The Creative Herbalist

Tom Kha Soup: Herbal Medicine in a Delicious Thai Soup

Tom Kha soup is a dish from Thailand. It might possibly my most favorite dish ever. The richness of the coconut milk mingles with the tartness of the lemongrass in a base of super delicious bone broth soup. It just tastes so darn good!

We make a big batch of this soup once a week and eat it numerous times throughout the week. When we have dinner guests or bring food to folks (because of injury or recent birth) we generally serve this soup. And we always hear people ranting and raving.

We love to eat this soup in the winter time as part of our medicine cabinet to keep our immune systems strong throughout the winter and to avoid getting upper respiratory infections like colds and the flu.

It is packed full of powerful immune herbs and spicy warming herbs that are perfect for the cold winter months.

There are lots of Tom Kha recipes out there, I hope you enjoy this version which has a few more local veggies than what you’ll typically see in these recipes. Soups beg to be altered so experiment away!

Before we get to the recipe here’s a bit more information about the yummy herbs in this soup.

Health benefits of the herbs in it

Lemongrass
Lemongrass is a prominent spice in Thai cooking. It has an aromatic, lemony scent and taste… but also has something so much more. I find it hard to describe myself but I recently heard someone describe it as a lemony pepper taste with a hint of rose.

Besides its seductive taste, lemongrass is a powerful medicinal herb. It is used for fevers, for digestive complaints and for headaches.

It makes a delicious tea. I often add small amounts to other tea blends simply because I love the taste of it so much.

The oil of lemongrass is referred to as citronella and is commonly used as an insect repellent.

This recipe calls for fresh lemongrass. If you can’t find it fresh, you can also make a strong tea out of dried lemongrass for a similar taste. I would try two heaping tablespoons of lemongrass in 8 ounces of just boiled water. Let sit for 10 minutes, then strain and add the water to the soup.

Cilantro
Cilantro is often thought of as simply garnish for guacamole, but this is yet another unassuming plant that is disguised as potent medicine.

Before I go on I know someone out there is thinking, “yuck! I hate cilantro.” It’s true people seem to either adore cilantro or detest it. If you think cilantro tastes like soap, then it’s probably not your fault! Some people genetically lack the ability to taste the flavor that most people love in cilantro. Concurrently they also have a stronger reaction to another flavor within cilantro. If you don’t like cilantro, feel free to omit it from the soup.

Cilantro is loaded with antioxidants and is an aromatic carminative herb that is great for promoting digestion. My teacher, Michael Tierra recommends strong cilantro tea or cilantro pesto for stubborn urinary tract infections.

Garlic
Garlic is a strong antimicrobial herb that stimulates circulation and boosts the immune system. Just eating one fresh clove a day (not bulb, clove) can deliver powerful health benefits such as supporting good cholesterol ratios and promoting digestion.

Ginger
Ginger is a spicy herb that can promote digestion, quell nausea, lessen headaches, reduce pain, fight intestinal infections, and shorten the duration of a cold or flu. Ginger is one of my most reached for herbs simply because it does so much and it does it so well!

Shitake mushrooms
I adore shitake mushrooms, so I love piling them in the soup until it looks like I am eating shitake mushroom soup! Shitakes are a wonderful food for the immune system. They have been studied extensively for preventing and treating cancer.

Here’s the recipe…

  • 32 fluid oz bone broth soup
  • 3 cans regular coconut milk (look for BPA free coconut milk)
  • 2 big stalks lemongrass, sliced in large pieces
  • 4 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons tamari
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 4 tablespoons lime juice
  • 4 tablespoons minced ginger
  • 8 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 pack skinless chicken thighs, cubed in very small pieces (sometimes we use salmon instead)
  • 8 ounces shitake mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 bunch bok choy, chopped
  • 1 bunch of kale chopped
  • 1 bunch green onions
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon green thai curry paste
  • 1 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped (leave the stems in!)

Directions:

Heat the bone broth and coconut milk in a large, heavy bottomed pan.

Once the liquids are heated you can add the fish sauce, tamari, apple cider vinegar, lime juice, ginger and garlic.

Bring broth to a slow simmer, make sure it doesn’t boil, and do not cover it during cooking.

When the broth is simmering, add the chicken, mushrooms, bok choy, kale, green onions, carrots and green curry paste.

When the chicken is fully cooked and the carrots are tender, add the cilantro. After a minute, taste the soup and add some lime juice if desired.

Your tom kha soup is ready to serve! A cilantro and red pepper garnish is a nice touch.

This recipe makes a lot of soup. Perhaps 8 – 12 servings. It makes great left overs!

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