Thai Chicken Coconut Soup (Tom Ka Gai)


So a couple of weeks ago I was chatting online with one of my friends who has a food blog but doesn’t go by her real name so that she can hide her real identity. Because you know, food blogging is so much sexier when you’re STEALTH blogging. She said some people, herself included is freaked out about their names being revealed for fear that their real names show up in Google search engines.

I’ve never been shy about talking about my life or my family…and I really don’t care to blur out my face nor do I put a black bar over my eyes like they do in back of magazines to show fashion DON’Ts. My kids get no cutesy, clever nicknames. Who knows if one day this whole blog will blow up in my face! I’m sure some of the things I’ve posted about my kids that are cute-ha-ha-funny will someday be cha-ching! for the therapist. Better set aside some money now. Seriously. But that’s just who I am. Loud, brash and confessional.

This is why I love blogs and books that aren’t bashful about opening their front door and welcoming us in with open arms. When I was in Los Angeles last year, I stopped by the soon-to-be-closed (sniff sniff) The Cook’s Library Bookstore where I picked up a copy of apples-for-jamTessa Kiros’ Apples For Jam, A Colorful Cookbook fully intending it to be a gift for a friend, but after an afternoon alone with the cookbook, I decided to keep it for myself and bought her a bag of donuts instead. What a good friend I am. (WHAAAT? Hey, at least I didn’t arrive empty-handed!)

Tessa’s publisher, Andrew McMeel sent me a copy of her latest book, falling-cloudberries Falling Cloudberries, A World of Family Recipes which is part of Gourmet’s Cookbook Club. Tessa Kiro was born in London to a Finnish mother and Greek father, has lived in South Africa and worked as chef in Sydney, Athens, Mexico and London. Her life of global travels inspired this book with nearly 400 pages of recipes, stories and stunning color photographs (170 recipes, 185 color photos).

I wanted to share a recipe with you from her Falling Cloudberries book – Tom Ka Gai Soup, or Thai Chicken Coconut Soup. I’m sure you’ve had this soup before if you’re a fan of Thai food. The Tom Ka Gai soup is warm, tingly and creamy.


About Kaffir Limes Leaves (or Makrut)

Thai Chicken Coconut Soup (Tom Ka Gai) uses fresh kaffir lime leaves to give it that unmistakable Thai flavor and aroma. It’s citrusy, bright and its aroma is as exuberant as its taste.

And I’m lucky enough that in Florida the Kaffir Lime Tree grows like crazy. Even neglected, it looks like this:


While my tree doesn’t bear any fruit (I think something called “neglect” might have something to do with it) the leaves are plentiful. And the leaves are the valuable part of the tree anyways. Another name for Kaffir Lime Leaves is “Makrut,” as I just found out that the word “Kaffir” is a deragatory term (I’m off to research and find out the details on that to confirm).

How to use Kaffir Lime Leaves

The Kaffir Lime Leaves come in doubles. It’s a pretty thick leaf with a tough spine in the middle. The Kaffir Lime Leaf is used whole and discarded after cooking, unless you cut into very thin slivers.


For Thai Chicken Coconut Soup (Tom Ka Gai), fold the Kaffir Lime Leaf in half along the spine and then tear, stopping at the tough spine.


So that when you open it, the Kaffir Lime Leaves stays whole. This makes it easy to pick out and discard after cooking. Tearing the Kaffir Lime Leaves opens the aroma and flavors. Now scratch the screen and a whiff…WOW!


Just throw the leaves, torn and whole into your soup, cook, then pick out and discard. Well, I guess you don’t have to. You can leave the Kaffir Lime Leaves in the soup and make your guests pick it out.

Substitutions for Kaffir Lime Leaves

If you don’t have access to fresh Kaffir Lime Leaves, you can find them at the Asian markets frozen or dried whole. You can also substitute Kaffir Lime Leaves with thick strips of lime peel. Take a whole lime and a vegetable peeler. Peel thick strips. Use your hands to tear a few places along the strip or just crush/fold the strip to bruise it a bit to release its flavor and aroma. Discard after cooking. Use one 2-inch x 1-inch strip of lime peel for every Kaffir Lime Leaf the recipe calls for.

