About this time last year, the boyfriend and I were toying with the idea of starting a Thai food blog. We were making Thai food several times a week already and were thinking that blogging would be a good way to archive the recipes we already knew as well as a good incentive to expand our repertoire. Almost one year later, this blog has done that and more.
Over the past year, I have learned so much about Thai food and cooking. I’ve encountered herbs, spices, and pastes that I never knew existed. I’ve eaten more rice than I ever thought possible… And along the way, I’ve learned bits and pieces of Thai language, history, and culture that I don’t think I would have picked up otherwise.
So in tribute to one year of Thai food blogging, I thought it would be nice to, over the next few weeks, revisit some of the first dishes that we made on this blog.
First up is the soup that still holds the title of my all-time-favorite Thai soup, tom kha gai. This soup is commonly called “coconut milk soup” in English, although the Thai name actually translates to something more like “galangal soup with chicken”. I find this to be a more accurate representation of the soup because the galangal, lemongrass, and kaffir lime leaves really are the stars of the show.
Over the last year, I’ve learned several tips and tricks for working with these key Thai ingredients. Galangal, for instance, is quite hard and fibrous. The easiest way to prepare it is to slice it into paper-thin rounds with a very sharp knife and freeze the slices in a ziploc bag in single layers. Then, when you need galangal, it’s super easy to grab the bag from the freezer, break off a few pieces, and throw them into the pot. The bottom, tender part of lemongrass can also be sliced into very thin slices, on a diagonal. That way, these herbs are small enough that you can eat them along with the other vegetables in the soup if you wish.
The vegetables that are most commonly used in this soup are mushrooms, specifically straw mushrooms if you want to mimic what you’d find in Thailand. But many times I’ve found myself wanting this soup without mushrooms on hand, so have substituted a variety of different vegetables. I like the combination of bamboo shoots and onions the best so far, which is what the recipe below features, but I imagine that any hearty vegetable that can withstand boiling would work.
I’ve also had a chance to experiment with slightly different flavors in my tom kha gai over the last year. The traditional recipe that I posted last year does not include roasted chili paste (nam prik pao), but I’ve found that I kind of like this addition. It adds a certain pop of flavor to the soup that really enhances all of the other flavors already present. That’s not to say that the traditional way of making tom kha gai without nam prik pao isn’t good or “right”.
Because one of the other things that I’ve learned over the past year is that everyone has their own personal variations of their favorite Thai dishes. And that’s perfectly okay.