A little restaurant in Torrance, Calif., serves some wonderful Tom kha gai (Thai chicken coconut soup). I've tried it elsewhere, but Tiffany's does it best. I've been meaning to try it on my own, but never got around to it until yesterday. A recipe out of the December 2008 issue of Sunset magazine proved just the inspiration I needed yesterday afternoon when the opened can of coconut milk either needed to be used or tossed. Like usual, I didn't have everything I needed, so I improvised a little. It was a complete hit with my husband, who loves Thai food. And, the fact that the entire thing went together in less than 10 minutes was just another perk of this dish. I'll give you the original dish, then tell you how I altered it.
Tom Kha Gai
1 can (14 oz.) coconut milk.
1 can (14 oz.) reduced-sodium chicken broth
6 quarter-sized slices of fresh ginger
1 stalk lemongrass, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 lb. boneless chicken breast, sliced thinly
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp Thai chili paste
4 tbsp basil
4 tbsp cilantro
1. Combine coconut milk, broth, ginger and lemongrass in pan. Bring to boil.
2. Add chicken, mushrooms, lime juice, fish sauce, sugar and chili paste. Reduce heat and simmer until chicken is firm and opaque, 5 to 10 minutes.
3. Garnish each serving with 1 tbsp each basil and cilantro. Discard lemongrass.
Lessons learned: My adaptation of this recipe is a lesson in using what you've got. A while back, I bought several herbs packaged in tubes. They're made by Gourmet Garden and in a pinch, they'll serve as adequate substitutes for the real thing. I have lemongrass, basil and cilantro. (You can see where this is going, right?) The ginger also came from a jar. I used canned chicken (I can my own, which is much better than the stuff you get at Costco). I didn't have the requisite chili paste, but I did have a Sezchuan chili paste, which worked just as well. I went a little heavy on the paste and the sugar since I like the blend of spicy and sweet flavors. In true Thai form, the fish sauce added the saltiness and the lime (also bottled) added the tang.
Using pre-cooked chicken and pre-chopped herbs really cut down on the cooking time. I could literally dump everything into the pot at once and serve it once it was heated. Gotta love that!