 1 Tsp Sugar
  • 1/4 Yellow Onion, minced
  • 1 Package of mushrooms shiitake/oyster preferred, approx 8 oz., chopped
  • 2 Tbsp Galangal, slivered 
  • 1 Lime, large
  • 3 Tbsp Fish Sauce
  • 3 Cups of Chicken Stock
  • Cilantro to Garnish
  • Optional: Thai Chili Powder
  1. Add the chicken stock, sugar, onion, Kaffir lime leaves, Thai chilis, lemongrass and galangal to a medium sized stock pot. Bring to a rolling boil for about 10 minutes.
  2. Add mushrooms, continue to boil for about 8-10 minutes to cook mushrooms.
  3. At this time if you wish to remove large pieces of aromatics (Kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, chili, galangal) do so after the mushrooms are done.
  4. Add your chicken or seafood now, cook for about 10 minutes in the boiling broth. Remove any foam that might float to the top of the broth.
  5. After the meat is cooked through, pour in the coconut milk, fish sauce and lime juice, lower heat to a light simmer for 10 minutes.
  6. Serve with cilantro and lime wedges and maybe have a little more fish sauce on hand.
This is pretty easy to make and after a couple of tries it'll be a breeze. We use leftover chicken sometimes, if we do it doesn't need boiling as long. Just lower the heat to a simmer, cook for the same amount of time as you would the raw. Continue to follow the directions.
Marleigh Culver
Marleigh Culver

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