The power of Valentine’s Day is this: the flowers’ price is jacked up, while the lobsters’ price drops. So if I were to buy both, I would have ended up paying the same amount. Of course, I can leave the flowers out of the equation—just give me the lobster! Let’s make Tom Kha to celebrate the occasion, surely not Valentine’s, that’s so not my “thing”, but the “lobster on sale” occasion, why not?
“Tom” means boiling in Thai. “Kha” in this menu name refers to the galangal root. “Tom Kha” is the soup with galangal and a few more herbs that didn’t get mentioned because the galangal is the leading actor here. You can have your own choice of meats and vegetables in Tom Kha. The most popular of all time is chicken and mushroom that’s why it is known all over the world as “Tom Kha Gai” (Gai means chicken in Thai).
There is also the most ancient combination that my grandmother made, the chicken and banana flowers (hua pli). My favorite one is shrimp and winter melon.
Tom Kha has become so popular in the western cuisine that it now has its own wikipedia page! It’s a hearty, delicious soup. In Thailand, Tom Kha is supposed to be a lighter, thinner broth than the thick creamy soup served in Thai restaurants in the Europe or America. Nothing wrong about that, as long as there is Kha, or galangal, in the soup.
Sometimes I even serve a very rich Tom Kha soup on its own, just the coconut broth that has no meat or vegetable in it—still delicious! So I’ll just give you the guidelines here and you can add your own twist.
Galangal root 100g or 1 cup of peeled and sliced crosswise on the root
Lemongrass 2 full stalks
Bergamot or Kefir lime leaves 4 big leaves
Coconut milk 1 1/2 cups
Stock from seafood, chicken or vegetables 1 cup ( can be substituted with water. if you want creamy soup use lesser amount. If you want thin soup add more and reduce the coconut milk)
Lobster 2 4 oz. tails
Chili 1 pod (optional)
-The following are the seasonings that you adjust to your own taste. I just gave you the estimate of what I would use.
Lime juice 1/4 cup and 1 tablespoon
Fish sauce 3 tablespoons
Palm sugar 1 tablespoons (can be substituted with granulated sugar)
Salt as needed
Nam Prik Pao (optional)
Green onion and Cilantro to garnish
Fried Chili (optional garnish)
1) Cut lemongrass to about 4” long and use the flat side of your knife smash them down until they’re no longer round.
2) Kefir lime leaves: cut the middle stem out
and tear the edge of the leaves.
3) Lobster: cut them out of the shell
and slice them crosswise about half inch thick. I sliced mine but left it in the shell just for decoration. I left another one whole while cooking so I can keep the center tender, but I sliced it before serving.
For traditional Thai dishes that are served on a dinner table EVERYTHING should be cut or prepared to a bite size (except the whole fish, which I will talk about when we get around to specific fish dishes.) The Thais do not generally put a knife on the table. They only use forks and spoons for rice dishes and NO THAIS USE CHOPSTICKS TO EAT RICE. (Please, see the Thai Eating Etiquette here)
I was brought up learning that putting big chunks of food (such as big slab of meat, un-cut vegetable) on the serving plate was considered un-aristocratic, undigified and reflected on the chef as a “lazy” or “rude” to the guests.
3) Put galangal, kefir lime leaf, lemongrass and chili pod in a pot,
then add stock and one cup of coconut milk (set another 1/2 cup aside). Set the stove to medium heat, let the soup boil slowly.
We boil them slowly so the herbs gently release their flavors. Do not let the soup bubble for too long because the coconut milk will turn in to oil and you don’t want oil floating on the surface of the soup.
4) Once the soup reaches the bubbling point, add the lobster and turn off the stove as soon as they are cooked to your preference. I took the lobsters out of the broth to prevent them from cooking any further.
5) Season the soup. The 3 steps below are the tools of the trade for seasoning every Thai food that has 3 flavors, salty, sour and sweet, the right way. DO NOT add all three flavors at once because you will get lost and not know which one is actually the right seasoning to add.
5.1) Get the right amount of salty flavor first. Add fish sauce and taste if that is enough, then add more salt if it doesn’t. Make it milder than you want at the finish so you have more room to adjust later.
5.2) Add sugar a little at a time until you get the right amount. Also stay on the mild side.
5.3) Once you get the balance between salty and sweet, then add the lime juice and taste one more time until you achieve the desired taste.
5.4) If you want to use Nam Prik Pao, add about a teaspoon to a tablespoon as desired.
6) Pour the reserved 1/2 cup of coconut milk in to the soup before serving. Traditionally we serve the Tom Kha with all the herbs still in the soup, and you just pick out the pieces you want to eat, but my husband isn’t quite trained to this method. He would end up chewing on a piece of galangal or kefir lime leaf by accident so I left the herbs in the pot
and serve only the “edible” ones in the soup. Farangs—what can you do?