Recipe: Coconut-Galangal Chicken Soup (Tom Kha Kai)

This recipe is amazing. You will love it!

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Tom kha kai is easy to make. If you can smash things, cut things, and boil water, you can pull off this classic on the first try. The hardest part? Getting your hands on the essential fresh seasonings. Galangal (the ‘kha’ in tom kha kai), kaffir lime leaves, and lemongrass have come to define tom kha kai. Some people will tell you that you can substitute ginger for the galangal, but that is not the case. In fact, the two ingredients are not even close to being interchangeable in the minds of Thai cooks.

But if you cannot find the fresh galangal and kaffir lime leaves, either locally or online, you can use tom kha paste, which comes in small glass jars. Any brand from Thailand will do. Just follow the directions on the label. Most of the time, making the broth involves dissolving the paste in the coconut milk.

Leela Punyaratabandhu, author of Simple Thai Food: Classic Recipes from the Thai Home KitchenI made this!15 Ratings


  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts
  • 1 stalk lemongrass
  • 2 cups sodium-free chicken stock
  • 1 1/2 cups coconut milk
  • 1 (2-inch) piece galangal, thinly sliced
  • 4 kaffir lime leaves, torn into pieces and bruised
  • 8 ounces oyster or white mushrooms
  • 1/4 cup fish sauce
  • 1/3 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 4 or 5 fresh bird’s eye chiles, bruised
  • 1/2 cup packed fresh cilantro leaves


  1. Cut the chicken against the grain and on the diagonal (30- to 40-degree angle) into thin, bite-size pieces. If using oyster mushrooms, separate them into individual pieces. If using white mushrooms, halve the small ones and quarter the bigger ones.
  2. Trim off and discard the leafy parts of the lemongrass stalk, remove the tough outer leaves of the bulb portion until the smooth, pale green core is exposed, and trim off the root end. Quarter the bulb portion crosswise and smash the pieces with a heavy object until they are bruised and split.
  3. In a 2-quart saucepan, combine the stock and coconut milk and bring to a boil over high heat. Immediately turn down to heat so the liquid is barely bubbling. Add the galangal, lemongrass, and lime leaves and cook for 1 minute. Add the chicken, mushrooms, and fish sauce, stir, and increase the heat slightly so the liquid is simmering gently. Once the chicken is no longer pink, after about 2 minutes, remove the pan from the heat.
  4. Add the lime juice and chiles and stir. Taste and correct the seasoning as needed. The soup should be sour and salty with natural sweetness from the coconut milk. Sprinkle the cilantro on top just before serving. Thai cooks do not usually remove the chunky herbs from food when they serve it, as it is understood that they are not to be eaten. But you can fish out the lemongrass, galangal, and lime leaves before serving, if you like.