This maitake mushroom recipe is inspired by Thailand’s famous tom kha gai soup. Savory, slightly sweet, and incredibly delicious, it also features lemongrass, limes, and coconut milk.
A lifelong love of Thai food
One of my favorite cuisines growing up was Thai. The flavorful ingredients in Thai food might as well have been from another planet compared to the relatively bland ingredients used in local fare.
My family lived in South Carolina and in those days there probably wasn’t a Thai restaurant anywhere in the state. Finding a nearby Asian grocery or Thai ingredients at a local grocery store was probably impossible, too.
My exposure to Thai food came during winter and summer trips to see family in Tampa, Florida. During each visit, our family would go to different ethnic restaurants, and Thai was always top of the list of favorites. A giant bowl of tom kha gai was the first thing we’d order.
Fast forward a few decades: it’s no accident that two of the primary flavors in this childhood-favorite soup — lemongrass and makrut limes — are now plants The Tyrant and I grow in our gardens. Thankfully, The Tyrant is also a huge fan of Thai food.
With it now being maitake mushroom season (also called hen of the woods), we decided to create a soup recipe that combined two of our favorite things: the flavors of tom kha gai with the flavors and medicinal benefits of maitake mushrooms.
Best of all, baby Sebastian, who is in the midst of baby led weaning, absolutely loves the broth from this soup as well. So the next generation is already a fan of Thai food!
Although this recipe is inspired by tom kha gai, we improvised based on ingredients we have available from forest and garden. Here are a few tips to help you replicate this recipe in your own kitchen:
Good ingredients, better food…
Quality ingredients make a big difference. Having fresh makrut lime fruit and leaves, lemongrass, and maitakes/hen of the woods provides a flavor and nutrient boost. If you don’t have these ingredients handy, you may be able to find them at a local Asian grocery.
How to use makrut limes
Makrut limes are essential to many southeast Asian cuisines. While the leaves are perhaps the most commonly used and known part of the plant, we absolutely love the crazy-potent makrut fruit as well.
*Note: Makrut limes are also called “kaffir limes,” but kaffir is actually a highly offensive racial epithet in other cultures… Hence the use of the name “makrut” instead.
Use makrut lime leaves like you use bay leaves: add them whole in soups so the flavor infuses in the broth, then remove them either when serving or eating the soup.
We also used two makrut lime fruits in this recipe. We squeezed the juice into the broth, then added the fruit skins for about 10 minutes to extract their flavor just long enough not to impart any bitterness.
Traditional tom kha gai soup doesn’t have greens in it. However, we have a bunch of Asian greens growing in our fall garden and wanted to add a veggie to our meal. So we included bok choy in our soup.
If you don’t have bok choy, tatsoi, or other comparable Asian greens, no worries. Just leave out the veggies.
Want to get the most flavor out of your lemongrass? After cutting it into 3-4″ sections, bash the sections with a blunt tool (like the handle of your kitchen knife) so more flavor can be released…
Recipe: Maitake mushroom soup (inspired by Thai tom kha gai)
Now let’s get cooking!
Thai-inspired maitake mushroom soup (based on tom kha gai)
A savory, lightly sweet soup featuring maitake mushrooms. Recipe inspired by Thai tom kha gai soup - flavored with lemongrass, lime, and coconut milk.
- 4 cups diced maitake mushroom; weight ~14 ounces
- 2 lbs free-range chicken; we prefer thighs/dark meat for better flavor (*vegetarians or vegans can leave meat out and/or or substitute tofu)
- 1 yellow or white onion, thin sliced (about 2 cups)
- 2 lime fruit (we highly recommend makrut limes if at all possible)
- 2 makrut lime leaves, used for flavoring
- 2 large lemon grass stalks, chopped into sections
- 1 bok choy, chopped
- 1 can organic coconut milk (13.5 fl oz) (*towards the end of cooking, taste to make sure you have enough coconut milk for your tastes - you can always add part of another can if you need more)
- 1 qt chicken stock (or veggie stock)
- 2 garlic cloves, diced
- 2 tbsp organic coconut sugar
- 3 tbsp freshly grated ginger
- 1 tbsp fish sauce (nuoc mam nhi)
- 1/2 cup cilantro leaves for garnish
- 1/2 cup red peppers, cut into chopsticks for garnish
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- salt to taste, or not at all if stock is salty enough
- *optional - to serve as a filling, stand-alone meal, add cooked brown rice to each bowl when serving
- *optional, 1 tsp red Thai curry paste (this is typically an ingredient in tom kha gai - we didn't have any on hand so we didn't use it, and our soup turned out great)
Put veggie oil into soup pan over medium low heat (3.5 on our stove). Add thinly sliced quartered onion and chicken to pan. Cook until chicken is lightly browned on both sides and onions are translucent. Add diced maitake mushrooms to pan. Stir and cook for about 6-7 minutes. Mushrooms will "sweat" releasing their water into the pan. Add garlic + grated ginger and cook for another 3-4 minutes, stirring.
Deglaze pan with chicken or veggie stock. Then add coconut milk, chopped lemongrass stalks (see prep recommendation above recipe), makrut lime leaves, lime juice, coconut sugar, and fish sauce. Turn stove up slightly to medium heat to get a light boil, then turn back down to medium low heat and let simmer for 20 minutes. Add chopped bok choy and spent lime skins and cook for another 10 minutes. Remove lime skins.
Ladle into bowls and garnish with cilantro and red pepper strips. If you want to make this dish a full meal, cook a side of whole grain rice and add to soup when serving.
We hope you enjoy this delicious maitake soup recipe inspired by Thai cuisine and fond childhood memories!
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