When Liz pointed out the lone stand with lemongrass in Tel Aviv’s Carmel Market a few months ago, I immediately became excited. It’s one of those ingredients that some of my favorite recipes call. It can be omitted, but you always get the sense that something is missing. You don’t need a whole lot of lemongrass to get the impact, and so Liz and I split a bunch and I quickly began thinking of how to put it to good use. In an instant I knew: Coconut mushroom soup, or Tom Kha Hed. This is one of those dishes that shows up on American Thai menus often, but I get the sense isn’t so far off from the real thing.
Lemongrass (cymbopogon) is indeed actually a grass that is native to Asia, and has a citrusy flavor with distinctive hues that are simultaneously sweet and tangy. To get the most out of it, use the slightly thicker root ends and bruise them with a mallet or back of a knife, then infuse the lemongrass in whatever you are cooking. Here, I’ve infused the lemongrass in a simmering mixture of coconut milk (one of my favorite ingredients of all time) and vegetable stock. I’ve also used lemongrass to make delightful flavored simple syrups for drinks, and there are lots of other uses.
Calling this soup Tom Kha Hed is a bit of a misnomer since the “kha” means galangal and I did not have any of that (“tom” means soup and “hed” means mushroom in Thai), but it tasted pretty darn close to anything I’ve ever had in a restaurant. The flavors are clean and bright, and it’s about as summery as a hot soup can get. You can turn this into an even more substantial meal by adding chicken or tofu. And – bonus! – it’s ready in about 20 minutes!
- 1 (12-14 ounce) can coconut milk
- 32 ounces (4 cups) vegetable stock
- 3 pieces root end lemongrass (bottom 3-4 inches), bruised
- 6 ounces white button mushrooms, sliced
- ½ cup chopped cilantro
- 2 tablespoons lime juice
- Put the coconut milk, vegetable stock, and bruised lemongrass in a pot and simmer over medium-low heat for 10 to 15 minutes, until the liquid is infused with lemongrass flavor. Remove the lemongrass.
- Add the mushrooms and cook for another 5 minutes, until just softened.
- Remove from the heat and stir in the cilantro and lime juice. Serve immediately.
Serve this with Tofu Satay, Curry Puffs and Shrimp Coconut Curry for a complete Thai meal!