Tom Kha {Thai Coconut Soup}

This is one of my all-time favorite combinations of flavors… coconut, lime, & comfort (yes, comfort is a flavor in my world).  Tom Kha, sometimes called Thai coconut soup, is one of my go-to keep-me-warm-and-toasty soups.  It’s sweet, savory, and spicy all at the same time.  There are many variations… some have chicken, some tofu, shrimp and so forth.  That’s the beauty of a recipe like this; you can create the base broth and then add and adjust however you may desire.


“Kha” means galangal in Thai, which is a root similar to ginger.  Additionally, lemongrass, kaffir leaves, and coconut milk are classic ingredients in Tom Kha.  Can’t find them in your area?  No prob.  Ginger can be substituted for the galangal and rather than kaffir leaves, you can add lime zest instead.  I love easy solutions.  The rest of the ingredients are really up to personal preference.  Authentic Tom Kha uses fish sauce, however I do not typically add it; instead, I add a little lime juice and salt to enhance the savory flavors.  I also use a hefty portion of mushrooms (baby shiitake, oyster, or straw work well) and as of recent, some water chesnuts and snap peas for added crunch!


Many recipes call for roasting red chile peppers ahead of time, while others call for using chile paste… I am simple kinda gal, so for me, a fresh chile chopped up raw does the trick.  If you’d like add a protein, chicken is a common and tasty addition.  “Gai” means chicken in Thai… so you can turn this into a Tom Kha Gai (a classic on many Thai menus) in one simple step!  You may also use a fish stock if you prefer and add in some shrimp for a seafood version.  I use chicken stock as my base, along with the coconut milk; however if you’d prefer to make this a fully vegetarian soup, using veggie stock will work just fine, too (keep in mind the color and flavor may vary slightly, so adjust the seasonings as you see fit).   To top it all off, a handful of cilantro is added to bring some freshness to the finished product.  All this thinking about it makes me hungry for more!


Here are the stars: shiitake mushrooms, kaffir leaves, lemongrass, a chile pepper, peas, and lime.  As mentioned above, add or omit what you want, but this combination is a hit in my house.


serves 6 


2 cans coconut milk (28 oz, not light)

1 qt chicken stock (*see note below about stock)

2 tbsp raw honey

1 red bell pepper

1 Thai chili or  Serrano pepper (Thai chili is more authentic, but Serrano is a fine substitute)

2 limes (1 1/2 juiced for soup- approx 3 tbsp, plus 1/2 for lime wedges for garnish)

4 kaffir lime leaves

1 lemongrass stalk

4 slices ginger or galangal root, about 1/2 inch thick

1/2 cup chopped scallions (green onions)

1 cup water chestnuts

1 cup snap peas

1 lb baby shiitake mushrooms (oyster or straw work well, too)

1 tsp salt

2 tbsp coconut oil

to garnish, cilantro leaves and lime wedges (red chile, optional)

*Chicken broth can be used as well… if using store-bought, low-sodium is recommended.  Alternatively, vegetable stock or broth can be used to make this a vegetarian soup; however be advised that the flavors and color may change slightly.  



Heat coconut oil in a large pot over medium heat


Cut the chile pepper in half

The seeds hold the spice in peppers… if you want low heat, remove them all; if you want it spicy, leave them in

Finely mince the chile pepper

To julienne the red bell pepper, slice it into long thin strips…

(I then chop the strips in half to make them smaller and easier to eat- this is optional)


Using the side of your knife, press down on the lemongrass stalk to release some of its flavors

Chop the lemongrass into quarters and remove any rough exterior layers

Slice four pieces of ginger or galangal, peel on is fine


Add the peppers, lemongrass, and ginger to the pot


Let it all cook for a few minutes, stirring frequently, until fragrant and lightly browned


Add the coconut milk, chicken stock, kaffir leaves, honey, and water chestnuts

Stir, reduce heat to low-medium, and let cook for about 20 minutes, covered


Add mushrooms and cook for about 10 minutes more


Add juice from limes and chopped scallions


Add about 1 tsp salt- taste and adjust as desired

(Alternatively, you could add fish sauce instead of salt if preferred)

Let the soup simmer on low until serving


At the last minute, just before serving, add the peas

Remove the chunks of ginger, lemongrass,

and kaffir leaves from the broth (or just don’t scoop them up when serving… your choice)


That’s it…

Ladle the soup into bowls, getting a good mix of everything in there!


To garnish, top with fresh cilantro leaves and a chili pepper if you want, but that’s just for looks… :)

Serve with lime wedges


Devour and enjoy!!


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About Me

Hi, I'm Natalie! I like to cook, eat, and adventure. I live in a little home with an itty-bitty kitchen, a crazy feline, and a very hungry boyfriend. Lots of cooking and devouring goes down here. Farmer's markets inspire me, as do the seasons and travel. I create simple recipes using wholesome real food. Enjoy!

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