Thai Coconut Chicken Soup Recipe - Pamela Salzman Skip to content

Thai Coconut Chicken Soup Recipe

This was originally published in January 2014, but I have been making it again on the regular and thought the website needed updated photos! 

You know what is just the worst?  Getting sick.  Life is great until you feel horrible.  I think most of us run around like maniacs until we’re so wiped out while our poor bodies are trying to tell us to slooooooow down and get some rest.  First it’s a little whisper like feeling so tired.  But we don’t listen.  Then we get a sore throat.  We don’t listen.  Then our bodies have to whack us over the head with a crazy cold and body aches until we have no other choice but to stay in bed.  A friend of mine who came down with a bad cold said to me the other day,”If I just spent a little time in bed resting when I wasn’t sick, maybe I would have stayed healthy!”  I think she’s onto something.

Fresh ingredients



At the moment I’m not sick and maybe you aren’t either (knock on wood), but I know lots of people who are.  And we all know what happens when people who are close to you get sick.  Well, have I got the soup for you!  First of all, I really believe the hype about homemade chicken stock.  I think it has magical immune-boosting compounds.  If you drink a cup of plain homemade chicken stock every day, I bet that would help you ward off a whole lot of stuff you don’t want to get.

chicken, ginger, lemongrass


Finished soup

But this soup also has ginger, which I think is another miracle, anti-inflammatory immune-booster.  In the week before I got on a plane to New York, I had really run myself ragged.  The night before my flight I stayed up until 2:00 am packing and getting organized, then woke up early the next morning.  I felt really rundown, and then I sneezed a few times when I got on the plane.  And I have a theory that airplanes just make a sick condition sicker, so I felt doomed.  Doomed until I spotted the pile of pickled ginger on Mr. Picky’s sushi plate.  I stole all his ginger and kept it in a cup of hot water, which I sipped during the flight.  Then after a few hours, I ate all the ginger.  Guess what?  By the time I disembarked, I felt 100%.  Ginger is AMAZING.

Tom Gha soup | pamela salzman

I am no expert in Thai cooking, but this silky, aromatic soup, also known as Tom Kha Gai, is better than anything I’ve had in a Thai restaurant.  It has a few ingredients that you might not have lying around (e.g. lemongrass and fish sauce), but it’s surprising how many mainstream markets carry both of these.  I think lemongrass and fish sauce make this soup taste fantastic, but if you can’t find either you can order fish sauce and dried lemongrass from Amazon.  Or just add a little extra lime juice in place of the lemongrass.  Think of this recipe as a roadmap where you can take different directions to get to your final destination.  You can add cooked rice noodles, bean sprouts, hot chili paste or sriracha, basil, mint and/or cilantro, like I did in the photo above.   You can grate the ginger instead of using big chunks so have a more prominent ginger flavor.  How ever you make it, this soup is fast, easy and so satisfying.  It’ll fix you up even if you don’t think you need fixing up!


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4.8 from 5 reviews
Thai Coconut Chicken Soup
Serves: 4-6
  • 2 Tablespoons unrefined coconut oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 3-inch piece of ginger, peeled and sliced into big chunks for easy removal*
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional) or sriracha or red chili paste to taste
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt + more to taste
  • 1 6-8” stalk lemon grass, white part only and split down the middle or smashed
  • ½-1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, pounded and thinly sliced
  • 1 14-ounce can coconut milk (I like Native Forest or Natural Value)
  • 4 cups homemade chicken stock, light vegetable stock or water
  • 3 Tablespoons fish sauce
  • juice from 1 lime
  • 1 large baby bok choy, sliced thin
  • A handful of mushrooms (any type), sliced thin
  • ¼ cup fresh cilantro, chopped (also a little mint and/or basil is nice, too)
  1. Heat oil in large saucepan over medium heat. Stir in onion and garlic and sauté until onion is translucent.
  2. Add ginger, red pepper, salt and lemongrass. Cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes.
  3. Add chicken to the pot and cook, stirring until chicken is white on the outside.
  4. Stir in the coconut milk, stock, fish sauce and lime juice and simmer until the chicken is thoroughly cooked and the flavors are well blended, about 10 minutes.
  5. Add bok choy, mushrooms and cilantro and simmer another 5 minutes. Taste for seasoning. Remove ginger and lemongrass stalk before serving.
*or grate a teaspoon or two or fresh ginger into the soup for more kick.
You can adjust many of the ingredients according to taste, especially the spiciness. Also, I vary the amount of chicken I use in this recipe according to what else I am serving in the meal.
This soup traditionally contains palm sugar, which is a higher quality unrefined sugar. If you would like to balance the sour and spicy with some sweet, add about 2 teaspoons.
I recently added chunks of halibut to this soup instead of chicken in Step 5 with the vegetables. Absolutely delish. Would be great with shrimp too - cook those for 3-4 minutes.



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  1. I made this for the first time last night. It is so fabulous!!! I was so happy to find fresh lemongrass in our local fruit and vegetable grocery store. I also used freshly grated ginger. I had chicken thighs on hand, and although I love chicken thighs for their flavor, I was worried perhaps they would add to much chicken flavor-nope-they were perfect. Thank you for another wonderful recipe.

