Fragrant and spicy, this vegan tom yum (aka tom yam) - a delicious hot and sour soup - is deservedly one of Thailand's most famous dishes. After phad Thai, of course!
No matter where you are in the world, if you come across a Thai restaurant, it will have tom yum on the menu. And for good reason too; this delicious soup is quick and easy to make, and it's easily tailored to local tastes and ingredients.
That said, although there are several ways to make tom yum (some people swear by using condensed milk, some use coconut milk, and some don't use any at all, preferring a clear broth), the three things you absolutely have to include are the aromatics. Lemongrass, galangal, and kaffir lime leaves. These are non-negotiable.
And depending on where you are in Thailand, lime juice or tamarind may be used as a souring agent, onions instead of shallots, fresh chillis instead of nam prik pao. And of course, there is the option of having it with chicken (tom yam gai) or prawns (tom yum goong).
tom = to boil, yum = spicy salad
When we were living in Thailand, my friend, Aye (who owns Anchan Vegetarian), taught me how to make vegan tom yam. Outside my own kitchen, Anchan is the only place I've ever been able to eat it, due to it normally being far too hot for me. Aye is fantastic in that he will, if asked, cook dishes to customers' specifications. My food is probably the wimpiest he ever had to prepare!
Thai food isn't difficult to make!
Some people seem to be under the impression that Thai food is difficult to cook, or that it's difficult to cook well, and so make Westernised versions of Thai dishes. However, I feel this is unnecessary, and if I'm honest, a bit wrong. Why bother to make food from a certain cuisine if you're just going to Westernise it? Why not just invent your own dishes instead?
If you love Thai food, then make real Thai food!
Easy Thai food
Thai food is really - I mean, really, really - simple to make. And most dishes are pretty quick too, especially if you already have the requisite pastes, sauces, and condiments to hand.
In Thailand, pre-made pastes, sauces etc. abound, and are incredibly cheap to buy but unless you can find some that are made without shrimp or fish sauce, it's probably better to make your own.
To make Thai cooking even easier, markets also sell bundles and packs of aromatics, with which to make soups, such as tom yum and tom kha.
Tom yum vs tom kha
Before I go any further, I'd like to clear up a misconception that many Westerners have. Tom kha is not tom yum with the addition of coconut milk. I really wish people - Western food bloggers in particular - would get this into their heads!
Tom kha just means boiled galangal (kha = galangal). It does not mean 'tom yum with coconut milk'!
(Actually, I wish more Western food bloggers would actually research the international food they blog about, especially what the names mean. But that's another story entirely!)
Tom yum and tom kha are very different soups. While tom kha is always made with coconut milk, tom yum, as I mentioned earlier, can be made with or without.
What is the difference between tom yam and tom kha?
- Tom kha is made with fresh chillies, whereas tom yum uses nam prik pao and sometimes, dried chillies.
- Tom kha is more fragrant than tom yum. It uses far more aromatics, including about 8 times the amount of galangal!
- Tom kha also needs double the fish sauce (or vegan equivalent), and twice as much coriander leaf.
In short, the two actually taste very different to each other. Western food bloggers, please take note - stop giving your readers false information! 😉
Although when I lived in Central Europe, there were a lot of local people selling produce they'd grown themselves, or even - as was the case when we lived in Serbia - foods they'd foraged themselves, nothing came close to the magnificence of the mushrooms the Thai and Burmese hill tribe women pick. Which were then brought down from the mountain to sell in the markets.
Unfortunately, we get nothing nearly as exotic here. We do sometimes get oysters, chanterelles, porcini, and shiitake though, as well as normal white and chestnut but I do miss Asian ones, especially cloud ear, straw, and eringi mushrooms.
By the way, if you're buying straw mushrooms, don't buy any that have opened - they're no good for you.
When I make tom yam here, I use whichever mushrooms I can get my hands on. As long as they are fresh, it doesn't really matter what you use, the soup will still be wonderful.
How to make tom yum
To make tom yum, simply boil your aromatics...
Add the veggies. (Feel free to add your own selection, and tofu too if you like.)
Then add the coconut milk (if using)...
