Vegetarian Tom Kha Soup

img_0030This recipe has gone through a lot of edits and trials before finally converging on a flavorful and well balanced result. It’s always a challenge to adapt recipes that depend heavily on meat because the vegetarian versions end up tasting flat and sad. But I think this recipe for Tom Kha soup is up to par with its meaty counterpart. The base is the most important part, and you can mix and match the veggies as you please.

You can remove the chunky and tough spices from the soup before serving, or leave it in (and caution your guests to eat around it). But don’t slice lemon grass or ginger or kaffir lime leaves too thinly because these are really tough to eat, and the thinner you cut them, the harder it is to pick it out of the soup.

Yield: 4-5 servings


Soup Base

  • 1 large bay leaf or 2 small ones
  • 1 tsp capers (replaces fish sauce)
  • 1 whole star anise
  • 1-2 inch piece of ginger, sliced into chunks that you can fish out later
  • 10-12 kaffir lime leaves (fresh is best, but dried will do; in either case, leave them whole so you can remove them later)
  • 2 stalks lemon grass, pounded and sliced into halves (or thirds, if they are really long)
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1 liter of vegetable broth
  • 3-4 dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 1 parmesan cheese rind (adds depth to the stock)

To add after the base has cooked for some time:

  • chili oil to taste
  • 1 can of coconut milk (400 ml)
  • juice of 1/4 of a lemon
  • soy sauce to taste

Optional Add-ons

  • 8 dried tofu skin knots
  • 1 cup fresh oyster mushrooms
  • 3 vine tomatoes
  • 1 cup of spinach, sliced into ribbons
  • 2 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 1 leek, thinly sliced


  1. Combine the soup base ingredients into a large stock pot. Simmer for 30-40 minutes. If you are using the dried tofu skin knots, add them after 20 minutes of simmering.
  2. Fish out the inedible chunks from the soup base (everything but the capers and mushrooms). Or you can leave them in, and caution your guests to fish them out later.
  3. Add whatever vegetables you like, some suggestions are listed above.
  4. Simmer the soup for about 10 more minutes.
  5. Add coconut milk.
  6. Add chili oil, lemon juice, and soy sauce to taste.
  7. Serve with some bread or rice to the side.