Tom is soup in Thai, and the Thais make several soups that are right up there with my all time favorites. Tom yum goong was the first Thai soup I ever had and it was a revelation of sour, salty spiciness.
But I think my most favourite is tom ka gai - soup with coconut and chicken. It's fresh and tangy with an easily adjusted level of heat and I've never served it to anyone who hasn't liked it. Plus it's dead easy and quick to prepare. Its an all round winner.
As with all Thai food, a bit of variation in your ingredients keeps things interesting - but the quality of the final dish is all about the balance of the flavours - sweet, sour, salty, spicy. Add flavourings in increments and taste often.
Tom Ka Gai - soup with coconut and chicken
2 cups coconut milk
2 cups chicken stock
3 stalks of lemongrass cut into 4cm lengths and bruised
40gm fresh galangal, sliced (if fresh is a problem, frozen is better than dried)
Handful of fresh baby corn cut into 3cm lengths - if you can't get fresh skip the corn because tinned is an abomination
1 medium white onion, cut in bite size pieces (say, eighths)
100gms mushrooms (ideally straw, but next best is oyster then thin sliced button)
3 or 4 kaffir lime leaves torn into quarters
1 medium tomato cut into bite size pieces
200gms thin sliced chicken breast
1 cup coconut cream
2 plus tbsp fish sauce
2 plus tbsp lime juice
1 or more green chillies*
Handful of coriander leaves
Heat coconut milk and stock in a large pot until just boiling.
Add lemongrass, galangal, corn and onion. Let heat for a few minutes.
Add mushrooms and lime leaves and heat for a few more minutes.
Add chicken and tomato and heat until chicken is cooked.
Add coconut cream and just bring to the boil and remove from heat.
Add fish sauce, lime juice and chillies and serve with coriander leaves.
*The degree of heat released by the chillies depends on how much they are cut or bruised. They can be sliced for maximum heat, just steeped for minimum heat or bashed a bit with the back of the spoon for something in between. In general, the smaller the chillies are, the more intense the heat - use tiny 'mouse shit' chillies for power heat, or larger milder ones for a softer flavour. If you have kids or chillie haters, serve them first then add the chillies after.