Thai Chicken Coconut Soup (Tom Ka Gai Recipe)

Photo and recipe of Thai Chicken Coconut Soup (Tom Ka Gai) courtesy of my buddies at Andrews McMeel Publishing. A note on galangal/ginger: while often used together, they are not the same ingredient and taste very different! Many recipes will have you substitute ginger for galangal (which can be difficult to find), which isn’t really a “substitute.” Think of it as – if you can’t get galangal, ginger would be great in this soup too. Find galangal at the Asian market – sometimes you can get fresh galangal otherwise you may find it frozen. ~jaden

Tessa’s intro: “I just wouldn’t cope with not knowing how to make some version of this soup. I love it. You can add a few mushrooms, a couple of fresh spinach leaves or some slices of zucchini in with the chicken. Also wonderful instead of the chicken is to cook some large, shelled shrimp on a barbecue or grill pan and toss them into the soup just before serving. The fish sauce is the salt in this soup so adjust the quantities according to your taste (and the same with the chile). I like it not too strong. Keep the cilantro stems in your freezer to add flavor to a broth or stew.”

Serves 4

1 1/2 inch piece of galangal or ginger, peeled and sliced
small bunch fresh cilantro with roots
4 kaffir lime leaves (makrut), torn
1 stem lemongrass, halved lengthways
3 tablespoons fish sauce
juice of 2 small limes
1 3/4 cups coconut milk
1/2 pound skinless chicken breast, cut into thin strips
1 red chile (chilli), seeded and sliced

Put the galangal, cilantro roots, lime leaves, lemongrass and 4 cups of water in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Add the fish sauce and lime juice, decrease the heat, and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove the cilantro roots. Add the coconut milk, bring back to a boil and boil for a couple of minutes. Add
the chicken pieces and cook for just a minute or so, until the chicken is soft and milky looking and cooked through. Throw in the chile and mix well. Serve in bowls with the cilantro leaves roughly chopped and scattered over the top.

— Recipe courtesy of falling-cloudberries Falling Cloudberries, A World of Family Recipes by Tessa Kiros/Andrews McMeel Publishing


This Week’s Steamy Kitchen Giveaway

Two weeks ago, I gave away a zojirushi rice cooker, this week, the winner of art-and-soul-baking The Art and Soul of Baking is!

And now I’m giving away a copy of falling-cloudberries Falling Cloudberries, A World of Family Recipes by Tessa Kiros. To enter, just sign up for the Steamy Kitchen email newsletter (form is below). Each week, I give away cool prizes to my loyal readers as a thank you.

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Comments 65

  1. Diana

    Mmmmm, that looks really good. Your picture is gorgeous! I’ve never really worried about saying too much on my blog or hiding my identity. I’ve had a couple stalkers before I started a blog so I guess I figure been there, done that, not going to live in fear. But I also know some people who are very shy in person and love the anonymity of blogging. I can respect that. Anyway, I love blogs that let people into the writer’s life.

    oh I’ve had my share of stalkers too! even had to send a cease and desist to one. but then again i have crazies that LIVE in my neighborhood just down the street too ~jaden

  2. meeso

    Thanks for all the info on the lime leaves… I have been searching like crazy for these leaves for what feels like forever, and do not know why they are so elusive to me… I am jealous of the big, abundant tree you have!

    where do you live? ~j

  3. Mara @ What's For Dinner?

    How funny that you say that about “stealth” blogging. My fiance is always telling me to stop putting so much stuff about myself on the internet… but I think it makes me more “normal”!
    Thanks for the recipe, I love that soup when i go out!

    lol yeah my huzb thinks i’m crazy too ~j

  4. Susan S

    I absolutely LOVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVE your blog! You are magnificently hilarious!!!!!! Enjoy your recipes and commentary. I am thrilled that I found your blog – I am telling all my friends to read it – fabulous recipes, beautiful pictures and that winning commentary! Kudos to you!

