Vegetarian Tom Kha Gai Recipe

Tom kha gai (translated literally to mean chicken galangal soup), incorporates so many contrasting flavors that it can be intimidating for a new chef. When I first tasted tom kha gai at a Thai restaurant, I was so inspired that i wrote the following passage about its flavors:

Immediately the creamy milk hits your palate; transporting you to an exotic Thai beach. You’re lying down on a chase lounge; soup bowl in hand. As you slurp the broth, a hint of kaffir lime adds the perfect amount of tartness- enough so it plays off of the coconut milk, while not so much so that the tartness is overwhelming. Shreds of galangal root float about the bowl, each one permeating the broth with an earthy, citrusy flavor. Normally, the rice noodles would seem slightly overcooked and gloppy, but because they are coated in the broth, the flavors meld together to become one. With the last spoonful of broth, the elusive flavor of lemongrass- impalpable yet distinctly aromatic- lingers on.

This past week I attempted my own version of this Thai classic based upon a recipe found online. My variation follows:

Vegetarian Tom Kah Gai


The broth was perfectly seasoned by the combination of bullion, lime, lemongrass, and galangal. Every ingredient added to the flavor and texture of the soup.

Ease of Execution

About 20 minutes from start to finish, including prep time. While lemongrass and galangal root may seem intimidating to prepare, it’s simple once you get started.”


Moderately attractive in the bowl, particularly when sprinkled with chiffonades of basil.


Tom kah gai is an easy to make delicious soup definitely a try.


4-5 stalks lemongrass
2 cans (14 ounces each) unsweetened coconut milk
2 bouillon cubes (or 1.5 cups of vegetable stock)
1 galangal root (cut into 20 quarter-sized slices)
10 peppercorns (or ground pepper
Zest of 1/2 lime
1.5 pounds of sweet potatoes or butternut squash
1 can garbanzo beans
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons lime juice
3 scallions sliced
Basil (to taste)

1. Peel away the outer dry layers of the lemongrass. Trim the tops. You will use roughly 6 inches above the base. Using a blade/knife, bruise each stalk at 2 inch intervals at all sides.

2. Peel the galangal root and cut into 20 quarter-sized pieces.

2. Heat the coconut milk and water with bouillon over medium heat. Stir in the galangal root, lemongrass, peppercorns, and lime zest.

3. Cut the sweet potato/squash into large bite-sized pieces. Add to the broth, and bring soup to a gentle boil for 10 minutes.

4. Remove soup from heat and add the garbanzo beans, soy sauce, lime juice, and green onions. Serve warm with whole basil leaves or chiffinades of basil (see notes).


  • To chiffonade basil, simply stack the leaves on top of each other and roll them intro a tight bundle. Cut diagonally.
  • In Thailand this soup is served with the lemongrass and galangal root still in the soup. If you would rather not  eat around them at the table,  remove them from the soup before Step 4.
  • Basil can be replaced with cilantro.
  • Mung bean noodles can also be added.