A vegetarian version of the popular Thai Tom Kha Soup, a creamy and aromatic coconut milk soup with tofu and mushrooms.
Similar to Tom Yum, Tom Kha has the addition of creamy coconut milk. Traditionally this soup is made with chicken, Tom Kha Gai, but I wanted to try a tofu version. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised how good it was!
Ingredients to make Vegetarian Tom Kha
Galangal Root ('kha'), Lemongrass, Makrut Lime Leaves, Tofu, Bell Pepper, Mushrooms, Coconut Milk, Limes, Thai Chili or Chili Oil, Green Onions, and Cilantro.
Galangal Root- In Thai Galangal translates to ‘kha’, which is the name of this soup. Galangal is a key ingredient for Tom Kha. I’ve seen recipes that substitute ginger for galangal, since it can be challenging to find.
When I filmed this recipe, my Asian Market had not received any galangal in a few weeks. Usually when I do buy galangal fresh, I will slice it and store in the freezer to have on hand for Tom Kha.
You can use ginger root, but keep in mind the flavor will be different. Ginger has a spicy aroma and galangal is similar to anise.
Lemongrass- Use 1 large stalk of lemongrass sliced into 4 in pieces, or small pieces of lemongrass. In order to release the oil from the lemongrass, gently pound it with the backside of a knife. You’ll start to smell the citrus aroma right away.
You can substitute lemongrass paste, if you can't get fresh lemongrass stalks.
Makrut Lime Leaves- This is another ingredient that can be challenging to find. The oil and aroma is used to flavor the soup and give it a hint of citrus. Like the lemongrass, the lime leaves get pounded with the back of a knife. They are also not meant to be eaten and can be removed before serving.
If you cannot find fresh lime leaves, dried lime leaves can be substituted. And if you don’t have either, try using some fresh lime zest to mimic the flavor of the leaves.
Mushrooms- I used a combination of enoki white mushrooms and sliced baby bella mushrooms. An Asian market will have a variety of mushrooms to choose from.
Tofu- Use a firm or extra firm tofu for this Tom Kha. This way it won't disintegrate in the soup.
Fish Sauce- This gives the soup a salty and umami flavor. Fish sauce is pretty accessible and can be found at most stores. For a vegan version, use salt or a vegetable broth.
Coconut Milk- This is what distinguishes Tom Kha from Tom Yum. Use canned coconut milk, and I prefer using the full fat kind. Be sure to give the can a good shake before adding it to the soup.
Lime Juice- I like to add the lime juice just before serving either in each individual bowl, or into the soup if you plan on serving all the soup. If I plan on having leftovers then I don’t add the lime juice since it can cause the coconut milk to curdle.
Thai Chili or Chili Oil- Traditionally Tom Kha is served a very pale color but spicy from adding whole Thai Bird's eye chilis. I added one in my recipe for a tiny hint of spice since my kids eat this soup too.
However in most restaurants here in the states, you’ll find Tom Kha with chili oil. It gives the soup a bright orange color that looks more appetizing. I prefer to add chili oil to my individual bowl before serving.
Green Onions and Cilantro- When serving Tom Kha Gai, garnish each bowl with diced green onions and fresh cilantro for a pop of color and freshness.
How to Serve and Store Tom Kha Tofu
Tom Kha Tofu is best served hot and right after making it. In Thailand, Tom Kha is served as a main meal with a side of Jasmine rice. This is my favorite way to eat it! I also put extra lime wedges and chili oil on the side.
Here in the states, most Thai Restaurants serve it as an appetizer or accompaniment to a main meal.
If you plan on having leftovers, then don’t add the lime juice, green onion, or cilantro. These can be added when you reheat the soup. I recommend storing leftovers for no more than 3 days.
Also, the Galangal, lime leaves, and lemongrass are not meant to be eaten. They are just to flavor the soup. You can remove them prior to serving into bowls, or explain to your guest not to eat them.
Vegetarian Tom Kha Recipe
- 4 Cups Water or Vegetable Broth
- 1 Stalk Lemongrass Cut into 1 inch pieces and pounded with back of knife to release aroma.
- 6 Makrut Lime Leaves Rolled together and pounded with back of knife to release aroma.
- 1 Galangal Root 4-5 sliced disc
- Thai birds eye chili's I just added one here for the soup stock, but added chili oil to my individual serving.
- 1 block Firm or Extra Firm Tofu Drained and Cubed
- 3.5 ounce Straw mushrooms Rinsed
- 4 ounce Baby Bella Mushrooms Rinsed and sliced
- 1 Bell Pepper Sliced
- 1 tablespoon Fish Sauce or salt for vegan option. If you used vegetable broth, there might be enough seasoning, taste first.
- 13.5 ounce Coconut Milk (canned) Full Fat
- 2 Limes I prefer to squeeze half a lime into each individual bowl before serving.
- Chopped Cilantro and Sliced Green Onions For Garnish
- Chili Oil For spice and color. Can be added to each individual bowl before serving.
- Add water (or vegetable broth), lemongrass, lime leaves, galangal, and chili peppers (if using) to a large soup pot. Bring to boil then simmer for 10 minutes to allow the aromatics to season the broth.
- Add cubed tofu, mushrooms, bell pepper, and coconut milk. Stir slowly to combine. Taste and see if additional salt or fish sauce is needed. Keep in mind you won't have the sour component yet.
- To serve, squeeze half a lime into each bowl. Add chili oil if desired and ladle soup into each bowl. Garnish with chopped cilantro and green onions. Serve as is or with a side of Jasmine Rice.
Nutritional information is provided as an estimate only and depends on ingredients and amounts used. Thai Caliente makes no guarantees to the accuracy of this information.