Soups & Stews

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 simply dubbed Thai coconut soup, is one of my go-to faves all seasons of the year.  It’s sweet, savory, and spicy all at once.  There are many variations… some have chicken, shrimp, tofu 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 choose.


“Kha” means galangal in Thai, which is a root in the ginger family.  Additionally, lemongrass, kaffir leaves, and coconut milk are classic ingredients in any 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’ve been known to use salt instead when I don’t have it around.  When in Thailand earlier this summer, I found that tomato was often added in too, though I tend to like mine simple with a hefty portion of mushrooms (baby shiitake, oyster, or straw work well) and sometimes some water chestnuts and snap peas too give it some texture and crunch.  Your choice.  


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 or a few whole dried ones do the trick for me.  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, along with coconut milk, as my base.  If you’d prefer to make this a fully vegetarian soup, using veggie stock will work just fine, too- just 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 and a squeeze of fresh lime are added to bring in the freshness.  It’s such a good combo, I love love love it.  


serves 6 


2 cans coconut milk (28 oz total, not light)

1 qt chicken stock (homemade or good quality store-bought)


1 Thai chili or Serrano pepper (Thai chili is more authentic, but Serrano is easier to find)

1 sweet bell pepper, julienned

2 limes, juiced, plus 1 cut into wedges for garnish

4 kaffir lime leaves (or lime zest, see note below)

1 lemongrass stalk

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

1/2 cup chopped green onions

1 cup water chestnuts

1 cup snap peas

1 large handful baby shiitake mushrooms, 15-20 (oyster or straw work well, too)

1 tsp fish sauce, or salt if preferred (plus more to taste)

2 tbsp coconut oil


To garnish, fresh basil, cilantro leaves, lime wedges, and chiles (optional)

(Like a sweeter tom kha?  Add 2 tbsp honey if so)



*There’s no perfect substitution for kaffir leaves, but they can be tricky to find… if you can’t get your hands on lime leaves, use 1 tbsp of lime zest instead, about two limes.  (You can use the zest and juice from the same limes.)  :)

*For variations, try adding in bamboo shoots, a protein, or some rice!



Heat coconut oil in a large pot over medium heat


Cut the chile pepper in half

Dice the chile and add it in (I add the seeds too- I like a light spice!)

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

then chop the strips in half to make them smaller and easier to gobble


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, fish sauce/salt, and lime leaves/zest

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


Add mushrooms and water chestnuts

Cook for about 10 minutes more


Add juice from limes and chopped scallions


Taste and adjust seasonings as desired

(Depending on the chicken broth, chiles, etc, it may need more fish sauce, spice, etc)

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… I’m lazy, so that’s my style) 😉


That’s it…

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


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

Serve with lime wedges


Devour and enjoy!!


Want more soups?  Find this recipe and 51 other tasty winter soups in this new ebook!

Click HERE for more information!!


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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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