Quinoa Asparagus Tom Kha Gai (Thai Coconut Milk Soup)

Tom Kha Gai

Thai is one of my favorite cuisines. I love the lighter sauces (than say, compared to Chinese), and the bright flavors of lemongrass, ginger, and fresh herbs. Tom Kha Gai is one of my favorite Thai dishes– and although not very traditional, this Quinoa Asparagus Tom Kha Gai might now be my favorite version.

In my travels, I’ve come to the conclusion that I typically prefer Americanized ethnic food. I’m sorry, but Mazatlan has nothing on Chipotle. And don’t even get me started on Chinese food.

So on my first trip to Thailand, I was delighted to find that Thai food in it’s homeland is very similar to restaurants in America– actually, it’s even better, because the ingredients are fresher. So excited, that I threw caution to the wind, and although I typically stick to packaged nuts, fresh fruits, and eggs while traveling (especially when restaurant staff can’t speak English and I can’t communicate my life threatening allergies), I dove in and ordered all my favorites.

Not so smart in a country whose cuisine abounds in peanuts and tamarind.

Really, really not smart. And “not smart” is the nice way of saying it.

Thai Flavors

On a tiny island (Koh Tao– still my favorite destination in Thailand), with only a tiny medical center “hut” that closed at 5 PM, I found myself spending the night — well, I’ll spare you the details, but it was a pretty terrible (and hello! wasted!) night. And I felt fortunate being sick (over and over again) was all it was, because my allergies can get much, much scarier than that.

I’d love to say I learned my lesson and I’ve 100% abstained from eating out while traveling in similar situations. No, I had to learn that lesson a few more times– but that’s a whole other story!

Thai Ingredients

Here in Malaysia, I can’t go pick up Chipotle, or Whole Foods hot bar, or even buy Amy’s frozen dinners for hectic weeks. And I certainly can’t run down to the Mamak and grab some local food.

But one thing I can do– order homemade Thai food from a lovely Thai woman my coworker is married to. Every week she sends out an order form, and prepares meals (and delivers them!) to my work for lunch or at the end of the day to take home for dinner. And because I know her, and she speaks English well, I trust she will prepare my meals free of my allergens.

The favors are amazing. And don’t even get me started on what it costs. Let’s just say that you can’t buy a Big Mac Value meal for what we pay for dinner, and we always have lunch for the next day too.

There certainly are perks to living in one of the best food cultures in Asia. Even if I can’t partake in 99% of it!

Quinoa and Asparagas

Alex and I both love her Tom Kha Gai, and it’s a dish we always order when eating (at a resort, where we know it’s safe!) in Thailand. I’ve been trying to make it at home this past year, and finally nailed it the past couple of times. The one thing we don’t like about it? After finishing it, the bowl is still half full of the “bits” that aren’t edible– leaves and twigs, the super flavorful kind.

I added some non-traditional veggies to this, and prepared the other ingredients so they could easily be eaten along with the soup, rather than just used for flavoring. The only thing that’s left in the bowl is lemongrass, and I don’t mind chewing on the bits leftover!

Thai Coconut Milk Soup

Tom Kha Gai is typically served with rice. I actually would have served this with rice, but opening my cupboard, I had about 12 other grains, and no rice. It’s not something we prepare often– we really prefer millet and quinoa. The quinoa blew me away– the subtle nutty flavor was such a good combination with the creamy coconut base. I will always serve it this way now!

