Today I’d like to to share a really tasty tom yum recipe with you. Tom yum, or tom yam, is a Thai soup dish that I really fell in love with from the first time that I tried it in Thailand.
Since then, I’ve been making tom yum on a regular basis, in different versions – such as this vegan one that I’ll share with you in this article.
After two months of travelling and culinary adventures all around Thailand, Laos and Vietnam, learning about food and foodstuffs from the people whose families have been cooking like that for generations, and exploring all sorts of local culinary wonders, my impression of these countries’ traditional cuisine gained a whole new dimension.
All those perfect combinations of herbs and spices, fresh foodstuffs, wonderfully balanced flavours and textures have really found a special place in my heart.
Simplicity with a ton of flavour
From a healthy-eating prespective, I can say that Thai cuisine left me thrilled because of some of its main characteristics: simplicity of food preparation, very short thermic processing of foodstuffs and lots of soups, salads and fresh raw vegetables (and fruits).
Those are some principles that I follow in my own diet, not because it is modern or said to be healthy, but because I’ve loved soups and salads, and disliked overcooked food since I can remember.
I love that anyone who would like to eat healthier in Thailand (and other Southeast Asian countries) can do so really easily, on the streets or in one of the garages transformed into something like a restaurant; sitting around small plastic tables, and having a delicious meal for more than an affordable price (even with our Croatian salaries and humble savings..).
I got an impression that wholesome, real food here is not a luxury, but a basic necessity – which is how it should be.
I could write so much about all that I love about Thai cuisine… But I’ll leave it for some other time. Today I wanted to share this really cool recipe for Thai tom yum (tom yam) soup, a dish that completely won my heart.
You can call me a traitor to my Balkan heritage, but I have to admit that I’ve never tried a soup that I liked more than the Thai tom yam (or tom yum) soup.
I still remember the first one that I tried somewhere in the suburbs of Bangkok and it was such a wonderful, flavourful experience… We cried a bit because of the amount of chilli, mumbled a bit from pleasure, and all in all it was just a heavenly feeling, what can I say.
Ingredients for the (vegan) tom yum soup
The main spices and herbs that will give tom yum soup its unique flavour are chilli peppers, lemongrass, lime leaves and fresh young galangal rhizome.
Galangal is a name used for several tropical plant species from the ginger family, that taste similar to ginger in a way, but are more aromatic. Their somewhat floral aromas fit perfectly in these fresh and sparkly tasting creamy coconut milk soups that are so common all around Thailand.
Some coconut blossom sugar is added to balance the taste of tom yum soup, and to get a somewhat creamy texture, people traditionally add some milk or coconut milk. I use either coconut milk or oat cream for that purpose.
Most common type of tom yum is made with shrimps, and vegan versions commonly include mushrooms and tomatoes. If you adjust the ingredient list a bit, this is completely doable in Europe (again, if I could do it in Croatia…).
Some substitutes for the original tom yum ingredients
I am aware that not all of these traditional tom yum ingredients are that easily available in Europe. Still, you can substitute some of them and still get an amazing result.
Instead of galangal you can use ginger, instead of Thai chilies – any chilies will do. You can use fresh lemon leaves if you can’t get lime leaves (I actually loved this when I used to live in the Mediterranean – there are lemon trees everywhere), and lemongrass is usually available at least as a dried herb for tea.
I also needed to adjust the amount of spiciness of tom yum for the European taste buds. Even when I made it with less than half the amount of chilli compared to the original dish, my Croatian friends were all red and in tears while trying to say that the flavour is amazing… I guess that our tolerance to spicy went too high up after two months of eating chillies every day.
So, to be able to make my vegan tom yum to my friends without making them cry, I started substituting some of the chilli with dried red sweet pepper (paprika) – that way it still has all the pepper flavour, but much less spiciness.
I don’t know if you share the excitement, but I can’t stop being thrilled about the fact that there are parts of the world where traditional food preparation doesn’t include sautéing, overcooking and lots of oil, yet the dishes are absolutely flavourful and will satisfy even the more demanding food lovers.
- 100 g shiitake mushrooms
- 150 g cherry tomatoes
- 1 large spring onion
- 100 g semi-firm tofu
- 1-2 bigger chillies
- 3-4 home-grown lemon leaves
- 1 heaping tbsp chopped lemongrass (a bit less if it's dried)
- A piece of fresh ginger rhizome, up to your taste
- 1 tsp ground sweet pepper
- 1 tsp coconut blossom sugar
- 3 tbsp soy sauce
- 400 ml vegetable broth or water
- 100 ml oat cream or full-fat coconut milk
- 1/2 fresh lime
- 1 handful fresh cilantro (coriander leaves)
- Put the chilli peppers, ginger, lemongrass and lemon leaves in a pot with water or broth and cook for a couple of minutes. If you are using dried spices, you can cook them for up to ten minutes in a closed pot, to release more aroma.
- Add sliced vegetables, mushrooms, tofu, soy sauce and coconut sugar (you can also add some more water if needed).
- Let it cook for for a minute or two, add oat cream or coconut milk, stir and remove from the heat.
- Let the soup sit for a few more minutes in a covered pot.
- Serve it with plain white rice or rice vermicelli noodles on the side.
- Add fresh coriander leaves to the soup, squeeze some fresh lime juice to add some extra sourness (up to your taste) and some more soy sauce if needed.
In this recipe I used some ingredients that are easier to find in Europe - ginger instead of galangal and lemon leaves instead of lime leaves. If you would like to make a more traditional version of tom yam soup, and can get the original ingredients, that's great - just substitute them in the recipe.