Monday, February 24, 2014

Vegan Mushroom Tom Kha

I loooooove tom kha.  

A classic in Thai cuisine, it features a rich coconut milk broth, layered with the trademark aromatic citrus notes of Kaffir lime leaf and lemongrass followed by the warm zing of galangal and chile pepper.  A visit to a Thai restaurant does not seem complete to me without a cup of this wondrous soup, both comforting and invigorating, sweet and savory, light and luxurious, all at the same time. But alas, while vegetarian tom kha is a staple on menus, a vegan one can be harder to find, often due to the use of fish sauce.  And sometimes, even when it's vegan, it isn't gluten free because of soy sauce.  [cue sigh in synch with crossing of arms] But rather than let that stand in my way and inspire an unsatisfied pout,  it serves as wonderful motivation for me to create my own take on this classic.

The vegetables are usually cooked by simmering in the aromatics-infused broth, which carries the bulk of the flavor.  But with this version, I've kind of reversed it and built the flavors by sautéing and lightly caramelizing the vegetables and mushrooms first and then allowing them to infuse the coconut milk broth with their rich, deepened flavors.

Easy to make and even easier to enjoy.

Mushroom Tom Kha (Thai Coconut Soup)
Gluten-Free & Vegan

Active Prep Time:  5 minutes
Inactive Prep Time:  none
Cooking Time:  20-25 minutes
Yield:  4 servings

oil to sauté
1 c sliced onion
3 c (~10 oz) sliced Crimini mushrooms
2 teaspoons chopped ginger
2 cloves garlic, chopped
salt, to taste

(1) 13.5 oz can full-fat coconut milk
13.5 oz warm water/vegetable stock
1 large Kaffir lime leaf
1 stalk lemongrass, bruised

fresh lime juice, to taste
cilantro, to garnish
chiffonade of greens and sliced radish or carrot, to garnish
sliced chile pepper, to taste (optional)

What you'll need:  medium saucepan

1.  Heat oil over medium heat in saucepan.  I start with about 2 teaspoons and then add more as needed.
2.  Add onion and sweat them until they're limp and just begin to caramelize, about 3 minutes.
3.  Add ginger and garlic and a couple pinches of salt and sauté for another minute until nicely aromatic.  I used ginger in this recipe, but if you have galangal, please feel free to substitute.
4.  Add sliced mushrooms, another pinch or two of salt, and sauté for about 3 minutes, or until just beginning to soften.  I used Crimini (aka Baby Bellas), but if you have another mushroom on hand, such as button, Portabella, or Shiitake, those would also work.
5.  Once the vegetables are cooked to your liking, lower heat to low-medium and add coconut milk.  Before opening the can, be sure to shake it well to incorporate both the liquid and solid portions of the coconut milk.  Using the can as a measure, add a can's worth of either warm filtered water or vegetable stock.
5.  Add Kaffir lime leaf and lemongras and allow to simmer for about 10-15 minutes. [Note:  Be sure to avoid boiling the soup, as this will result in a separation, or breaking, of the broth.  While it will be fine to consume, the almost curdled texture and experience will leave much to be desired.  Low and slow is a good rule of thumb.]
6.  Finish with fresh lime juice, a small mound of fresh greens, sliced radish, chile pepper if you choose, and fresh herbs.

Mushrooms make me very happy.

Mise en place with Kaffir lime leaf from my garden.

Building flavors upon flavors….

Hot soup like this, while wonderful to help ward off the chill of Winter, is equally wonderful during the warmer months of Spring and Summer - bringing our internal temperatures into further accordance with the outdoors.  And as we enter that mini-season between Winter and Spring, still chilly and brisk (and even snowy) at times but showing signs of warmth and readiness to burst with greenery, blossoms, and fruit, I think this soup is particularly perfect.  Comforting earthiness of mushrooms, savory sweet caramelized onions, ginger, and garlic, the silky mouthfeel of coconut milk, the brightness of lime, Kaffir lime leaf, and lemongrass, and the vegetal harmony of raw greens and herbs - it pays homage to the beauty of the world around us, emerging from its Wintery slumber, ready to fulfill its potential.  

Ready to change.  


  1. Tom Kha'mming to breakfast, lunch, dinner and maybe merienda too. A lovely simple and flavorful soup that can satisfy the hungriest of tigers. Another winner in the arsenal of soups at ones' disposal. Let's have a bowl of soup together soon!

    Mabuhay, slurp-slurp!


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