Recipe: Thai Coconut Soup
(Image credit: Michelle Peters-Jones)

This Thai coconut soup is one of my absolute favorite soups for the winter — heck, for any season! With temperatures here in Edmonton, Canada plummeting to -40°C over the last week, this soup — with its delicately sweet, salty, and spicy flavors — has become more than just a craving: it's a necessity. I love its versatility and how easy it is to make, particularly if you've made the curry paste in advance.

(Image credit: Michelle Peters-Jones)

The key to this soup is to get the balance of sweet, salty, and tangy right, especially when paired with the richness of the coconut milk.

I use full-fat coconut milk for this recipe, but you can always go with the lighter version. The soup won't be as full-bodied, but will still be delicious. I've also made this soup with shrimp and mushrooms, but it's an incredibly adaptable soup if you're vegetarian, don't like mushrooms, or simply want to switch things up. Check out some of the other additions I've used in the Recipe Notes.

(Image credit: Michelle Peters-Jones)

Thai Coconut Soup

Serves 4

For the paste:
1/4 teaspoon white peppercorns
2 lemongrass stalks, outer leaves stripped away (tender hearts only)
3 kaffir lime leaves, backbone removed and shredded finely
1 tablespoon finely chopped galangal
1/2 cup cilantro stalks, chopped
1 large shallot, chopped (about 3 tablespoons)
4 garlic cloves, crushed

For the soup:
1 cup coconut milk, stirred
1 cup vegetable or chicken stock
8 ounces white shimeji mushrooms, roots removed and kept whole (or white button mushrooms, thickly sliced)
12 to 16 medium-sized shrimp, peeled and deveined (with the tail left on, if you prefer)
Sugar and salt, to taste
Small handful Thai basil leaves, torn (optional)

For the chili sauce:
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon lime juice
3 red or green hot bird's eye chilies, finely sliced

First, make the paste. Dry-roast the peppercorns in a skillet over high heat until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and let cool. Place the cooled peppercorns and the remaining paste ingredients, one by one, into a mortar and pestle and pound into a fine paste (see Recipe Notes). You can also place all the ingredients in a powerful blender and blend to a fine paste. Add the extra 4 tablespoons of coconut milk to loosen the paste and make it easier to blend.

Make-Ahead: This paste can be made up to a week in advance and kept refrigerated, or you can freeze it for up to 3 months. If making ahead, do not add coconut milk.

To make the soup, place the paste in a saucepan, and add the coconut milk and stock. Bring it up to a gentle simmer (do not boil). Simmer gently for about 5 minutes, then add the mushrooms. Cook for a couple of minutes until the mushrooms are tender, then add the shrimp. When the shrimp turn pink (2 to 3 minutes, depending on their size), turn off the heat and season the soup to taste with the salt and sugar, adding more coconut milk if desired. Add the Thai basil leaves, if using.

Meanwhile, combine the ingredients for the chili sauce, and set aside.

To serve, ladle the soup into bowls and serve with the chili sauce. Each person can season the soup to their taste with the sauce (I use about 1 teaspoon of sauce). The sauce should taste perfectly balanced between hot, salty, sweet and slightly tangy.

Recipe Notes

  • You can replace the shrimp and mushrooms with shredded cooked chicken, sliced Thai eggplants, vegetables, or any kind of seafood. I sometimes use baby scallops, mussels, clams, and white fish fillets to make a hearty seafood version of this soup.
  • You can make the paste ahead and store it in the fridge. If making it ahead, do not add any coconut milk to blend it.
  • If you can't find galangal, you can use ginger. It will change the flavor of the soup a little, but it will still taste delicious. (Read more: Ingredient Spotlight: Galangal.)
  • The Thai basil leaves are optional, but add a wonderful fragrance and anise flavor. If you're buying them to use in the cocktail, save some for this soup.
More posts in A Day of Thai-Inspired Meals with Coconut, Lime & Curry
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