    Thank you Susan! I always giggle when I get love notes.


  5. White On Rice Couple

    You are crazy, but in that sexy, food goddess sort of way. Don’t tell Diane I said that. Oh wait. She’ll probably read this too. Damn. T.


  6. Laura [What I Like]

    Oh my lord I love this stuff, and could not be happier to have a recipe for it! I adore Kaffir lime leaves…I pick them up in chinatown in bulk and then freeze them so I have them on hand whenever I need a Thai curry, which is often.

    great tip to freeze them when you have access to fresh ~j

  7. Kristin

    wow. didn’t know the trick about tearing the lime leaves. That probably makes a huge difference between being able to use four of them and say… forty. Haha. Luckily they don’t cost much. I will try it next time.

  8. Judy

    I love how open you are about your family!!! This post just reminded me of something. You gave me some of those Kafir Lime leaves and when my fridge and freezer died I threw them out. I need to come and get some more from you!!! The soup looks great and once I get those lime leaves maybe I’ll make it???

    come over anytime! ~j

  9. tigerfish

    I’m one of those who hides my real identity (photo) though most pple shd know my name by now via intelligent googling. Even facebook does not have my “face”….LOL! So what does that make me? ;p

    Jaden, glad to hear from you. Hv been following your blog, your fame even though I may not be leaving comments as often as I wish to.

    I’m a fan of Thai food but don’t think I have had this soup before. It’s just always Tom Yam Soup when it comes to Thai soup, nothing else :O

    HEYYY!!! You are one of my very very first blogfriends…did you know that? Love all your friendliness. Coming to Bay Area in Oct for book tour. You around? Would love to meet. ~j

  10. Carrie Oliver

    I still have some of the kaffir lime leaves from your tree in my freezer! This is great, now I have an excuse to use them yet again. I love the fact that you’re open about who you are and what you care about (and not). Keep it going, please.

  11. Katie

    Mmmm…thanks for this recipe. I just picked up a case of lite coconut milk for curry but this looks great! We have a fantastic asian market here but I have yet to see fresh leaves…I’ll keep looking tho or try the frozen.

    frozen is just as good honey! ~j

  12. Kalyn

    This is one of my very favorite soups! Now I am dying with jealousy that you have Kaffir Lime growing in your yard. My stepsister send me the leaves from California and I keep them in the freezer, but the fresh leaves are much better!

  13. threemilechild

    Oh, I made Tom Ka Gai for my boyfriend once. He ended up lying on the living room floor complaining that he was sick, because it was a much richer recipe (1:1 coconut milk and stock) and he ate about three servings.

    I’ll try this one and see if he can cope better…

    oh NO! poor baby! well, yeah 1:1 is pretty rich! ~j

  14. Chris

    Love this soup too, a nice change from the usual tomyum. Unfortunately, can’t grow kaffir here in Canada but in the summer we get a bag for $2. Kaffir leaves without the spine and julienned finely can be tossed in a salad, or used in the dressing for a whole new dimension.

    Freeze the bag and then you can enjoy all winter long.~j

  15. White On Rice Couple

    Hey! He beat me to it and then what is it that I find?!?!?!?!?!?…..well, he’s got good taste in women and he’s right about you.
    Heck, if I was into Asian chicks, I’d date ya!
    And oh, the curry looks amazing too [stomach growl}.

