I find it best to judge an American Thai restaurant by its coconut soup. The dish, often spelled Tom Kha Gai, should be a velvety coconut broth with lemongrass and kaffir lime undertones, balanced perfectly with just the right amount of rank fish sauce. Oh, and fresh mushrooms. But often it is just a step above canned coconut milk with a splash of lime and fish sauce with some chicken and snow peas thrown in for good measure.
It’s the ultimate comfort food with the rich healing properties of chicken broth and ginger and so much flavor it usually knocks whatever ailment right out of me. I’ve made the real thing many times, usually from a slightly tweaked version of this Bon Appetit recipe. This week, I took it in a different direction with a vegetarian version (minus the fish sauce) using mushroom broth and oh so many fresh mushrooms. Now there are a lot of shortcuts in this recipe so be prepared for something refreshing, light and luscious, a “clean” Tom Kha Gai if you will.
Mushrooms are extremely important in this dish. You could skip the mushroom broth and replace with a vegetable broth if you had to but you cannot skip the mushrooms. You’ll need at least two kinds (enoki and oyster) and three will be divine. Also, if you have kaffir lime leaves on hand (as one does?), use a handful of those instead of the lime zest.
Mushroom Tom Kha Gai Soup
1 4 cup box of mushroom broth (I like this one)
1 bunch fresh enoki mushrooms (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 14 oz. can lite coconut milk
1 cup fresh oyster mushrooms
1 cup fresh shitake mushrooms
3 stalks lemongrass
1 2” piece of ginger
3 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
10 leaves Thai basil (Italian basil if you can’t find Thai)
1/2 cup snow peas
Roughly peel the ginger and cut into thick slices. Cut the lemongrass stalks in half and peel the outer layer. Use the side or back of a knife to smash the stalks to release the juices. Zest the entire lime and cut the remaining bit in half and set aside.
Add the mushroom broth, lime zest, ginger pieces, and lemongrass to a large pot and bring to a boil. Boil for five minutes then reduce the heat to medium.
Slice the rough soil bit from the enoki mushrooms off and discard. Remove the stalks from the shitake mushrooms and slice into 1/4” pieces. Remove the larger rough stalks of the oyster mushrooms (keeping about 1/2” of stalk intact) and slice into 1/2” pieces. Add to the broth along with the coconut milk and cook for 10 more minutes.
Add the fish sauce, sugar, and snow peas to the pot and reduce to a simmer, cook for five minutes on low heat. Add all the lime juice and roughly torn basil leaves right before serving.