Rich, cozy and PACKED with flavor, this easy Vegan Tom Kha Soup is a Thai-inspired recipe that is simple and quick to make. Customize the heat (or make it not spicy at all), the veggies, and the protein for a delicious and nutritious meal.
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Hey Internet, have I ever explained just how much I love Thai food? I love food from all over the world, but Thai is one of my favorites.
Now, I’m not going to pretend this is authentic Thai food. That isn’t my culture and I wouldn’t want to separate Tom Kha Gai from Thai culture.
I am SO inspired by the food in Thai culture that I wanted to try making a veganized version of what was one of my favorite Thai dishes from before I went vegan.
So Tom Kha Kai or Tom Kha Gai (the full name of this soup) is a spicy and sour coconut soup usually including chicken. It originates in Thailand but apparently also Laos, which I didn’t know. Laotian versions often include dill which is interesting.
The Thai version most often includes coconut milk, galangal (a similar root to ginger), lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, mushrooms, Thai chili, and cilantro.
We have a fantastic market about 45 minutes from my house called H-Mart, a Korean supermarket. It also has products from many other countries in Asia, but I wasn’t able to find galangal, fresh lemongrass, or kaffir lime leaves.
I did find shiitake mushrooms and Thai chili though! So I used those in this soup. I’ll give a few ideas for substituting some of these ingredients in the sections below.
And, I’m vegan, so I had to veganize this soup. I used tofu for the protein, and added a little vegan chicken broth to try and simulate the flavor. I haven’t had Tom Kha Gai in years, but I’d have to say this soup tastes pretty dang close to what I remember, and totally delicious.
Let’s hop into the ingredients and substitutions.
What You’ll Need
Let’s talk about the soup base first. All the elements in this vegan tom kha soup recipe kind of come together in an amazing song of flavor, but each plays an important role. I sound like Mrs. C, my first band teacher, hah! (Yes, I was a band geek. Surprised? Me neither.)
So I mentioned this is a coconut soup. The broth in at least my recipe is made up of one third canned coconut milk and 2 thirds vegan chicken broth.
I recommend not skimping on the coconut milk because it provides a lot of the flavor and creaminess that Tom Kha is known for.
For the vegan chicken broth, I highly recommend Better Than Bouillon No Chicken Base. I use this for ALL my chicken-ish recipes, like my vegan drumsticks and vegan matzo ball soup or vegan cream of chicken soup.
Better Than Bouillon is great--you can keep it in your fridge for months and just take a little bit and mix it with water. It keeps better and is more economical than carton vegan chicken broth. You can absolutely use prepared vegan chicken broth or even just vegetable broth if you need.
While you don’t need to use this if you can’t eat spicy food, Thai red curry paste is a delicious way to flavor this soup. You can use as much or as little you like. We can add more heat later when we talk about the aromatics.
Also, speaking of which, lemongrass would be one of the aromatics here but I checked 5 stores in my area and was unable to find fresh lemongrass. I did however find a lemongrass paste and used that instead.
Other aromatics in this recipe include white onion, some green onion to garnish, ginger (since I couldn’t find galangal), garlic, and Thai chilies.
Thai chilies are tiny little green or red chilies found in some stores. They are VERY spicy. If you only like a little spice, try using only a few (or substituting a milder pepper like jalapeno).
I’d highly recommend using gloves when mincing your Thai chilies. Remove the seeds if you’re not big on spicy food, as a lot of the heat is in the seeds. Wash your hands REALLY well afterwards, and do not touch your face. Don’t ask how I know. :/
Other awesome things in this vegan tom kha soup recipe include shiitake mushrooms (straw mushrooms would be a more authentic choice here, but I couldn’t find them), red bell pepper, cubed extra firm tofu, rice vermicelli noodles (optional), cilantro (if you have that gene!), and fresh lime to finish. If you can find kaffir lime leaves, those would be perfect here too.
It’s optional, but I added just a bit of coconut sugar near the end just to balance the flavors.
What Substitutions Can I Make?
Canned coconut milk is an integral part of this recipe. If you’re looking for sustainable coconut milk, I highly recommend Native Forest coconut milk.
Lite coconut milk will still work, but it may also thin out your soup.
