I think it would be easier for me to rob a bank than crack a coconut. Seriously, have you ever tried to crack a fresh coconut yourself? If not, take this as evidence: I asked my husband to open one for us on our honeymoon three years ago, having no idea how much time and strength it would require. After what seemed like hours of his hacking away at this thing, the nut finally cracked. We sucked down a few refreshing gulps of the juice, reveling in the fruits of our (okay, his) labor.
Fast-forward three years to where I am in the present. I’m in the home stretch of my doctoral program. The part where all I have to do is write my dissertation before I can officially complete my PhD program. Once I found myself at this point, I felt almost paralyzed by the daunting task in front of me so I decided to take a few weeks to regroup, committing to re-commence work on my dissertation once I had re-centered myself mentally. In my newfound time off, I traveled to faraway places. I visited family and friends. And I began to mentally and emotionally prepare for the daunting task ahead of me.
As I sit here writing this right now, at the tail end of my “back to work” day (hooray, I survived!), I can’t help but to daydream back to that damn honeymoon coconut and its symbolic ties to my present situation. Many cultures around the globe believe that the cracking of the coconut represents the overcoming of a difficult obstacle or challenge. When I woke up today, I knew it was go-time. It was time to put pen to paper and finish this thing that I had started. To crack my own metaphorical coconut.
And so I offer my own version of the traditional Tom Kha Gai soup below. (Don’t worry, you can used canned coconut milk if you don’t feel like cracking and milking your own coconut!) This Thai soup’s main ingredients have the capacity to nourish one’s body like a traditional chicken noodle soup while the coconut milk offers the emotional strength to persevere during these cold winter months. I hope you, too, can persevere in whatever obstacles you’re faced with today. And if all else fails, just eat some coconut chicken soup and try again tomorrow.
PS: What obstacles are you faced with today? Do you have any go-to food or drinks that you turn to when you need that extra boost to stay happy and productive? (Besides wine. That’s a given.)
Tom Kha Gai Recipe (Thai Coconut Chicken Soup)
Prep time: 20 min
Cook time: 15 min
Tom Kha Gai:
This is a great recipe for a Thai coconut chicken soup that really hits all the main flavors of Thai cuisine: spicy, salty, sweet, and sour. I love this soup when I’m sick or need an extra emotional boost in the cold winter months. It can also be easily made vegan by using vegetable stock, tofu/tempeh for protein, and omitting the fish sauce.
- 6 cups chicken stock
- 1 lb boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1” pieces
- 3-4 kaffir lime leaves, chopped (or grated peel of one lime if you don’t have kaffir leaves)
- Juice of ½ lime
- 1-2 lemongrass stalks, cut in half or quarters so that they can be fully submerged in pot
- ½ lb shitake mushrooms, sliced
- 1-2 jalepeno peppers, chopped (optional)
- 3-4 thumb size pieces of galagnal, whole (optional)
- 1 thumb size piece fresh ginger, grated; or 1 tbsp grated ginger from a jar
- ½ tsp dried crushed thai red dried chilis (about 2-5 chilis, depending on size)
- 1 can coconut milk (I recommend the full fat version)
- 2 Tablespoons fish sauce
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- handful fresh basil leaves
- 3 green onions, sliced diagonally about 1” in length (include only green parts)
- fresh cilantro (for garnish)
- rice or rice noodles
- 1 tsp of brown sugar (optional)
- Any other extra veggies you want to add (e.g., spinach, peppers, etc.)
- Place chicken stock in a large pot over medium-high heat and bring to a low boil. You can use store bought stock if you are crunched for time, but I’d recommend always having some homemade tucked away in the freezer. Here’s a great resource for making your own stock.
- Add the lemongrass, mushrooms, jalepeno peppers, kaffir lime leaves (and/or grated lime), ginger, galagnal, thai red chilis, fish sauce, lime juice, and coriander to the pot. Bring to a boil for 1 minute and then reduce heat to medium.
- Add basil, green onions, and any other extra veggies you’re putting in (e.g., spinach, peppers, etc).
- Slice the chicken into 1” pieces and place into the pot for 10-15 minutes, or until chicken is cooked all the way through.
- Turn heat down to low. Add coconut milk. (Only add ½ can at first. You can add more at the end if you want the soup to be creamier.) Do a taste test. You are looking for a balance between spicy, sour, salty and sweet. If it needs more sweet, add some brown sugar; if it needs more sour, add more lime juice; etc.
- Remove the lemongrass and galangal from the pot.
- Serve over rice or rice noodles and top with fresh cilantro.
Some notes about the ingredients:
Most of these rare ingredients can actually be found in the International Section of most supermarkets or in a place like Whole Foods. If that fails, all can be found at an Asian market like 99 Ranch.
I personally don’t like to actually eat the lemongrass or the galangal. Though I love the flavors they add to this dish, I find the lemongrass to be too straw-like for my tastes and the galangal to be a bit too woody. This is why I recommend taking them out before serving the soup.
This soup is all about finding the perfect flavor balance for your personal preferences. I tend to add all of the ingredients above, except for the additional brown sugar.
Hope you all enjoy the recipe. Don’t forget to head over to my Canine Kitchen Aid Page to check out Bourré’s culinary adventures!