Khao soi is a creamy curry noodle soup that is traditionally prepared in Northern Thailand. I tried it back in Chiang Mai and immediately fell in love with the hearty bowl full of flavour.
This dish is made with coconut milk and many fresh spices and herbs that make it so flavourful and fragrant.
Today I would like to share the recipe for my vegan version of khao soi soup. It is incredibly tasty, and quite easy to make. It can also be made in a gluten-free version, so I will include it in this article as well.
Ingredients for the vegan khao soi soup
To make this delicious and creamy vegan coconut milk curry soup, you will need the following ingredients:
For the khao soi curry paste
- Fresh red chilli peppers
- Fresh galangal
- Fresh lemongrass
- Spring onions
- Fresh turmeric
- Lime leaves
- Cardamom seeds
- Coriander seeds
- Fresh coriander (cilantro) stems
- Cumin seeds
For the soup
- Fresh tofu
- Coconut oil
- Tamari or other naturally fermented soy sauce
- Homemade vegetable broth
- Coconut blossom sugar
- Full-fat coconut milk
- Homemade spelt flour noodles (or any noodles that you prefer, plus fresh wonton strips or fresh noodles for frying).
- Fried homemade noodles or wonton strips
- Fresh cilantro
- Chopped spring onion greens or shallots
- Lime wedges
- Chopped fresh chilli peppers or chilli oil
- Pickled mustard greens
The best noodles for vegan khao soi
I like to use my own home-made noodles in this dish for more reasons:
- I don’t really tolerate modern wheat variety that well, so I want to be able to control what goes in my noodles; this recipe shows how to make simple spelt flour noodles at home in no time (you won’t even need a pasta maker).
- When you make fresh noodles, they are suitable for both cooking and frying, and that is what we need for this khao soi recipe.
- Homemade noodles simply taste better!
However, if you don’t have time to make your own noodles, you can always use any store-bought noodles that you like. In that case you can just cook dried noodles of your preference for the soup, and use some wonton strips to fry for the garnish.
In case you are avoiding fried foods altogether, you can also skip the whole crispy noodle or wonton topping part and just serve this soup with regular cooked noodles.
Vegetables and other ingredients for the soup
Since the original khao soi is normally made with chicken, I like to make the vegan one with some earthy tone as well – that is why I always use mushrooms and tofu as ingredients. My favourite mushrooms to use are shiitake and oyster mushrooms.
Besides mushrooms and tofu, I like to use some seasonal vegetables as well. In this recipe I included broccoli and carrots, but some other vegetables that I like to add are: green beans, pak choi, spinach and butternut or kabocha squash.
Making the curry paste for khao soi
1. Best ingredients to use for the curry paste
When making the curry paste for khao soi soup, try using as many ingredients in their fresh form rather than dried ones (except the seeds).
Galangal (or ginger), lemongrass, turmeric, lime leaves and chilli peppers are all important for the rich aroma of this dish. Using them fresh will simply make the final result more flavourful.
In case you cannot get some of the ingredients fresh, you can get the dried ones and soak them, or use powdered spices without soaking.
2. Mixing the ingredients
My favourite way to make the spicy paste for khao soi is to chop all of the ingredients and pound them using a mortar and pestle. I sometimes add a bit of coconut oil to make the grinding easier.
Quicker alternative to pounding would be simply using a food processor to blend all the ingredients into a paste. A tablespoon of coconut oil will be helpful in this case as well – feel free to add it if you’d like to get a smoother paste.
3. Storing the paste
I sometimes make a bigger quantity of the paste – especially if I’m making it in a food processor, because it is easier to blend when you have more. In that case I just use the amount that I need for the meal, and freeze the rest.
If you know you will spend the rest within a week, it can also be kept in a refrigerator. In case you decide to do that instead of freezing, that coconut oil that I mentioned earlier will actually also be useful to keep the paste fresh for a longer period of time.
Cooking and serving the khao soi soup
The cooking part is fairly simple and short. First, you’ll need to stir-fry the spice paste that you made – just for a short while, carefully not to burn it.
Then you will add the vegetables, continue to stir-fry, add some veggie broth, soy sauce, coconut blossom sugar and lastly coconut milk, and let it simmer for up to five minutes altogether.
Khao soi soup is then served in bowls with cooked noodles, most commonly topped with (or served along with) a few of the following ingredients:
- fried wonton strips (or, in this case, with fried homemade spelt noodles)
- chopped pickled mustard greens
- chopped shallots or spring onion greens
- fresh cilantro
- lime wedges
- chilli oil or chopped chilli peppers
None of these are an absolute must – you can choose what works best for you. Personally, I do love to have all of the mentioned toppings, but I rarely manage to get all of them at the market or in the shops, so I improvise with what I have available.
I am aware that it is not always possible to get all of the ingredients listed above, especially if they don’t grow locally at the place where you live. These are some of my favourite substitutes that are more common to find in Europe:
- any kind of hot pepper instead of Thai chilli varieties;
- soaked dried chillies instead of fresh ones;
- fresh ginger instead of galangal;
- turmeric powder instead of fresh turmeric;
- fresh lemon leaves instead of lime leaves;
- lemon wedges instead of lime wedges for serving;
- any sweet and mild-tasting onion instead of spring onions or shallots;
- other seasonal vegetables of choice instead of the ones in the ingredient list will be great too;
- shredded coconut for home-made coconut milk – you can use this easy plant milk recipe, just replace almonds and hemp seeds with coconut.
Gluten-free version of khao soi
To make this khao soi soup completely gluten-free, you will simply need to replace the spelt flour noodles with some gluten-free noodles. My favourite options are various kinds of rice noodles.
