Flavours and Fragrance For The Holidays

Chef Nuit Regular shares her favourite holiday dish inspired by the flavours of Thailand

For many people the holidays is a time for turkey and gingerbread, but for those who like to think outside the culinary box, festive meals can take on a whole new dimension. 

Toronto-based chef Nuit Regular and her husband Jeff are the owners of PAI Northern Thai Kitchen, named one of Toronto’s Best Restaurants. They also own several other restaurants around the world including Kiin, Sabai Sabai, Sukho Thai. They have been transforming the culinary landscape with dishes that tantalize the senses and blend gourmet with street market dishes. Chef Nuit has also been a judge on the Food Network’s Wall of Chefs. 

She says, while not a traditional holiday dish, it’s a dish she wanted to share because it’s warm and comforting for the holiday season. The dish also features many items that could be made with leftover Christmas turkey.

“Probably one of the most famous Thai dishes, you can find this soup in Thai restaurants all over the world. Made with coconut milk, galangal, and magrud lime, this soup has a mix of sour, sweet, and creamy flavours that melt in your mouth and warm you from the inside,” she says.

Coconut Soup with Chicken | Tom Kha Gai

13 ounces (370 g) skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into bite-size pieces (about 1½ cups) Note: you’ll need to marinate the chicken for at least 2 hours or overnight.

Standard Meat Marinade (recipe below) 

1 cup fresh coconut water, thin part of coconut milk, or chicken broth

2 stalks lemongrass (see page 18), lightly bruised and cut into 2-inch pieces (about ½ cup)

8 pieces dried galangal (or 1½-inch piece fresh galangal, thinly sliced crosswise)

5 magrud lime leaves (see page 18) 5 shallots, bruised

3 cups well-shaken coconut milk 2 tablespoons sea salt

1 cup packed oyster, button, shimeji, or king oyster mushrooms (about 2½ ounces/70 g), trimmed

15 cherry tomatoes, cut in half crosswise

1 fresh red bird’s eye chilli, cut in half crosswise

2 tablespoons Thai fish sauce, or to taste

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice, or to taste

1 tablespoon Tamarind Paste (recipe below) or store-bought, or to taste

1 tablespoon Thai cane sugar, if needed 2 green onions, cut into 1-inch pieces

½ cup packed fresh sawtooth coriander leaves (about 9 leaves), chopped into 1-inch pieces

½ cup packed chopped fresh cilantro leaves and stems (about 1-inch pieces)

Steamed Jasmine Rice, for serving

  1. In a medium bowl, combine the chicken and standard meat marinade. Mix with your hands. Cover and marinate in the fridge for at least 2 hours or overnight. 
  2. In a medium pot, combine the coconut water, lemongrass, galangal, lime leaves, and shallots. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 2 minutes. Add the coconut milk and salt and simmer until the coconut milk starts to boil, about 3 minutes. 
  3. Add the chicken, mushrooms, tomatoes, and chilli. Poach the chicken for 8 to 10 minutes or until the chicken floats to the surface. If the soup starts to simmer, reduce the heat a bit. Once the chicken floats up, cook for another 2 minutes. 
  4. Add, to taste, the fish sauce, lime juice, and tamarind paste for a balance of sour, salty, and sweet. Simmer for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and taste the soup. Coconut milk and mushrooms provide a natural sweetness. If there is not enough sweetness, add the cane sugar. The best way to do this is by scooping about ½ cup of the soup into a small bowl and stirring in the sugar until it dissolves completely. Stir into the soup, mix well, and taste again. If it still needs more sweetness, add a little more sugar the same way. 
  5. Stir in the green onions, sawtooth coriander, and cilantro. Serve with steamed jasmine rice.


Variation – Coconut Soup with Christmas Turkey: 

Make my Coconut Soup with your leftover Christmas Turkey instead! Replace the boneless chicken thighs in the recipe for 370 g of leftover turkey meat, cut into bite-size pieces (about 1 ½ cups) and skip the marinating step. Stir in your turkey meat between Steps 3 and 4 and cook for about 2 minutes, until the turkey has warmed through, before continuing on with the recipe in Step 4.

Standard Meat Marinade / Nham Mhak Nua Sud – Makes enough to marinate 2/3 to 1 pound (300 to 450 g) of meat

2 tablespoons water

1 tablespoon vegetable oil 

1 teaspoon tapioca starch

½ teaspoon sea salt

2/3 to 1 pound (300 to 450 g) chicken, pork, or beef

  1. In a medium bowl, combine the water, vegetable oil, tapioca starch, and salt. Stir until the salt and starch have fully dissolved. 
  2. Add the meat to the bowl and mix well. I like to stir the meat in a clockwise motion to massage until all the liquid has been absorbed. Cover and marinate in the fridge for at least 2 hours or overnight.


Tamarind Paste | Nham Mha Kham – Makes about ½ cup

1 cup water

¼ cup (80 g) seedless sour tamarind (dried or block)

  1. In a small saucepan over high heat, bring the water to a rolling boil. Break the tamarind into small pieces and drop them into the boiling water. Boil for 3 to 4 minutes. The heat breaks down the tamarind pulp and makes it easier to separate the fibres. If using dried tamarind, it will start to expand. If using a tamarind block, it will absorb the water and start to soften. 
  2. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve placed over a large bowl, pressing out every bit of liquid and paste. I recommend using a large bowl to help minimize the mess. Make sure to scrape the paste off the bottom of the sieve and mix it into the liquid. Discard the pulp in the sieve. Allow to cool before using. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week or in the freezer for up to 3 months.  

Helpful Hints For Preparing Dish

“Keep in mind that lemongrass has hard fibres and is difficult to swallow. I like to chew on the lemongrass pieces and discard the fibrous part, as the taste is sweet and aromatic and it is great for digestion,” she says. “When you are adding cane sugar in the final tasting, make sure the sugar is fully dissolved before you add it to the soup. If the sugar has not completely dissolved yet, the soup may not taste sweet enough. You might add more and then find out you added too much”


Excerpted from Kiin by Nuit Regular. Copyright © 2020 by Nuit Regular. Photography copyright © 2020 by Michael Graydon and Nikole Herriott. Published by Penguin Canada, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

Check out our other holiday recipes

Peppered Pumpkin Pie by Actress Arlene Lott