Tom Kha Gai- Thai Chicken Galangal Soup with Kefir Lime and Coconut Broth
Recipes,  Soup

Tom Kha Gai and Cultural Appropriation

A lot of people are PISSED that Jaime Oliver used the word “jerk” in a rice recipe of his when it doesn’t, in fact, represent jerk anything. I should note that “microwavable” was in the title as well, so that may have sparked some extra animosity. They are calling it “cultural appropriation”.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately and hesitating to share my Tom Kha Gai recipe because of it.

What exactly is cultural appropriation?

Cultural appropriation is when cultural elements from minority populations are used by dominant populations outside of their original cultural context.

But, when does something become cultural appropriation? Does it only happen when the minority is offended by it? Does it only happen when the dominant culture makes money from it? Would it still be cultural appropriation if the dominant culture cares to learn and explain where the element comes from?

I’m not sure creating and sharing a recipe from another culture can be considered cultural appropriation. I guess if you start altering ingredients and then still use the name, which is kind of what Oliver did, maybe it is.

After way too much thought, I’ve decided that the sharing of my Tom Kha Gai recipe is NOT cultural appropriation. I’ve researched, tasted others, tested, and revised this recipe until it was great. I would call it something different if it was, but I think it’s pretty spot on.

Tom Kha Gai Instant Pot Recipe- Thai Chicken Galangal Soup with Kefir Lime and Coconut Broth #soup #souprecipe #tomkhagai #thaifood #thaisoup #galangal #kefirlime #recipe
Tom Kha Gai from Ubon Thai in Temecula, CA

There is a section of Best Food Writing 2017 called “Whose Food is it Anyway” which is basically a section all about cultural appropriation. One part in Luke Tsai’s, “Cooking Other People’s Food” is labeled, “The Iggy Azaleas of Food”. Is this recipe “The Iggy Azalea of Tom Kha Gai Recipes”? Maybe. But I think it’s good, so maybe not.

About Tom Kha Gai

Tom kha gai is a Thai chicken galangal soup. It typically has a coconut broth infused with galangal, kefir lime leaves, and lemongrass, includes Thai chiles, mushrooms, and chicken, and is finished with lime and cilantro. You’ll often find the soup on American Thai restaurant menus with different protein options, but chicken is the standard.

cut up lemongrass, kefir lime, and galangal
These aromatics are key to a flavorful broth

About the Recipe

I use a pressure cooker (or Instant Pot) to quickly infuse the lemongrass, kefir lime, and galangal flavors into the broth. What’s great about this method is you just need to throw everything in there at first which gives you time to prep the other ingredients and garnishes. If you don’t have a pressure cooker, you can simmer the broth on the stove top for about 1 hour instead. I use a Thai red curry paste as desired to kick up the heat at the end. Try your best to find galangal. You can find it at Asian markets or galangal powder at Spiceology. Some people substitute ginger, but it is not tom kha gai at that point and then you’d be guilty of cultural appropriation. Maybe.

Asian market produce- cilantro, celery root, mushrooms, lemongrass, kefir lime, galangal, and more
Galangal is front and center here. Asian markets are glorious! Pick up your Thai chiles, lemongrass, kefir lime leaves, and mushrooms while you’re there.

Tom Kha Gai- Thai Chicken Galangal Soup with Kefir Lime and Coconut Broth

Tom Kha Gai

Yield: about 2 ½ Quarts

Ingredients

1 ½ Q Chicken Stock

5 Kaffir Lime Leaves

3 Stalks Lemongrass, rough outer stalks removed, cut into 2-3” pieces and smashed (I use scissors and a mallet)

1 roughly 3” piece of Galangal, sliced into about ½” disks

2 T Fish Sauce

1 Red Bell Pepper, medium diced

1 Yellow Onion, medium diced

8 oz. Shitake mushrooms, sliced (white button mushrooms quartered work nicely too)

1 T Garlic, minced

3-5 Dried Thai Chiles (optional for heat)

1 ½ – 2 lbs. Boneless Skinless Chicken Thighs, Cut into ½” pieces

1 13.5 can Coconut Cream (You can use coconut milk instead. Cream is a bit richer)

1 C loosely packed cilantro, some stem portion okay, chopped fine

1 Lime, juice and zest, plus more as desired

Red Thai Curry Paste, if desired and as needed

Salt to taste

 

Combine the first 5 ingredients in the pressure cooker. Set to pressure cook for 20 minutes.

You can release the steam slowly or opt to quick release. You can remove the aromatics at this point, but they’ll impart more flavor if you leave them in and simply don’t eat them when in the bow.

Add the bell pepper, onion, mushrooms, garlic, chiles, and chicken to the pot. Set the pressure cooker to 10 minutes.

You can release the steam slowly or opt to quick release. Turn the pressure cooker to warm, and add the coconut cream, cilantro, and lime.

Add the curry paste if desired, season with salt and more lime as needed.

 

Jillian believes her passion for cooking stems from the fact that she was born and raised in Southern California. The best climate conditions for growing the finest produce all year around and the diverse mix of cuisines have always been an inspiration to her. Her love and ability to make people happy by way of delicious food began at an early age and still grows today. She is the proud Chef and Owner of Jillian Fae Chef Services, a personal chef business specializing in private dinner parties, customized menus, and weekly meal preparation.

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