Tom ka taohu is a variant of the classic tom ka ga of Thai and Lao cuisine. So sayeth the great Wikipedia, amen.
I love cooking Asian food because it’s easy, fast and generally healthy. Here’s my take on the classic coconut milk soup, using a sweet base of green tea and sea vegetables instead of stock for an antioxidant boost and sweet flavor.
Don’t be scared off by the long list of ingredients! I swear it’s really easy to cook. Plus, all of the vegetables are completely optional; you can use any or all that I mention, or substitute your own. (Try tomato chunks, and let me know how it goes!)
Time to prepare: I tend to get all daydreamy and distracted and dance around the kitchen singing to Pandora or Songza and in general cook incredibly slowly. But this dish never takes me longer than 45 minutes, and almost all of that time is taken up by chopping the vegetables and garlic.
For the broth:
4 c water (less if you want a thicker soup, or else you’ll have to use more coconut milk)
1 can coconut milk (I go full fat organic)
2 green tea bags OR 2 tablespoons loose leaf in a ball (if you’re EXTRA fancy you could use 2 tablespoons matcha, but that stuff’s worth its weight in gold)
1/2 c arame (sea vegetable, found in most health food stores for relatively cheap)
1-3 finger-length sections of lemongrass stalk (optional but highly recommended)
3-5 tbs fish oil (vegetarian or vegan? Use soy sauce instead! Or dissolve some miso in water. Or skip it; the point is to add brightness and flavor along with salt content, instead of using a lot of straight salt.)
1 small lime (I add the lime juice at the end so it stays sweet and present. You could use lemon juice, but I like the sweetness of lime.)
1/2 onion, chopped
4 cloves of garlic (more or less to taste) diced or chopped (I like large and small chunks of garlic floating in my soup)
2 c chopped carrots
1 c sliced mushrooms
1 bell pepper, sliced
1 package extra firm tofu sliced into cubes (I go organic/non-GMO to avoid giving money to Monsanto. You can also use chicken or even beef, but then it’s not tom ka taohu anymore.)
1 head baby bok choy, roughly chopped
Oil for sauteeing. I use coconut oil to go with the coconut milk, but have had success with olive and vegetable oils.
Traditional seasonings include galangal, lime leaves, coriander, cilantro, fried chilies and dill weed.
My favored seasonings include ginger (related to galangal), pepper, cilantro, chili powder and whatever else I feel like using at the moment
In a large soup pot, pour 4 c water. Add the green tea, lemongrass, and arame (arame is stick-like in texture and needs to soak) and heat over very low heat to make a green tea. DO NOT add the coconut milk at this stage.
While the tea base is steeping, chop up your veggies and tofu. In a separate pan, saute the onion and garlic until the onions are translucent. Add the tofu and sautee like you would meat, for a minute or two.
Add the carrots to the tea, but leave the other vegetables out. Let the carrots cook until they are a little bit soft.
Then, turn the heat down as low as you possibly can. From this point on, you don’t really want to cook anything anymore, just maintain the heat. Remove the tea bags or tea ball. Add the coconut milk. Don’t panic if your soup doesn’t get coconut-y right away; you have to let the solidified fat melt and mingle, and then your soup will take on a slightly creamy texture. Squeeze in the lime juice and add the fish oil/fish oil substitute. If you are in doubt how much to use, start small and taste the broth, adding to your taste. Add whatever other seasonings you like.
Add the rest of the veggies, the onions, garlic and tofu, stir well and serve immediately. The vegetables will still be mostly raw and crisp.
The great thing about this soup is that it keeps well; while the veggies will no longer be as crisp, the flavors of the broth and the spices will have time to mingle and deepen. I like it cold the next morning, with a cup of hot green tea!