Nature’s Immunity: Spicy Thai Soup

I used to live in Astoria near a great Thai restaurant that made the best, to my mind, Tom Yum Gay, a spicy medicinal soup, made with lemon grass, ginger and hot red chilies. Whenever I’d get a cold, I’d run over to Lee’s Thai Pavilion and get a few pints of this soup, which never failed to clear up my symptoms and have me back on my feet in 24 hours.

Thinking about that soup recently and living sufficiently far enough away from Astoria to be a deterrant, I decided to try and figure this out for myself. I consulted some Thai cooking books for ideas and learned that I needed bird’s-eye chilies rather than red pepper flakes and that fish sauce was a necessary part of getting the flavor right. So I ran over to my local Asian market and bought some lemon grass, fresh ginger, the chilies, fish sauce and rice noodles. What follows is what I created to great success. It is not quite as spicy as Lee’s (although still quite spicy) but that can be adjusted by adding more chilies. I also modified the original Tom Yum Guy by substituting the chicken with tofu, but you can keep the chicken in if you prefer. Just use two thinly sliced breasts, cut into pieces. I also substituted agave nectar for sugar. Enjoy!!


  • 1 Quart stock
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 stem lemon grass, sliced into 2 inch pieces
  • 1 ½ inches of root ginger, sliced
  • 3 tbsp fish sauce
  • 2 limes, juiced
  • 1 tsp agave nectar
  • 4 thin red chilies (bird’s eye chilies)
  • ½ cake of firm tofu, sliced into cubes
  • 1 cup shitake mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 cups assorted mixed greens (bok choy, broccoli rabe, spinach, etc)
  • 4 scallions, sliced thin
  • 1 cup rice noodles, cooked following packet instructions


Put stock and water in a pan and add the lemon grass, ginger, chilies, fish sauce, juice of one lime, and agave. Simmer for 10 minutes. Add the tofu and simmer another 2 minutes. Discard lemon grass and stir in vegetables, scallions and mushrooms. Cook for approximately 1 minute. Remove from heat and stir in remaining lime juice. Divide the prepared noodles between 4 bowls and ladle soup into each bowl. Serves 4.