Eating Healthy in Winter (with a recipe for vegan Tom Kha Soup inside, pescetarian version optional)

Written and compiled by Lori Jo and published on the Advantage Wellness Management Inc. blog, websites, and all their social medias but the company has since closed due to new health reform laws so I am publishing the work here as an example of my published work.

Recipe adaption by Lori Jo

Soup photo is from the Vegetarian Skinny BlogSpot
Lemon Grass photo by Lori Jo

Today is the winter solstice here in Argentina which means the first day of winter for us here in South America. We all know as the weather cools our cravings for comfort foods grow. Comfort food needs to be hot, filling, and full of flavor. This article is about a lovely, spicy, aromatic, and flavorful soup of Thai origins called Tom Kha. Like most Thai or Vietnamese foods the flavors are strong and full of all the possible flavors that exist to us; sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. The coconut milk also adds a creamy component which completes the sensation we crave when looking for a comfort food. Contrary to popular belief, comfort food does not have to be fried or particularly heavy to comfort you. This soup is full of healthy ingredients and sure to satisfy you even on the coldest of winter days. Another thing this soup does is cheer you up because of the zesty components and we could all use that on the shorter, darker days of winter.

Aside from being delicious, comforting and mood elevating, here are some other health promoting properties of this soup:

  • Chile boosts the immune system, burns fat and is great for clearing a stuffy nose
  • Coconut milk is high in the medium-chain fatty acids that stimulate the metabolism
  • Ginger is a pain reliever and has anti-nausea properties
  • Lemon juice works as a liver stimulant and detoxifying agent
  • More than half the medium-chain fatty-acids found in coconut milk are Lauric acid which is an immune-boosting anti-viral, anti-fungal, and anti-microbial

I recommend serving this soup with a steaming hot bowl of brown jasmine rice. The jasmine rice is long grain and has a nutty and flowery aroma which is typically eaten in Thailand. The brown version is healthier because it is higher in fiber. White jasmine rice is starchy and refined and thus temporarily raises insulin and blood sugar levels.

Tom Kha – Spicy Lemongrass Soup with Coconut Milk

Tom Kha soup photo is from the Vegetarian Skinny BlogSpot

Tom Kha soup photo is from the Vegetarian Skinny BlogSpot

Some recipes call for shrimp to be added in the last minute or two of cooking. You can add this for a non-vegetarian or pescetarian version.

Pescetarian version:  Be creative here if you wish and add other shellfish that you love, like muscles, scallops or just stick with the shrimp.

Ingredients

  • 2, 13 oz. cans of coconut milk
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 inch piece of galangal, grated *
  • 1 inch piece of ginger, peeled, and grated
  • 4 stalks lemongrass, bruised and coarsely chopped*
  • 8-10 kaffir lime leaves *
  • 1 lb. straw mushrooms, sliced*
  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • 3 tbsp. fish sauce or vegetarian fish sauce.  If you use fish sauce the recipe will be Pescetarian rather than vegan. If you use the vegetarian substitute then this recipe will be vegan because there are no animal products used *
  • 1-2 tsp. brown sugar (add more if you like to balance out the taste)
  • 1- 2 tsp. red curry paste
  • 2 tbsp. sliced green onions
  • 1 tsp. red pepper flakes or the fried chilies(small Thai chili peppers)  broken up into flakes with your hands or 1 fresh red chili (remove the amount of seeds you want according to taste and degree of hotness you prefer)*
  • Red chili powder to taste for medium or hot
  • Small bunch fresh cilantro, washed, rinsed, dried and chopped. Discard the lower part of the stems and roots

*A note about galangal: Galangal (galanga, blue ginger, laos) is in the ginger family and although related to ginger the taste is very different and much stronger. It tastes more like pepper and ginger combined. This is a common ingredient in Thai foods and Tom Kha Gai soup.

*Note on lemongrass: You should be able to find this in your Asian grocery store fresh or frozen. Lemongrass freezes well so check both. It also sprouts easily and is easily grown. The plants are large and beautiful and ward off mosquitoes in your garden or balcony. I have two sprouts now out on my balcony that I saved the last time I made this dish.

My sprouted lemongrass stalks that are currently growing in my balcony

My sprouted lemongrass stalks that are currently growing in my balcony

Citronella photo is from the One Kings Lane website.

Citronella photo is from the One Kings Lane website.