5.0 from 3 reviews
Quinoa Asparagas Tom Kha Gai (Thai Coconut Milk Soup)
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Tom Kha Gai means "soup coconut chicken" in Thai. This boasts traditional Thai flavors, but with lots of vegetables rather than mushrooms. If you like mushrooms, add them in! I've found asparagus, cabbage, and green beans are really good in this soup. If you don't use the bouillon I recommend, or sub a vegetable broth, you will probably need to add a bit more sea salt to make up for the flavor. Feel free to use fish sauce to flavor as well, although I prefer not to. If possible, make this soup the day before serving. We enjoy it on the first day, but all the flavors really develop after it sits a while.
Serves: 6
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • ½ cup ginger (or galangal) root, peeled and very finely sliced
  • ½ cup Thai shallots (or other), roughly sliced or diced
  • 3 stalks of lemongrass (cut in 1 inch sections)
  • 5 cups of water + 1½ tablespoons vegetable bouillon (I use Rapunzel)
  • (or substitute 5 cups vegetable bouillon)
  • 2 chicken breasts, very thinly sliced
  • 1 large carrot (thinly sliced)
  • 1 cup baby corn (sliced into smaller pieces)
  • 2 cups asparagus (cut into 1 inch pieces)
  • 2 cups coconut milk (canned, full fat -- roughly 1-15 ounce can)
  • 4 kaffir lime leaves, torn
  • 1-2 red Thai chilis, thinly sliced
  • 2 teaspoons sriracha (mildly spicy-- or less, for less spicy soup)
  • sea salt (to taste)
  • lime wedges, to garnish
  • cilantro, to garnish
  • 1 cup quinoa, cooked to package directions
  1. After peeling, very thinly slice the ginger. This helps the flavor come out, and also allows the ginger to become soft so it can be eaten along with the soup. The shallots need peeled, and can be roughly sliced or diced. To prepare the lemongrass, cut it into 1 inch sections, and "smash" it with the side of a knife to start releasing the oils.
  2. Add ginger, lemongrass, and shallots to a large soup pot along with sesame oil. Saute over medium heat for about 5 minutes to start releasing the flavors.
  3. Add water and vegetable bouillon. Gently boil (medium to medium high) for about 20 minutes. Do not replace water that is lost. Wait until the soup is finished, and then decide if it needs more water.
  4. Add the thinly sliced chicken breast, and allow it to begin poaching in the broth.
  5. Next, add carrots, baby corn, asparagus, red chilis, torn kaffir lime leaves, coconut milk, and sriracha.
  6. At this point, taste the broth. If it seems too rich, add water ½ cup at a time. If it needs more flavor, add sea salt or extra bouillon. A squeeze of lime adds more flavor as well.
  7. The chicken won't have a lot of flavor right after the soup is cooked. It will soak in the flavors of the ginger, lemongrass, and coconut milk as it sits. If you can make this soup early in the day, or even the day before, it tastes the best. We usually don't wait that long, but really look forward to eating the leftovers the next day knowing how much more flavorful it will be!
  8. Garnish with extra lime wedges and cilantro, and extra sriracha, if needed.
  9. Serve with quinoa to add to bowls.
For Paleo option, leave out quinoa.
For vegan option, substitute tofu for chicken, or simply leave the chicken out and serve with extra quinoa.

Thai SoupOther Thai Inspired Dishes:



  1. says

    Michelle, I just made my mexican quinoa again today and I’m killing myself for only finding this recipe of yours at night…..had I seen it earlier today I would have made it. Darn!!!! How delicious do your photos look?! My goodness.
    I have just enough quinoa left, I’ll be saving it for this.

    PS: Do you find that quinoa makes you feel crazy full? We were so stuffed today.
    Amrita @ MyWifeMakes.com recently posted…Star Blogger Spotlight: Ceara’s KitchenMy Profile

    • says

      Yes, quinoa is super filling. Lots of fiber and protein :) I usually use it as a topping for salads or soups rather than eat a bowl of it.

      I hope you try this! Such incredible flavors.

      Thank you for the compliments!

    • says

      Thai food can be intimidating to try! So many layers of flavors. I never could make it taste “just right” in the States, because it’s hard to find fresh lemongrass, kaffir lime, and even the ginger tastes different. If you have an Asian import store, that would make it easier! A lot of these things can now be found in the States.