    • That’s wonderful! I find the fresh lemongrass to be fantastic in this soup. So glad you enjoyed it!

  2. I love this recipe! In my opinion it is made even better by adding kefir lime leaves. Thanks, Pam.

    • Thanks, Christy. Great idea!

  3. Hi Pamela,

    Happy Holidays!

    Would this soup freeze well?

    Thank you,

    • Absolutely! It can be stored in the freezer for up to 3 months.

  4. I just made this soup, I had not made it for a few years and forgotten how delicious and special it is. Thank you for always having the best recipes.

    • You’re the sweetest! Thank you, Dalia 🙂

  5. I made this for dinner tonight. We are big Tom kha gai fans so I thought I’d try making this. I added a couple teaspoons of coconut sugar to balance the other flavors and it was very similar to our favorite restaurant’s! I’ll definitely be making it again. Thank you!

    • That’s great! Yes, the restaurants use A LOT of sugar. I was shocked to learn how much actually. But it’s nice to be able to control the type of sweetener we use and how much. Thanks for your feedback!

  6. Delicious! Just made it and had a bowl -already want seconds!

    • Isn’t it scrumptious?! xx

  7. So excited to try this I Love anything has coconut,
    Can I replace or discard fish sauce? Or what other options?

    • Sure, just omit it or replace with an equal amount of shoyu, tamari, or coconut aminos.

  8. I made this tonight and it was delicious, if I do say so myself. And it made the whole house smell amazing. I’d never had any reason to buy bok choy before (or fish sauce, for that matter), so that was exciting. Eight-year-old son loved it. This is the kind of dish he’d see at a restaurant and decide he didn’t like it without even trying it. But he finished the whole bowl and said afterward: “It was really good! I liked it a lot.” Thanks for making these adventures seem accessible!

    • That IS exciting! It makes me so happy when kids enjoy something a little different, you know? Thanks for sharing!

  9. I made this soup last night using reduced fat coconut milk and loved it!! My 21-year-old daughter and I couldn’t resist seconds.

    • So glad! It’s such a flavorful bowl and so nourishing!

  10. I just made this tonight – it’s delicious and easy to make, thank you! I was wondering, do you use the full fat coconut milk or the light version? If the full fat do you use the cream at the top and liquid underneath? Thank you!!

    • Hi Julia! I use full fat and I use everything in the can – fat at the top and water underneath. 🙂

      • Thanks very much for your reply! Do you still prefer Native Forest and Natural Value for coconut milk?

  11. This looks great! If I added tofu, when do U add it in the soup and should I fry it first or just add as is?

    • You could go in different directions with tofu. You can take an extra firm tofu, press the water out with paper towels, cube it up and sear it in a pan with coconut oil to get it kind of crispy and then toss those in at the end of the soup or you can just add tofu as is towards the end.

  12. This soup was unbelievably good! Tasted better than any restaurant and so easy!

    • I love it, too! Yay!

  13. Your post spoke to me Pamela. I’m sick in my pjs, sipping homemade ginger tea. Tomorrow, if I’m up to it…Thai chicken soup. Thank You!

    • Sending healing thoughts your way! Hope you get to try out the soup. It’ll fix you up!

  14. Hi – do you have ideas other than tofu to make this vegetarian? Thanks!

    • Sure! Why not use some edamame, or if you don’t want any soy use some rice noodles and shelled peas? Otherwise, it’s not necessary to have a protein in here if you’re having protein elsewhere in the meal.

  15. I made this soup last night, it was so easy and the whole family really enjoyed it.
    Using the leftover ginger in my hot water today. Thanks for the suggestions!

    • Great! Smart to reuse the ginger. 🙂

  16. If I want it red based like the first picture, do I add tomato sauce in addition to the coconut?

    • Nope. You would add a Thai red chili paste or sriracha, both of which will make it spicy.

  17. Made this soup today with chicken and it’s wonderful!! I will try it with tofu next time as my husband is vegetarian. It’s a great healthful, delicious and comforting soup! Love it!! Thank you!

    • So glad you enjoyed it. There are many ways to adapt this recipe, including making it vegetarian. Thank you!

      • I’d love to try this recipe, but wondered about the fish sauce.. what brand would you recommend? Also, if I wanted to make it vegetarian, what would I substitute for the fish sauce? If I don’t like spicey (hot) food at all, would not using the red pepper greatly affect the flavor of the soup? Thanks!

        • I buy an additive-free fish sauce at Whole Foods called Red Boat (it’s just anchovies and salt.) You can sub a little shoyu or tamari, but it’s not quite the same. The soup is not spicy, but if you want to omit the red pepper, it will still be good.

  18. My daughter is not eating meat so we made this with tofu. Turned out great love the flavors.

    • Perfect!

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I come from a large Italian-American family with 28 first cousins (on one side of the family!) where sit-down holiday dinners for 85 people are the norm (how, you might ask – organization! But more on that later …).

Some of my fondest memories are of simple family gatherings, both large and small, with long tables of bowls and platters piled high, the laughter of my cousins echoing and the comfort of tradition warming my soul.

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