Having lived in Asia for a couple of years, I’m a sucker for Asian cuisine, particularly Chinese and Thai. It might sometimes be difficult to get true authentic Asian flavours in Portugal due to the lack of some key ingredients in certain dishes, but that doesn’t stop me from improvising and indulging my tastebuds with a hint of typical Asian flavours or even a fusion of eastern and western cuisines.

We’ve done the popular Thai hot and sour Tom Young Goon Soup a couple of times, but this time I had a can of coconut milk at hand and decided to try something different.

The Tom Kha Gai soup has a very delicate flavour, being sweet, salty and bitter at once. In Thailand you’d probably make it with fresh coconut milk but, alternatively, canned coconut milk can also be used. If you’re using the latter, you might want to thin it out by mixing it with a little bit of water – canned coconut milk is usually creamier than the fresh kind. I used the same measure of water as the amount of coconut milk.

Traditionally, you make Tom Kha Gai with chicken, but we had some prawns in the freezer and wanted to use them. Also, not having lemongrass I had to improvise with lime zest and a green onion for texture. Finally, I replaced the cilantro with parsley due to her dislike of the former.

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Ingredients (serves 4)

  • 400g frozen prawns
  • 6 cups of fresh coconut milk (or 1 to 2 cans of canned coconut milk)
  • 3 thumb-sized chunks of ginger
  • 1 lemon grass
  • 1 white onion
  • 1 large tomato
  • 10 kaffir lime leaves (or 1 pack of dry leaves)
  • 200 grams of oyster mushrooms (or another kind)
  • chilli paste or fresh chillies
  • a couple of limes
  • 1 bunch of cilantro (or parsley)

Method

Begin by peeling the ginger and cutting the roots into thin slices and then slice the lemongrass diagonally into thin strips. Because fresh lemongrass is difficult to get a hold of in Portugal, I used 1 green onion in this step to add texture, even though the flavor is completely different. To give the soup the lemony essence of the lemongrass I added lime zest (grated the skin of two limes).

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Using a deep pan or a wok, turn the stove on to a medium heat and add half of the coconut milk and immediately toss the sliced ginger and lemongrass or the green onion and lime zest, as the case may be.

The original recipe calls for chicken but in this case I used frozen prawns in order to make use of what we had available. If you use chicken, cut 2 chicken breasts into medium sized chunks.

Just before the coconut milk comes to a boil, add the prawns or the chicken, and then add the remaining of the coconut milk and turn down the heat to a medium low.

I used a teaspoon of chili paste but you can use fresh chilies if you prefer. Use as many as you like, depending how spicy you want it to be, but don’t forget the ginger has a pungent favor which can intensify the hotness of the chilies.

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Add the paste and/or the sliced chilies in the soup.

Stir the coconut milk gently in one direction in order to prevent it from curdling, and then add about 200 grams of mushrooms. I used white mushrooms because it was what I had at hand, although I much prefer the taste and softness of oyster mushrooms in this type of dishes.

Do not let the coconut come to a complete boil; lower the heat if necessary.

Stir gently and add the large white onion cut into medium sized wedges.

Next, cut the tomato in the same way as the onion and toss in the wedges.

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Now add the kaffir lime leaves. If you can find fresh leaves, great. I used 1 pack of dry kaffir lime leaves available at El Corte Inglés. If you use fresh leaves break them up in your hands before adding them to the soup in order to release their flavour.

Add salt to taste and stir the soup gently for about 5 to 10 minutes.

As soon as all the ingredients are fully cooked, turn off the heat. Chop up a handful of cilantro (I used parsley because she doesn’t like cilantro) and add it to the soup. Give it a quick stir.

Finally, squeeze a couples of limes into a bowl. Start by adding 3 table spoons of lime juice and taste. Add more if necessary. You want to have a nice salty and sour balance.

Serve with white rice as you’d do with a curry.

Tom Kha Gai