    LOL!! yeah your man is FAST! ~j

  16. giabella designs

    I have that same tree but it bears fruit, must be due to Michael taking care of it. I also have many lemongrass bushes so if you need any, just holler……..I will hear you but I will also require an exchange with some of that soup!!!!


    hey lady! love that you are so open and not afraid to let people get to know you….that is what makes your blogs so fun!
    and this soup has been my favorite since i worked at Vong and got to taste every bowl that went out to make sure the lime and fish sauce were right on. love love it!

    can’t wait for your new restaurant to open – gonna come and visit! ~j

  18. kat

    How timely – the husband just bought some lemongrass b/c he wants to make some lemongrass soup. Maybe we’ll make this instead…
    We’ve never cooked with lemongrass before, but have been wanting to. And this is my favorite soup, too! 🙂

    You’ll love this soup! Just use the bottom 4-6″ of the lemongrass ~j

  19. Alta (TastyEats)

    I LOVE LOVE LOVE this soup, it’s one of my favorite things to order at the thai place around the corner from my office. It’s so comforting and delicious and I can’t help but eat too much of it. Maybe I should plant a Kaffir Lime Tree. Except I’m afraid that unlike tropical Florida, it won’t grow in the unpredictable Dallas climate. We’ll see! Thanks Jaden!

    try growing it! let me know if it grows in Dallas ~j

  20. Vivian

    I love this soup! I wish I could grow a Kaffir Lime tree here but I am afraid of what an Oklahoma winter would do it. You are right about the word Kaffir. It’s like using the N word in S. Africa. Have a great day!

    oh NO WAY. I read that it was a very bad word. Was going to call my buddy Rasa Malaysia and have to confirm, since I think the word Kaffir in Malaysian is the problem. ~jaden

  21. Chef David from Earthy Delights

    Wonder why your tree isn’t bearing fruit? I always thought that Kaffir limes thrived on neglect. When we lived in Big Sur, we had a wonderful little kaffir lime growing in a pot on the patio. The more we ignored it, the more fruit it produced! Had to leave it behind when we moved though… sigh.

  22. Karen MEG

    This soup looks and sounds amazing.

    I’m always waffling about my blog… share more, share less, blog more, blog less… and I don’t really cook either :).

    Thanks for the newsletters, and your smiling face always makes my day.

    BTW, I hope to meet you IRL at BlogHer Chicago…. squee!

  23. Darra

    Great flavors! Perfect soup for today. Since my freezer is stocked with kaffir limes leaves, curry leaves, lemongrass and galangal, I don’t have to run around like a crazy person looking for these ingredients.

  24. mikky

    hi jaden, love your new pic… and the soup, wow, so much flavor… must be so tasty… 🙂

  25. Bethany

    I LOVE YOU! This is absolutely one of my favorite dishes ever and I’ve always wanted to know how to make it! I always keep saying I’m going to soon! AND I love Tessa Kiro! I was first introduced by my friend who has her cookbook on venice on the tabletop and it really is decadently beautiful! Her books turn me on! (oops did I just say that :/

    lol! Yeah her books turn me on too!~j

  26. Lynn

    Great info on the lime leaves. Do you mind if I drop by to pick some leaves to make this lovely soup?

    Your posts are always hilarious. You are a bright ray on sunshine in the blogging world!

  27. Dallas from Bitchin' Lifestyle

    It’s raining in Montreal, and I want nothing more than to curl up with a big bowl of this soup. It looks so warm and comforting and flavorful. And those flowers! Each photo you post is better than the last.

    thanks honey! ~j

  28. joey

    I love Tessa Kiros!!! I already have both those books so no need to enter me in the contest…I just wanted to say that I also love the lyrical way she draws you into her interesting life 🙂

    This is one of my favorite Thai soups…although I haven’t tried her recipe yet…soon!

    Very jealous of your kaffir lime tree right now…since I live in a tiny flat I only have a pot with a cutting! But it is growing nicely and seems to be surving toxic-indoor-city living! 🙂

    Hey I didn’t know Kaffir grew indoors! That’s great. mini-Kaffir tree ~j

  29. dmortega

    I ordered up a copy of Tessa Kiros’ Falling Cloudberries, A World of Family Recipes. While looking at her other books online; Twelve: A Tuscan Cookbook, Apples for Jam: Recipes for Life, and Venezia: Food and Dreams, I decided I wanted them all. They looked like books that I would enjoy reading as well as cooking from. I was hesitant to order all 4 at one time so I added Twelve to my order and bookmarked the others to purchase later if I like these two.

