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Whenever I go to a Thai restaurant and this soup is on the menu, I usually order it. In trying to duplicate it at home, I have failed many times. Finally, after watching several videos online, I realized that the key is in the sequence.

You’re going to have to visit a Thai or international market to find several ingredients, especially the lemon grass stalks, kiffir lime leaves, galanga, which is not the same as ginger, and the bird’s eye chilies. Don’t shy away from the fish sauce; it has a very pungent aroma out of the jar but makes the soup what it is. It won’t taste the same if you use soy sauce, so don’t even think about it.

Here goes:

Tom Kha Goong

Serves 3 to 4

3 c. vegetable stock (or water)

4 lemon grass stalks, trimmed and chopped into ½-inch stalks

4 fresh cilantro roots, lightly crushed (or a bunch of cilantro stems)

4 kiffir lime leaves, torn

4 inches galanga, thickly sliced

⅓ c. plus 2 Tbsp. Thai fish sauce

1 Tbsp. (rounded) white sugar

2 tsp. red curry paste

1 tsp. garlic chili sauce

½ tsp, peanut oil

Two 14-oz. cans coconut milk, well shaken

12 oz. raw shrimp, peeled

4 oz. wild oyster or shiitake mushrooms, trimmed

⅓ c. freshly squeezed lime juice

3 bird’s eye chiles, (or one Serrano chile) chopped into fine rounds

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Fresh cilantro leaves

In a medium saucepan, bring vegetable stock to a boil over medium high heat. Add lemon grass stalks, cilantro roots, lime leaves and galanga, reduce heat to low. Simmer for about 15 minutes, then strain into a Dutch oven.

In a separate bowl, whisk fish sauce, sugar, curry paste, garlic chili sauce, peanut oil and stir into vegetable stock.

Add coconut milk and return to simmer.

Add shrimp and mushrooms, turn up heat and continue simmering for 2 to 3 minutes, until meat becomes translucent and mushrooms tender.

Remove from heat and add lime juice. Stir, then transfer soup to serving bowls.

Garnish with diced pieces of bird’s eye chiles and cilantro leaves. 

Pair this with Lucas & Lewellen’s 2015 Santa Barbara County Viognier. Their viognier grapes were grown near the towns of Los Alamos and Santa Ynez, situated in northern Santa Barbara County. Louis Lucas and Royce Lewellen chose these sites for viognier because of the region’s long growing season typified by warm days, cool nights and marine layer influence. Farmed using sustainable practices, these hand-harvested grapes create a rich and exhilarating wine with hints of melon, stone fruit and citrus.

Or try Casa Dumetz’s 2014 Ballard Canyon Viognier, from the Tierra Alta Vineyard. All juicy citrus of Meyer lemon, tangerine and blood orange boosted by a hint of tropical scented pineapple on the midpalate.

Natural pairings for this Thai soup with shrimp. Serve cool (40 to 45 degrees F).


John David Finley is a freelance writer and author of the cookbook "Sacred Meals from our Family Table," which features Santa Barbara County wines. He can be reached at