  2. says

    I have never seen anything like this soup. Looks so filling and nutritious. And I haven’t seen anything like this on any menu where I live. Now if you could just help me with my Chipotle addiction, we eat there every night (I wish I were joking).
    Laura recently posted…Octagonal Shaped HousesMy Profile

  3. says

    Michelle, your recipe caught my eye today at SITS today and is it any surprise? I love your blog! I hope you have this one linked up with us at Foodie Fridays…I haven’t had a chance to look to see what is there yet! It looks delicious and as usual your photos are beautiful too! Have a great weekend!
    Michelle @ A Dish of Daily Life recently posted…DIY Christmas Tree TopiaryMy Profile

    • says

      Thank you Jenny! Thai ingredients are so easy to photograph- so beautiful! Yes, getting to order homemade Thai food that’s made to order is a pretty great deal!

    • says

      Thank you! Yeah, probably not the best story to share next to food! But my allergies are part of what has made me a good cook– it has forced me to learn to make my favorite things at home!

  4. says

    I absolutely love Tom Kha Gai, and here’s a chance to load up on veggies too. Just pinned this one to my Pinterest board for fit food. Traveling with allergies is the worst! We once spent the night at a hospital in a tiny town in North Carolina because my son ate a chocolate chip cookie – complimentary from the hotel – that had walnuts in it. Our defenses were down because it was late when we stopped for the night, and he’d been saying he was hungry for an hour or two. But we learned – no more complimentary anything!
    Elizabeth recently posted…A Week for Simple Comfort FoodMy Profile

    • says

      It can be scary! Sweets are what get me the most– chocolate! It’s hard not to want to try things — but I’ve gotten sick from the strangest things. Banana bread at work once (really, peanuts?!) — and in a crab dish in Singapore! That’s why I just avoid local food, and am boring and only eat Western food out here. I am sure it’s worse for a parent than being the actual one sick!

    • says

      Yes, Thai has so many flavors going on! And this soup combines all the best. This week, I’ve been making Thai basil chicken and using it for lettuce wraps– I think I must be craving a trip to Thailand?!

  5. says

    What a beautiful dish and I like the idea of adding quinoa and asparagus in it! Tom kha gai is my favorite soup. It’s really difficult to find fresh lemongrass here and I only have dried one. Hope it works too!
    Maggie recently posted…Chinese Pork StockMy Profile

    • says

      It’s one of my favorites, too! Lemongrass is widely available and cheap in KL, but I’ve bought it fresh at Whole Foods in the States! Not cheap, but fresh and beautiful. I’ve never cooked with dry — but it would probably work?! It’s the Kaffir Lime leaves I think would be really hard to find here. I brought some with me to the States so I could make a Thai curry while I’m home.

      • says

        Oh I can never find fresh Kaffir Lime leaves and I always use a powdered one. I can imagine you can get these fresh and beautiful herbs in KL and the price is cheap right? Really want to visit the city some time. I love Malaysian food and I heard nothing beats the local ones!
        Maggie recently posted…Chinese Baked Hot WingsMy Profile

        • says

          I’ve never seen fresh kaffir lime leaves in the States either. My aunt lives down in San Luis Obispo, and she said she can buy them at a farmer’s market– I am assuming running in to them in the States would really be a find.

          Yes– very cheap in Malaysia. For a $1, I buy more lime leaves than I could ever use. KL is a neat city– very proud of it’s food culture! I, unfortunately, am allergic to most of the local food!

  6. says

    Bless your little heart Michelle….I know how scary it can be when you are really sick and at best the medical facilities are not anywhere in the 20th century. I love how positive you are and what a beautiful creation you have made with all of the lovely Thai flavours without peanuts and tamarind… Maybe off line you can share with me your food allergens so that I can come up with some recipes with out those things that make your life miserable…Our family has a whole heap of food intolerances and allergens. Sharing, of course!!!
    Bam’s Kitchen recently posted…Five Spiced Beef Diakon Noodle SoupMy Profile


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