Vegan Chicken Broth
I used Better Than Bouillon No Chicken Base mixed with water here to give this soup a bit of chicken flavor, but it’s not absolutely necessary, it just tastes REALLY awesome.
Thai Red Chili Paste
You can normally find authentic Thai red curry paste in an Asian grocery store, but you can find a less authentic (but still tasty) version at most grocery stores. I’ve even seen Walmart carry Thai Kitchen Red Curry Paste is more of an American version, but it still tastes pretty good.
If you don’t like spicy, use just a little dab of this spice, or substitute a little paprika instead.
Lemongrass is an herb with a lemony scent typically used in teas and a lot of Asian countries’ cuisines.
Simply substituting lemon wouldn’t really capture the amazing flavor profile that lemongrass lends.
I used Shiitake mushrooms in my vegan tom kha soup recipe but straw mushrooms evidently would be a bit more authentic of a choice (I couldn’t find them). Any mushroom should work if you can’t find either.
If you don’t like mushrooms, simply leave them out.
Thai chilies are pretty dang spicy. Use as much or as little according to your spice preferences.
I only used a few because I’m not so good with spice, but I can do a little. I think my husband would have preferred more, hah!
If you can’t find them, you can use peppers of your choice. Generally speaking with fresh peppers, the smaller the pepper, the more spicy it is.
Tips for Making Vegan Tom Kha Soup
- When making a soup, I like to pre-chop all my vegetables for less stress during cooking time, but that’s just a tip.
- Start by sauteing your aromatics. Add the white onion, grated ginger, minced garlic, fresh lemongrass if you have it, and minced Thai chilies to a large nonstick pot. If you cook with oil you could certainly use that. I just add a little water from a small cup any time something starts to stick. Saute over medium high heat, stirring constantly, for 1-2 minutes until fragrant.
- Add the Thai red curry paste and, if you couldn’t find fresh lemongrass, the lemongrass paste. Stir constantly for another 1-2 minutes.
- Now add the chopped mushrooms and red bell pepper, and saute for 5 minutes, stirring frequently and adding a splash of water when needed.
- Add the vegan chicken broth or vegetable broth, turn the heat down to medium, and bring to a high simmer. Add the cubed tofu and let cook for about 6-8 minutes.
- Meanwhile, if using, soak or cook your rice vermicelli noodles in a different pot.
- Add the canned coconut milk, coconut sugar (optional), and juice of 2ish limes (to taste). Let warm for a minute or two, then remove from heat.
- Ladle the soup into bowls and add noodles to each bowl (if using). Garnish with thinly sliced green onions and lots of cilantro (if you like) and a few lime wedges.
- Store leftover soup separately from the noodles. They’ll each keep in the fridge for up to 5 days in airtight containers. The noodles tend to soak up the broth, so I recommend storing separately when you can. This is a GREAT dish to take to work or school though. I often will make it the night before I go to work and take it for lunch the next day. I pack a lime wedge and some cilantro in a reusable stasher bag to add at work.
More Quick Vegan Soups
I have no patience to cook soup for hours on the stove. I admit you might get more depth of flavor that way, but I just really like quick meals, haha. Here’s a few of my favorite quick vegan soups to warm you up.
- Vegan Stew with Dumplings
- Vegan Cream of Chicken Soup
- Vegan Matzo Ball Soup
- Butternut Squash Carrot Ginger Soup
- Creamy Mushroom Lasagna Soup (weird but good!)
- Tomato Soup with Vegan Grilled Cheese
- Corn Chowder
- Vegan Double Chicken Noodle Soup
- Hearty Lentil Vegetable Soup
As always, I hope you love this recipe--I know I do, and Mr. Zardyplants does too. This is a soup I keep making again and again.
This Vegan Tom Kha Soup is:
- Spicy (if you want)
- And perfect for an easy dinner, meal prep, or even date night!
Let me know in the comments below if you make this recipe or tag me @Zardyplants on Instagram so I can see your beautiful recreations! If you tag me on IG, I will share your post in my stories :)
Also, one quick request: if you love how this recipe looks or tastes, please leave me a 5-star rating and a nice comment–ratings help more people find my recipes which helps me keep providing them! Thank you!