I’m taking a break from Korean recipes to share a new favorite with you. I first made this amazing soup at a cooking school in Chiang Mai.
I’ve already mentioned many reasons why I loved Chiang Mai in another post, but I didn’t tell you about our cooking school. Jared found and arranged for us to spend one of our days in Chiang Mai at Basil Cooking School. It was one of the tastiest days of my life. The school picked us up at our hotel, and we were grouped together with six other cooking comrades. On a side note, I generally don’t like other tourists. My reasoning is usually petty and hypocritical, but I don’t enjoy tour groups mainly because I don’t like tourists, despite being one myself. However, we met some amazing people in Thailand. Our cooking classmates were phenomenal. They all had fascinating life stories, were great conversationalists, and were amazing companions. I think these wonderful people helped make our experience all the more enjoyable.
Before we headed off to the kitchen, we first stopped at a local market to buy our ingredients. Our teacher, Benz, showed us herbs and vegetables that I had never seen or heard of before. She taught us about the fundamental flavors of Thai cuisine- sour, sweet, salty, and bitter. Each dish combines these elements to create the delicious Thai food we love. There are a few ingredients that are often found in Thai recipes: garlic, galangal, coconut milk, tamarind, kaffir lime, and chili peppers.
After the market we went to the cooking school to prepare our dishes. The school teaches you to cook six dishes: noodle, stir-fry, soup, appetizer, curry, and dessert. There are three options for each category. Jared and I both chose pad thai for our noodle category, but differed for our other dishes. He learned to make fried cashew nut with chicken, hot and sour soup with roasted chicken, spring rolls, red curry with bamboo shoot, and deep fried bananas. I made stir fried minced pork with holy basil, chicken in coconut milk soup, savory minced chicken salad, green curry, and sweet sticky rice with mango. It was a lot of food in just a few hours. I wanted to devour every dish, but there was just so much!
I am sharing with you my soup, the chicken in coconut milk soup, known as tom kha gai. The cooking school was the first time I had tasted it, and I was immediately addicted. I always order it at Thai restaurants now and have made it twice at home. The week before Christmas, I ended up at three different Thai restaurants with different groups of friends. Each time I ordered this magical soup. It is the perfect flavor combination of sweet and savory. It will change your world.
The only drawback to this recipe is that some of the ingredients are difficult to find. Even in our Asian supermarkets and street markets, it took me awhile to find what I needed. I feel that it was completely worth the effort though!
Tom Kha Gai (yield: 1 large serving, double for three average size servings)
from Basil Cooking School
Place the coconut milk in a large pot and bring to a boil over medium heat. Add the lemongrass and galangal. Cook for a few minutes or until it becomes fragrant. Add the chicken and cook through. Then add mushroom and quartered onion and cook until boiling. Add fish sauce, sugar, and chilies. Stir well to combine. Add the tomato, lime leaves, coriander, and spring onion. Remove from heat. Add lime juice and stir.
And there it is. Deliciousness in a bowl. I don’t usually eat all the big chunks of vegetables (recovering picky eater), but just the broth on it’s own is amazing. Even if you don’t plan to eat the veggies, don’t leave them out because they are so important to the flavor of this soup. You can pair your soup with some spring rolls or just eat it on its own. Jared made deep fried bananas as a dessert, and it was a perfect meal.
The most difficult ingredients to find were the lemongrass, galangal, and the kaffir lime leaves. If you are in Seoul, go to the Foreign Food Mart in Itaewon. Itaewon Station exit 3. Walk to the stop light and turn right onto Usadan-ro. Go up the hill and it is on your left. Look for a red awning. It’s a little cramped and shady in there, but they have frozen galangal and bundles of lime leaves and lemongrass in the refrigerated section. If you are a soldier or with a soldier, make sure you are paying attention to your route there as the side roads are currently restricted. If you are in the states, you might be able to find some of the ingredients at higher end grocery stores (Whole Foods, maybe?) or an international grocery store. Even if you don’t make this recipe, please try it the next time you see it on a menu!
Also, a special shout out to my brother, Jeremy, who gave me a new apron for Christmas. It’s from Saudi Arabia and has a picture of a camel. It’s pretty awesome!