When buying look for stalks that are green and fresh, turning to yellow near the bulb. If they look dry or brown do not buy them because a lot of the flavor and fragrance will not be there and this is very important for your dish. After washing your stalk, remove the tough outer leaves as these parts are not what you want to use. You want the softer, fresher parts underneath. These will be pale yellow in color. Remove the bulb by cutting about two inches from the end. Don’t forget to sprout it! Now just slice thin slices going up the stalk like you would a green onion up to about 2/3 of the stalk where it starts to not be so soft and pale yellow. These greener, harder ends you want to reserve for soups and curries. In the case of this soup, go ahead and slice it up or put it in the freezer. Keep the two different parts separate so you can pick and choose what you will need for future recipes. When you have separated what you will be using, bruise and soften it up a bit with a mortar and pestle because they are very fibrous. If you do not have a mortar and pestle, toss them into a food processor and blend on high for a minute. When the lemongrass appears as fine, pale yellow and green flakes they are ready to use and soft enough (after cooking or boiling for at least 5 minutes) so your guests do not end up spitting them out.

*Note about kaffir lime leaves (makrut):  The leaves look similar to a regular lime or lemon leaf and they are used whole in cooking to add their flavor and aroma and discarded after cooking. This is unless you remove the tough spine in the middle and slice them into very thin slivers. For this soup, use the leaf whole, fold in half lengthwise and make little tears into the leaf towards the center spine. This will release all its goodness. Toss into the soup and let it cook away, releasing all it’s delicious essential oils. When the soup is done just remove and discard.

*Note about mushrooms: You can use the straw or the shitake, depending on what you can find and which you prefer. The straw is the most widely used in Thai cooking and considered the tastiest. The shitake is most widely used in Chinese cooking. If you have to use these dried, soak before cooking.

*Note about chilies: There are a variety of chilies you can use, fresh, the little dried Thai, etc. Please see below and use what you think will be best for you and your guests. Be sure and put this on the table as well if your guests have different taste preferences and they can self-adjust the hotness at the table using these as condiments.

  • Dried Whole Thai Red Chili Peppers (prikhaeng). These are an integral ingredient in Thai cooking. You can pound these chilies in a mortar and pestle to make homemade curry paste or break them up in your hands easily to add as a condiment.  Dried chilies may be deseeded, to decrease the heat, by cutting off the end at the stem crosswise, and then rolling the pod to loosen the seeds and then shaking the seeds out. In dishes calling for whole fresh chilies, when not available, substitute dried whole chilies soaked in hot water for several minutes. Store dried chilies in a tightly sealed glass container for up to one year.
  • Small fresh Thai chili peppers (prikkeenoo).  Perhaps the most famous ingredient in Thai cuisine. The translation of this means ‘mouse dropping chili’.
  • Prikcheefah is a larger-sized chili pepper and not as spicy. It means ‘chili pointing at the sky’, because the chilies grow on the bush pointing upwards. It is a less spicy chili and is often used for garnish.
  • Red pepper flakes are dried and ground Thai red chilies. Just two teaspoons are equal to 10-15 dried chilies.
  • Small, fresh red chili peppers, the common kind you find in the supermarket, really, any kind will do.

Substitutions

  • Fish sauce:  Vegetarian fish sauce bought at your health food or Vietnamese food store or golden mountain sauce (found in Thai food stores) or just soy sauce .
  • Galangal: Replace with double the amount of ginger.
  • Kaffir lime leaves:  Look for these in your local Asian food store. If you can’t find replace with 6 fresh basil leaves torn or 1/2 small bay leaf, 1/4 tsp. lime zest, and 1/8 tsp. fresh lemon thyme.
  • Lemongrass: Zest from one lemon equals 2 stalks of lemongrass.
  • Straw mushrooms: Shitake preferably and if not plain button mushrooms.
  • Thai chili peppers:  Little fresh red chilies, the kind you find in your local supermarket.

Method

  1. In a large pot, bring the coconut milk and 2 cups of vegetable broth to a simmer.
  2. Add the galangal, ginger, lemongrass, and kaffir.
  3. Simmer about 10 minutes, then strain coconut milk into a clean pan.
  4. Discard the seasonings.
  5. Simmer shitake mushrooms in coconut milk for about 5 minutes.
  6. Stir in fish sauce, lime juice, and brown sugar.
  7. Add curry powder to taste.
  8. Ladle into serving bowls very hot.
  9. Garnish with green onions and red pepper flakes.
  10. Note: If some of your guests prefer a spicier soup, add more chili powder at that moment with the garnish or put it on the table so they can adjust the spiciness according to their personal preferences.

 

Sources:

 

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