This year I’m throwing out the traditional way to use Thanksgiving leftover turkey. My recipe slips cooked, shredded turkey into the beloved Thai Tom Kha Gai soup (coconut chicken soup). It’s a different way to use your turkey and will only take about 30 minutes from start to finish. Relief after so many hours spent in the kitchen on Thanksgiving Day.
This velvety soup is not as spicy as other Thai foods and my recipe makes it lighter than the traditional one by using water and chicken broth instead of predominantly coconut milk.
I will warn you that you will have to make a trip to an Asian grocery store for some of the ingredients, unless you are fortunate and your regular one carries them. There really are no substitutes for the exuberant, bright flavors of some of these ingredients. It’s worth it. Don’t let these ingredients be a deal breaker for making the soup.
Galangal resembles ginger and has a distinct floral ginger scent. It is hard and dense and is typically sliced into thin crosswise pieces. In a pinch you can substitute peeled fresh ginger.
Lemongrass looks like large, pale, woody green onions and has a distinct lemony flavor. Use only the bottom six inches of the stem because the top is tough and stringy. Lightly crushing the stalk releases more flavor when it’s cooked. There is no substitute.
Kaffir lime leaves, from the kaffir tree, infuse lemon-lime flavor. By making slight tears in the leaves before putting them in the soup, you infuse more flavor. When you buy them, some of the leaves will be attached in doubles. Separate them and count them individually. Again, there is no substitute.
Straw mushrooms are grown and used extensively in Asia where they are available fresh. They are available canned in our country. You could substitute fresh button mushrooms, but as long as you’re making a trip to buy the other ingredients, throw these in your cart.
And fish sauce – ah so stinky and yet so essential – made from fermented fish. It is off putting to smell out of the bottle but adds depth of flavor to the soup and acts similar to salt.
The soup goes together quickly in three steps. The first is to briefly infuse the broth and water with galangal, lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves and then remove them by straining the soup or fishing them out with a slotted spoon. This makes the soup easier to eat than by eating around them. The next is to add the coconut milk, turkey, mushrooms and fish sauce and cook just long enough to heat them through. The final step is to remove the soup from heat and stir in the chiles, lime juice and cilantro to keep their flavors refreshing.
I like to serve the soup with a spoonful of cooked white or brown rice right in the bowl.
- 2 cups chicken broth
- 2 cups water
- 1-1/2 inch piece of galangal or 1 inch piece peeled fresh ginger (see note)
- 2 stalks lemongrass, (see note)
- 5 Kaffir lime leaves (see note)
- 1 can (14 ounces) coconut milk or light coconut milk
- 2 cups sliced or shredded cooked turkey
- 1 can (15 ounces) straw mushrooms, drained (see note)
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce or soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons seeded and chopped serrano chiles (2 chiles)
- 2-3 tablespoons lime juice
- ¼ cup chopped cilantro
- 2 cups cooked white or brown rice, optional
- For the galangal, slice into thin slices.
- For the lemongrass, use the bottom 6 inches of the stalk; peel off any outer tough leaves and trim the root end. Lightly smash the stalk with the side of a knife to lightly break open; cut into 1 inch pieces.
- Make a few tears in each kaffir lime leaf (this helps open the flavor when cooking.)
- Bring chicken broth, water, galangal, lemongrass and kaffir limes leaves to a boil in a medium size stockpot; reduce heat to low, cover and simmer 10 minutes; strain and discard galangal, lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves.
- Over low to medium heat, stir in coconut milk and bring just to a simmer; add turkey, mushrooms and fish sauce and cook 10 minutes.
- Remove the soup from heat and stir in serranos, lime juice and cilantro, adding more of each to your liking; the soup should have a balance of spicy, sweet, salty and sour flavors.
Vegetarian Option: Substitute vegetable broth for the chicken broth and 2 cups chopped tofu for the turkey.