Balance the hot, sour, salty, sweet flavour cycle, and away you go. Simple! Gin hai aroi ka!
Check out these other Thai recipes while you're here!
Quick 'n' Easy Vegan Tom Yum
- 500 ml water
- 4 slices fresh galangal root , (c.5mm/¼" thick)
- 4 small red shallots , (or 1 small red onion)
- 3 fresh kaffir lime leaves
- 1 stalk fresh lemongrass , sliced lengthways
- 100 g small mushrooms , halved
- 75 g carrot , diced
- 1 large tomato , cut into rough chunks
- 50 g savoy cabbage , shredded
- 1 tablespoon torn coriander leaf (cilantro) , divided
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- 1-2 teaspoon palm sugar
- 2 tablespoon lime juice
- 2 teaspoon nam prik pao (Thai chilli jam)
- A few slices of spring onion
- 125 ml coconut milk
- Place the water, galangal, shallots, lime leaves, and lemongrass into a wok, and boil for a few minutes to release the fragrances.
- Add all of the vegetables, and continue to boil until al dente.
- Stir in the coconut milk (if using), and season to taste with the salt, sugar, and lime juice. There should be a balance between sour, salty, and sweet. If not using coconut milk, just continue with the seasoning.
- Add the nam prik pao and coriander. Taste, and adjust the seasonings if necessary.
- Continue to boil the tom yam for another minute.
- Serve immediately, garnished with a few slices of spring onion and some torn coriander leaves.
- Although I've given quantities for the seasonings (salt, sugar, lime juice, and nam prik pao), you may find you need to adjust them to suit your own taste.
- If you don't like a lot of heat, start out with one teaspoon of nam prik pao, taste, then add more if desired. Conversely, if you like it really spicy, add more nam prik pao.
- If you want to be really Thai, serve tom yam with a separate bowl of steamed rice. I really like to drizzle the soup over my rice, while some of my friends add the rice to the soup. Some folk don't do either!
- If you want to eat the aromatics, they won't do you any harm but it's not usual to consume them!
- Nutritional information does not include the optional coconut milk.
- 1 cup = US cup = 240 ml
- 1 tablespoon = US/UK = 15 ml
- 1 fl oz = US = 30 ml
Is it possible to make this dish using dried galangal, kaffir lime and lemongrass instead of fresh ones?
Hi Dimqua! When I was living in Croatia, I didn't have access to the fresh ingredients, and tried dried - it really didn't work out very well. The dried lime leaves weren't too bad (I rehydrated them first) but dried galangal and lemongrass really aren't very good at all. Can you get frozen? That would work. If not, then to be perfectly honest, you'd be better off buying a proprietary paste. xx
I made this last night but it just had no flavor. I couldn't find Nam Prik Pao so used Sriracha instead. I had all the other ingredients. I couldn't believe how bland it was with all of the fresh aromatics. What did I do wrong? Thanks for your help!
Hi Jessica, I'm sorry you've had this experience. Without being there with you, I can't tell you what you did wrong, though!
That said, there's no way I would have used Sriracha - that's enough to kill any flavour! Sriracha is nothing like nam prik pao (if it were, I'd have suggested it as a substitute). Other than that, did you adjust the seasonings according to your own personal taste? Were the aromatics fresh? Even being a few days old can make a huge difference. You can see from my photos exactly how much of the aromatics I use - it's not a huge amount, yet it's plenty to give a massive flavour hit.
The only other possible explanation is that you did something else, which you haven't mentioned! I've made this tom yam scores of times, and I've never had it come out bland! And my friend, from whom I got this recipe, makes hundreds of bowls of it every week in his restaurant, and to my knowledge, no one has ever told him it has no flavour!
My advice would be to make yourself some nam prik pao (if you enjoy Thai food, you'll find many other uses for it!) - or buy a jar of chilli jam, grab a bunch of super-fresh ingredients, and try again, following the recipe exactly! Good luck! xx
This looks irresistible! We have been on an Asian-soup ride (meaning. Aylam is the chef, Johanne is Sous-chef, and I am the lucky idiot who has no clue how good he has it.) We have to try this one.
Your photography is stunning and so sweetly composed.
