Updated: Dec 22, 2018
On the fourth day of Christmas my true love gave to me...
Four Calling Bird's Beak Chilis
Tom Kha Gai with Bird's Beak Chilis. Maybe an odd choice for a Christmas dish? But maybe not? It is red, green and white, after all. But I chose it because of how important it is to stay healthy this time of year. Every single ingredient in this power-packed bowl of Thai chicken soup is healing and boosting for the immune system. It's good to eat—and I mean really good to eat—all throughout winter.
Bird's beak chilis (bird's eye chilis, Thai red chilis or piri piri) are small, thin, red chilis that resemble a bird's beak. They tend to have noticeable heat, but not extreme on the scoville scale. They're what's needed during winter to clear sinuses and stuffy head congestion, and give the immune system a big kick in the butt.
TOM KHA GAI — THAI COCONUT CHICKEN SOUP
A warming and healing soup with the quintessential combo of sweet, hot, sour and salty. You may need to explore your local Asian grocery for a few of the ingredients, namely, galangal root, and kaffir lime leaves. Lemongrass, coconut milk and fish sauce are available at natural foods markets.
2 lemongrass stalks
1 (1"x2") piece galangal
1 (1"x2") piece ginger
4-8 red bird's beak chilis
3 kaffir lime leaves
1-2 tablespoons coconut sugar (or cane sugar, or a couple drops of liquid stevia)
4 cups chicken stock
2 (16 oz) cans coconut milk ("coconut cream" on label is best)
2 boneless chicken breasts, sliced into thin bite-sized pieces
1 can straw mushrooms
1 medium tomato, cut into small wedges
2 tablespoons fish sauce
handful fresh cilantro
Prepare the roots and shoots: Cut the bottom 4-inch portion of the root end of the lemongrass stalks away from the rest of the shoot; use this 4-inch root end piece. Pound the lemongrass with the back of your knife all over to bruise it. Next slice the galangal and the ginger roots into approximate 1-inch diagonal discs. Cut the stem off the chilis and either thinly slice the chilis or pound them with the knife and use whole. Thinly slice the kaffir lime leaves or simply crush them in your palm and use whole.
Bring the chicken stock to a low boil in a medium saucepan or soup pot. Add the lemongrass, galangal, ginger, chilis, and lime leaves to the pot. Turn the heat down to a simmer and stir in the coconut milk. You have a couple choices at this point:
1. Add the chicken and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes until the chicken is cooked through and tender. Add the mushrooms and tomato and simmer 5 more minutes or so, until the tomato is soft but not fully cooked through. Just before serving, stir in the fish sauce and lime juice. Adjust flavors so the soup tastes sweet with sour notes, and you feel heat at the end of your bite. Garnish with cilantro and thinly sliced kaffir lime leaves.
2. Remove the pot from the heat and bring to room temperature. Refrigerate overnight to allow the flavors to fully develop. 30 or so minutes before serving, bring it up to a simmer slowly so as not to burn the coconut milk. Follow steps for #1 above.