Dry rice noodles can also be fried to make the crispy noodle topping instead of the classic crispy wonton topping – this can be done in a wok pan with a tablespoon or two of heated oil. I usually break the noodles in half and fry them over a medium-high heat (the rice noodles will get puffed and crispy in a matter of seconds when the oil is hot enough).
The day that khao soi won my heart
I remember that morning in Chiang Mai, that turned into a mid-day, into a late afternoon… It was an endless wait to get a visa for Laos; so many papers and so many obstacles on each step.
On one hand there was this rush to get it all over with and finally move on with the travel, but on the other hand I felt a bit sad to be leaving this lovely town already, without even having tried that dish – what was the name, khao-something? They said it was a traditional dish of Northern Thailand, something you need to try. Better luck next time, I thought.
But, the Universe is crazy perfect. When we finally got home that evening, our landlady was waiting for us with a saucepan full of her home-cooked khao soi. We immediately sat at the table; I will never forget that perfect feeling of comfort that takes over your mind after each spoon of that delicious wonder. It was unreal.
And here I am, years later, cooking my own vegan version of the famous Thai khao soi soup and… Loving it! So I wanted to share it with you too. Even if you haven’t tried the original, I believe that you will enjoy this creamy, spicy, sweet and salty, soft and crunchy, delicious comfort meal.
- 1 large fresh chilli pepper
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 spring onion
- 1 medium shallot
- ~ 2 cm long piece of lemongrass stalk (the base part is better)
- ~ 1 cm long piece of galangal or ginger
- ~ 1-2 cm long piece of fresh turmeric, or ¾ tsp turmeric powder
- Seeds from 4 cardamom pods
- ½ tsp coriander seeds
- ⅓ tsp cumin seeds
- 1 small handful of fresh cilantro (stalks for the paste, leaves for the garnish)
- 1 lime leaf or lemon leaf
- 2 tbsp coconut oil
- 2 tsp coconut blossom sugar
- 4 tbsp tamari or other naturally fermented soy sauce
- 2 small carrots or 1 large
- 150 g fresh tofu
- 150-200 g broccoli or other seasonal vegetables
- 250-300 ml homemade vegetable broth
- 300 ml full-fat coconut milk (at least 60% coconut)
- 2 portions homemade spelt flour noodles (for cooking)
- For the garnish:
- 1 small portion homemade noodles or wonton strips (for frying)
- Fresh cilantro leaves
- Chopped green parts of green onion
- Sliced lime or lemon
- Pickled mustard greens (optional)
- Chopped fresh chilli (optional)
- Follow this homemade spelt flour noodles recipe to make your own pasta for this soup, or boil two portions of store-bought noodles as instructed on the packaging.
- To make the curry paste, chop the chilli, garlic, white part of spring onion, shallots, galangal, turmeric, lemongrass, lime leaves and cilantro stems.
- Put everything into a mortar, add coriander, cumin and cardamom seeds, and pound it with a pestle into a somewhat homogeneous paste. Alternatively, you can use a food processor to blend all the ingredients into a paste more quickly. If needed, add a tablespoon of coconut oil to make the blending process easier, and the paste smoother.
- Chop all the vegetables, tofu and mushrooms.
- Heat up a deep pan or a wok and add a tablespoon or two of coconut oil.
- Add your spice paste and stir-fry it over medium-low heat for up to half a minute - we want it to release the aroma, but be careful not to burn it so as not to change the flavour.
- Add the chopped vegetables to the pan and stir-fry for a minute or so over a low heat.
- Pour the vegetable broth, add tamari and coconut blossom sugar, and bring it to a boil.
- Let the soup simmer for up to five minutes, or until the vegetables are cooked enough for your taste.
- Add the coconut milk, slowly bring it all to a boil again, and turn the heat off.
- Fry a small portion of fresh homemade noodles, or wonton strips, in a pan or in an air-fryer.
- Divide the boiled noodles into two bowls, pour the soup over them, and top with fried noodles, chopped spring onion greens and chopped chillies or chilli oil (optional).
- Serve with lime wedges, shallots, fresh cilantro leaves and pickled mustard greens.
- With these quantities, you will get approximately two portions. If it’s easier for you to make more of the khao soi curry paste at once, you can do that and freeze the extra for next time. I sometimes do this, since it is easier to blend a bigger mass.
- If you don’t have any tools to use for blending or pounding a spice paste, you can just use a knife to chop all the paste ingredients as finely and thoroughly as you can. I sometimes do this and it still gives a great result.
- In this recipe I normally use milder varieties of chilli peppers, since I like the pepper flavour, but cannot stand extremely spicy food. You can experiment and see which chilli variety works best for you.
- Instead of galangal, you can use fresh ginger. It will have a bit less of the floral aroma, but it is still a good substitute.
- Vegetable broth can be made by boiling vegetable leftovers such as peels or chewy parts that were not used for cooking. I often have a ziplock bag in my freezer in which I store all edible leftovers, and when it gets full, I boil them in water for an hour, drain the liquid and use it as a soup broth.
- I like to use more or less equal volumes of broth and coconut milk for a really rich and creamy consistency. If you prefer a thinner soup, you can substitute some of the coconut milk with the same volume of broth.
- If you are avoiding soy sauce, there are other seasonings that will add similar umami notes to your dish - you can use coconut aminos instead, or even fermented mushroom garum if you can find something like that.
- Instead of fresh homemade spelt noodles, you can use some store bought noodles.
- Even though khao soi is traditionally served with crispy wonton strips on top, you can skip the fried dough part if that is not your thing (I sometimes have khao soi without it, because I avoid both frying and dough in my diet). I haven’t tried air-fried noodles yet, but that should work as another healthier option.