There is nothing more comforting than a bowl of bright and fragrant Tom Yum soup on a cool and rainy Vancouver day. My partner always says eating Tom Yum soup feels like medicine (but doesn’t taste bad like most medicine, lol). That’s probably because of all the wonderful aromatic herbs and flavorings used in this soup. Tom Yum is very easy to make, but the challenge can be finding all the right ingredients. Any store that sells Thai or Vietnamese ingredients should have what you need.Using fresh ingredients yields the best results, but I often buy them in bulk and freeze them. Dried is a last resort because the flavours aren’t as pronounced.
Tom Yum is not traditionally vegetarian but is easily adapted to be.The only taste that is hard to replicate is fish sauce. It is has that essential umami flavour. Fret not veggies and vegans, there is a solution. Vegetarian fish sauce can most likely be found at the same Thai or Vietnamese grocery store. If you cant find it braggs, or soy sauce can sit in instead. Dark soy sauce is too strongly flavoured and coloured so avoid using that. There are also recipes floating around the interwebz for making your own veggie version of fish sauce. I have not yet tried one on for size, so if you find a good one feel free to let me know! Pescatarians can obviously use the real thing. Both the real one and the veggie one smell super bad, but don’t worry that is normal. Trust me it tastes amazing.
Veggies and vegans can ignore this next little bit of advice as it is about real fish sauce: store it in a cool dark cupboard. The fridge is ok, but can intensify the flavours. People ask me all the time “can fish sauce go bad?” The answer is yes. If it is cloudy it’s time for a new one. The best brands have the smallest number of ingredients. Anchovies, salt, and water. I like the brand with the smiling Buddha like baby on the front.
I tend to make this soup slightly different every time depending what I have on hand. There are many variations of Tom Yum Soup, but they often include mushrooms and eggplants. I also like to use lotus root, which is not traditional but is one of my favourite vegetables. Its very fresh and has a nice crisp texture to it. It also looks gorgeous.
For eggplant I usually use about half of a lg purple eggplant, diced. If I can find nice ones I will use a handful of baby Indian eggplants. They are so cute and look nice sliced into rounds. You can also use Thai green eggplants if you can find them. I find them a bit too bitter for my personal taste, even though they are the most authentic.
I love using fresh mushrooms best for this. My favourite choices are shiitakes, oyster or shemeiji. They have really nice flavours and textures. You can also use dried (rehydrated) shiitakes , or even just cremini or white button mushrooms.(You may notice there are not any mushrooms in the pictures of the tom yum as I forgot to buy them at the store, whoops!).
The last thing to make note of is the spicyness factor. Tom Yum should be spicy. It just doesn’t taste right otherwise. You should use fresh Thai red chilis. If you don’t like too much heat try to find Thai Finger chilis. They are long and red, and have a beautiful flavour that is similar in heat to a serrano. Another option is to use one small red thai chili with all the seeds taken out. The easiest way is to cut the top off the chili and slit it down the side. Scrape the seeds and mebrane out with a small spoon. You couls also try making Tom Ka Ga soup instead, that his similar flavour but the coconut milk cools down the chili. See my notes at the bottom on how to make that instead.
Tom Yum Soup Recipe
2 tsp coconut oil (use a neutral flavored oil if you don’t have coconut oil)
1 small onion, or 2 shallots sliced
2-3 stalks of lemongrass, washed, trimmed and bruised (see directions)
1 2″ piece of galangal, sliced into thin rounds
1-3 red thai chilis (with or without seeds) I like things quite spicy so I use 3 with seeds in.
8-10 lime leaves
1 pint of grape tomatoes, or 2 md sized tomatoes chopped
7-8 cups of veggie stock ( If using store bought use a low sodium one)
1.5-2 cups diced eggplant (or a handful of baby eggplants, or thai green eggplants sliced into rounds)
1 cup sliced, fresh shiitake ,oyster or shimeiji mushrooms (oyster and shemeiji can be pulled apart delicately)
1/2 package firm tofu, diced into small cubes
1 medium sized lotus root, peeled and sliced into rounds approx 1/4″ thick
2 tsp palm sugar
1 tbsp veggie fish sauce, fish sauce, braggs or light soy sauce
juice of 1 lime
1) Mis en place
Lemongrass: cut the stalks and end bit off the lemongrass. Make sure it is washed thourougly. take the back of your knife (not the blade) and bang it on the lemongrass to bruise it. This will halp to release the oils and flavours. Then cut it into approx 2″ pices.
Galangal: Slice into 1/4″ rounds.
Lime leaves: wash and lightly crumple in your palm to release the oils
chilis: chop them into small pieces. If desired remove the seeds. See directions above to mitigate heat
lotus root: peel and slice into approx 1/4″ rounds
prepare the rest of your vegtables
Palm Sugar: Most likley your Palm sugar will come in a solid disk. You will need to crush it first. I use a mortar and pestle, but if you dont have one use a food processor. My Baba used to take crush things in a plastic bag with a rolling pin. that works too!
2) Add the coconut oil to a stockpot or large pot on medium heat , when ready add onions. Sweat for 2-3 minutes
3) Then add all the aromatics: lemongrass, galangal, chilis, and lime leaves. Cook for another 2-3 minutes then add the eggplant, mushrooms, lotus root, and tomatoes for yet another 2-3 minutes.
4) Then add the tofu and veggie stock. Bring everything to a boil. After boiling for a few minutes, turn down heat to md low and simmer for about 20-30 minutes. At this point taste the stock to make sure that all the aromatic flavours are infused and that the eggplant is soft.
5) Add lime juice, palm sugar and fish sauce about 5 minutes before serving. Taste and ajust seasoning accordingly.
6) Before serving you may want to remove the lime leaves, galangal and lemongrass as they are weird to bite into. You can probably make them into a little sachet or bouquet garni if you want to before hand for easy removal. I like the way it looks, so I leave everything in.I find that the bits of leaves and such act as a sort of garnish. If I’m serving guests I just warn them what not to eat, but for more formal occasions it’s probably better to take the sachet route. You can also garnish with a little cilantro if you like.
There is another Thai soup that is very similar called Tom Ka Gai. It’s a bit richer due to the creamy coconut milk.Here is what you can do to make Tom Ka Gai soup:
1) Take out the tomatoes. It’s up to you if you want to leave the eggplant and lotus root. For this soup instead of Lotus Root I prefer bamboo shoots. They have a similar texture so if you cant find one for either soup use the other.
2) Add about 3/4 cup sliced bamboo shoots. Canned bamboo shoots tend to have a tinny taste so try and find vacuum sealed ones in the refrigerated section of any Asian grocery store. For canned ones drain them, rinse them and boil them in salted water for 2-3 minutes to help remove tinny taste. Fresh bamboo shoot has the most amazing taste if you can find them! You absolutely cannot use them raw as they are very hard to digest without preparation. To learn how to cook them see here.
3) Add 1 can of coconut milk with the vegetable stock.
That’s it. that’s Tom Ka Gai !
So now you’ve got 2 amazing Thai soups to choose from. Enjoy and Happy Cooking 🙂