Thai Chicken Soup with Coconut Milk
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If you know Tom Kha Gai, you know that the taste of this classic Thai soup is kaleidoscopic. Sweet and creamy with coconut milk, sour and aromatic with lime and lemongrass, spicy with fiery red chilies, and all brought to harmony by the salty base note of fish sauce. This version is super easy to make at home and comes together in a flash for an easy, soul-brightening weeknight meal.
Tom Kha Gai (or Thai Chicken Soup with Coconut Milk) uses some authentic Thai ingredients, which may be bad news for those of us living in little landlocked towns. The good news is that there are substitutions for these ingredients that can be found in any grocery store. And the even better news is that I have made this soup with both authentic Thai ingredients (like lime leaves) and with common substitutions (like lime zest) with little compromise in flavor. That’s rare in the world of recipes, but I feel it’s true in this case.
- The key to this soup, as in many Thai recipes, lies in striking the right balance between sweet, sour, spicy, and salty flavors. That balance is one of the crowning principles of Thai cuisine, and there’s no other way to reach it than to taste, taste, taste. Tweak it with a bit of extra fish sauce for salt, an extra squeeze of lime for sour, an extra pinch of sugar for sweet, or an extra hit of chilies for spice. Taste and tweak repeatedly until you find yourself wanting to taste again and again and again. That means it’s done : )
- Shrimp is a delicious alternative to chicken in this soup, but add them towards the end so they don’t get overcooked. Shrimp only need 2 or 3 minutes in boiling liquid to cook.
- A note regarding spice: when cooking for kids simply omit the chili paste until you’ve ladled out the soup, and stir it into each bowl as desired. Sriracha has a major cult following, but if you haven’t tried it, you may enjoy the more multi-dimensional flavor of Sambal Oelek. I know I do.
- Chicken is a very good source of selenium, which helps to regulate the production of thyroid hormone, convert T4 to T3, and protect the thyroid from stress.
- A 3-ounce serving of chicken provides 84% RDI of the essential amino acid Tyrosine, which the thyroid gland combines with iodine to produce thyroid hormone.
- Coconut products such as coconut milk contain healthy fats, which can aid in hormone balance. Consumption of healthy fats is commonly recommended for those with thyroid issues for this reason. A word of caution: many canned foods are contaminated with BPA, which is absorbed from the plastic lining of the can. To avoid the hormonal disruption that can occur from ingesting BPA, purchase coconut milk in cans that are labeled “BPA-free”.
- The powerful anti-inflammatory properties of ginger can help relieve the inflammation often associated with thyroid disease.
- Selenium is a nutrient important to the production and regulation of thyroid hormones, and mushrooms happen to be one of the top 10 foods highest in selenium. Just one cremini mushroom provides 7% DV of selenium. I suggest using creminis in this soup because the selenium content is higher than that of button mushrooms.
- Cilantro is a detoxifying herb and helps rid the body of heavy metals like mercury. Heavy metal toxicity is among the leading causes of thyroid disease. So load up on that garnish – it’s delicious (unless you have the gene that makes cilantro taste like soap) and good for your health.
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