Thanks so much, Hanaan - your kind words are so very much appreciated!
You and amato mio are both lucky idiots... although I suspect that deep down you both know it! Enjoy the soup! xx
Is this the same thing as Tom Yum soup? The broth seemed clearer, maybe no coconut milk?
Yes it is - as stated right at the beginning of this post! I very speak about the different ways to make tom yum...
I came across your website today and decided to make the vegan Tom Yam. Easy and a pleasure to make with those lovely fragrant ingredients and absolutely delicious!! As soon as we finished we wanted to make some more - thank you so much, I am already looking at your other recipes to see what to try next ...
Hi Penny, thank you so much for dropping by and leaving such a lovely comment. Your kind words mean so much to me... and I am over the moon that you loved this recipe so much! If you haven't already, do sign up for my weekly newsletter! xx
Made this this weekend. Loved it. I had to remove the lemongrass though. Should one be able to eat it if it's sliced thinly enough or maybe I should have boiled it longer? My partner also removed the galangal, but I felt that it wasn't tough at all and I ate it. He's like princess and the pea with foods. lol I sliced it very, very thin, but perhaps it would do better to boil the galangal longer, too? I was afraid of boiling it all too long as somethings that can take away some of the flavor right?
So glad you enjoyed it, Melodi! Although some dishes are made with thinly sliced aromatics which can be eaten, it's not usual to eat the ones used for tom yam. You can - they won't do you any harm - but as you found out, they're not exactly easy to eat! I've put a note on the recipe to this effect, so thanks for bringing it up! xx
Thanks for this soup!
Thanks Jac! xx
Kirsty Hijacked By Twins
Oh wow delicious! I really need to make this soup! Great pictures of your travels.
Excellent Kirsty! Hope you enjoy the soup! xx
This is absolutely my favourite kind of soup - aromatic and cleansing... the ultimate comfort if you're feeling a bit 'meh' - thanks so much! 🙂
It's totally comforting, isn't it? I love that it's filling without making you feel like a slug afterward, too! xx
Now that looks amazing
I will be making for my Vegan friend
What a fab friend you are, Clare! I'm sure you'll both love it! xx
That looks so good! I love tom yam soup - order it sometimes at restaurants, but love the idea of making my own.
Thanks, Ali - and you're far braver than me, ordering it at restaurants! Or maybe I'm just a total wimp! Ha ha! xx
Becky at PinksCharming
This looks so yummy! Thanks for sharing! x
Hi Becky, thanks so much for stopping by! I hope if you make this tom yam, you love it as much as we do - it really is super-yummy! xx
I've never heard of this dish before, but it looks sooooooo good. My stomach is rumbling looking at it. Off to share this. now before I make dinner.
Before I lived in Thailand, I was only aware of it because it was always one of the most evil things on the menu in Thai restaurants! Once I got to Thailand, I realised how tame it is in Britain (but too hot for me, even so)! I recommend you give it a go - it has such a refreshing flavour! xx
Love tom yam and have been looking for a good vegetarian recipe for ages. Thank you!
You're so welcome, Pretty - I hope you love this recipe as much as we do! xx
Oooh - I love Thai food but I don't think I've ever eaten...let alone made Tom Yam - I'm going to have to rectify that pronto!! This looks and sounds fantastic! Eb x
Do it, Eb.... you won't regret it! (And since you eat meat, you could use normal fish sauce instead of my vegan one!) xx
This sounds amazing! I love Thai food but haven't made a Thai soup in ages! It is a shame that people think Thai food is difficult to make at home because it is so tasty. Thank you so much for sharing.
Oh, I agree - I come across so many people who just don't even try to make Thai food because they think it's complicated. Same with Indian food. But honestly, once you understand the basics (which are really, really simple), it's so easy to quickly whip up a Thai dish! xx
This looks awesome.. bookmarking it
I hope you enjoy it, Swati! xx
Oh I love the sound of this! I don't cook nearly enough Thai food. #CookBlogShare
Same here... and I have no excuse, given that I used to live in Thailand! Ha ha! xx
Rebecca @ Strength and Sunshine
O sounds yummy! This will warm you right up!
Oh, it will do that alright, Rebecca! xx