    Yesterday, I recieved my copies and I must say that they are beautiful books. The recipes look very doable, the pictures are georgous, and the foods are foods that I am interested in eating. So, guess what? I went back and ordered the other two because I think the books will sell fast once people start looking at them.

    Oh you will LOOOOOVE Apples for Jam. I haven’t seen Twelve yet – let me know how that book is! ~j

    I am excited to have these books and look forward to cooking from the. =)

    By the way, I learned a bit about kaffir leaves today. I never knew any plant to make double leaves and that tearing them would release more of the oils. Well, that makes sense. =)

  30. dmortega

    Oh, and Joey’s idea for growing indoors and Darra’s idea for freezeing kaffir limes leaves, curry leaves, lemongrass, and galangal are great tips. =)

  31. Jude

    I have never cooked with kaffir lime leaves before so this is going to be really useful when I do.
    As for that wooden (or is it clay?) pot in the first photo.. where didja get it? 🙂

  32. dmortega

    “Oh you will LOOOOOVE Apples for Jam. I haven’t seen Twelve yet – let me know how that book is! ~j”

    I took a long look through Twelve last night. The twelve chapters are for each of the twelve months in the year. The author talks a bit about the weather, whats growing, how to dress, and what people are eating, each month in Italy.

    When I read through the chapters, I was thinking how very similar it all was to the life here, in the Pacific NW. The Mediterranean is located along the same latitude as the Northern US. I hadn’t given it much thought until I started reading this book. No wonder I love Italian food. =)

    The pictures and recipes are very simple and dead on for the seasonal timing for alot of us. It is another beautiful book, very well put together. Tessa Kiros is gifted person, who shares her family and foods in very personal books. Now, I can’t wait for the other two books. =)

  33. Laura

    I just cut 2 HUGE branches off of kaffir lime tree–the leaves looked all wrong and it turned out the lemon tree it was grafted onto was trying to take over. YIKES! Anyway just wanted to say first it’s nice to see what a lives-outdoors-all-year-round kafir lime tree looks, haha. Second, you aren’t getting fruit because you need a guy plant AND a gal plant. 🙂

  34. BeachRose

    Love your site! Tom Kha Gai is one of my specialties, although I always add mushrooms, and I use 1:1 stock & lite coconut milk. Also, my family likes it HOT, so I don’t seed my Thai (Birds-Eye) chilies and add a small blast of Thai Chili Paste. A friend/fan of my soup recently germinated some of the Birds-Eye Chili seeds, and my plant is thriving and just bloomed its first flower! I am SO excited to be able to grow my own chilies (the nearest Asian market is 17 miles away up a steep, winding road), and I’m attempting to root a stalk of Lemon Grass so I don’t have to pay $6.99/lb. at the grocery store. I can hardly wait to try some of your yummy recipes…Thank you!

  35. ML Burgett

    please sign me up for your newsletter. You are awesome! My first night visiting Paris, I went to a Thai restaurant for this soup. I was so tired from the trip (from the U.S.) and it was so comforting. Loved your info on the Kaffir leaves. You make it all so easy. I don’t know half of the things in the Asian supermarket near me.

  36. The Prudent Homemaker

    I would cut those bottom branches off, cut off any suckers coming from below the graft line, and fertilize the tree in January (just scratch the fertilizer in around the base of the tree and water well).

    I see a lot of neglected citrus trees here; unfortunately, they suffer greatly from our poil soil and lack iron (the leaves turn yellow with dark green veins).

    Yours looks much better than the ones I’ve seen here, but suckers will take over your tree if you don’t cut them off.

  37. Lisa M

    I’m new to the food blog world and love your blog. Thanks for the great recipe, I can’t wait to try it.

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