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Tom Yum Soup with Meatballs and Tofu

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As a certified health and wellness coach, I love discussing food, health benefits, and how to keep weight in check.

Spicy and lemony Tom Yum Soup makes a healthy meal when accompanied with brown rice or whole grains.


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I’ve a constant craving for anything tangy, sour and spicy and no, I’m not pregnant. Ever since I went to Bangkok some years back and tasted the real Tom Yum soup, I’ve been trying to recreate the flavor—soulfully sour and spicy, with the citrusy note of Kaffir leaves that lingers long after the heat is turned off from under the hot pot.

I asked some Thai friends and they all have their own way of making Tom Yum—a little more of this or that. No one makes it exactly the same way though they do agree on a few common “must-have” ingredients. They also told me the simplest way to make Tom Yum soup is to get the Tom Yum paste (readily available in Asian market), spare myself the extra work, use some chicken stock and be done with. It will be the next best thing to making it from scratch.

I did that and it was rather authentic but I want the real thing. I want the crisp clear taste of Tom Yum that comes from making it from scratch. Am I crazy to inflict myself with more work than necessary? Perhaps but that’s where the fun begins and the result may be everything I'm looking for.

I’ve tried chicken and seafood—the usual choices of protein used in Tom Yum soup. Even go vegetarian with vegetables and tofu. However, I find that my favorite is actually using homemade turkey meatballs, the recipe I’ll be sharing. The turkey meatballs impart a sweet rich flavor to the soup and no stock is required, just water. The long simmering process coaxes the aromatic flavor out of the herbs used and the meatballs become tender and fluffy. The added tofu and mushroom work together to produce an appetizingly healthy soup.

If you can smell it already, let’s begin:


Cook Time

Prep timeCook timeReady inYields

25 min

1 hour

1 hour 25 min

1 pot of soup, 4 to 6 servings

What is Tom Yum (or Yam) Soup?

It is one of the most popular soups in Thailand. Distinctively sour, aromatic and spicy, the soup is usually made with stock and flavored with ingredients such as lemon grass, kaffir leaves, lime juice, fish sauce and chilies. They usually use chicken, shrimp or a variety of seafood.

Another close variation is Tom Yum Kha, a similar soup made with coconut milk.


  • 1/2 pkg lean ground turkey, seasoned with salt, fish sauce, sugar and pepper
  • 3 stalks lemon grass, sliced
  • 1 thumb galanga, sliced (optional, though highly recomended)
  • 4 to 5 cloves garlic, sliced, or smashed
  • 1 large onion, halved (mainly to flavor soup, discard if desired after boiling)
  • 3 to 5 Thai chillies
  • A handful of Kaffir leaves, gently bruised using fingers
  • 1/2 slab of soft tofu, cut into cubes
  • 6 to 7 Button mushroom, sliced
  • A bunch of cilantro, for garnishing
  • 2 to 3 tbs fish sauce
  • 1 tbs sugar
  • 2 to 3 limes or lemons, extract juice
  • A sprinkling of red chili flakes, (ignore if you do not want it too spicy)
  • salt, to taste
The necessary ingredients  for Tom Yum soup--Thai chilies, lemon, lemon grass, garlic , onion and kaffir leaves (shown in the next picture).

The necessary ingredients for Tom Yum soup--Thai chilies, lemon, lemon grass, garlic , onion and kaffir leaves (shown in the next picture).

Cubed soft tofu, sliced button mushroom, cilatnro and kaffir leaves make up the rest of the fresh ingredients..

Cubed soft tofu, sliced button mushroom, cilatnro and kaffir leaves make up the rest of the fresh ingredients..



  1. Coat the bottom of a big pot with oil. Add sliced lemon grass, garlic, Thai chillies, galanga,onion and red chili flakes and sautee until fragrant. The red chili flakes gives it some color but if you prefer less spice, you can cut back on amount of Thai chilies or red chili flakes.
  2. Add 8 cups of water and bring to a boil.
  3. While waiting for the water to boil, prepare meatball. Put ground turkey in a big bowl. Add chopped cilantro and onion. Season with a teaspoon of sugar, 1 tablespoon of fish sauce and add salt and pepper to taste. Add 1 tsp of cornstarch and mix well.
  4. Wet hands before molding turkey mixture into one-inch size meatballs. Roll turkey mixture between palms of hands until they're nice and round.
  5. Once the water boils, lower heat and drop in meatballs one at a time.
  6. Bring it to a boil again. Season soup with a sprinkling of salt.
  7. Lower heat and let it simmer for about 45 minutes.
  8. Bruise Kaffir leaves with hands and drop them into the soup.
  9. Add lemon juice and fish sauce. Adjust flavor with salt and more sugar if needed.
  10. Once you're happy with the taste, add tofu and mushroom.
  11. Bring it to a boil and turn the heat off. The soup is now ready for serving. Garnish it with cilantro.
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Using Soup as a Meal Trick to Lose Weight?

Can soup help you lose weight or maintain weight loss?

According to a study, people who start a meal with vegetable soup end up eating eating 20 percent less than those who don't. Read more on and you'll also find more healthy soup recipes here.

Why Including Soup Regularly in Your Diet is a Good Thing?

Unless your soup is loaded with cream, milk, butter or cheese, clear soup can be healthful. It is a known fact that soup fills you up. Some health experts have even advocated using soups as a way to help weight loss. The reasoning goes like this: Since soup fills you up (and it's mostly water), you're not eating as many calories as you would say, a hamburger and some fries. If you look at the ingredients used in this soup, the only real fat calories found is in the meat. Since lean ground turkey (93% fat free) is used in this case, the amount of fat is low. Coupled that with healthy tofu (1/2 cup of raw tofu has only 5g of fat) and nutritious mushrooms (o fat calories--yay!), this soup is high on the health index. Further, lemon grass, lemon juice and kaffir leaves are rich in antioxidants and cancer-fighting polyphenols (more details below).

To complete the meal, include a complex carbohydrate like brown rice or purple (black ) rice. You can also add noodles in the soup for a complete meal. In the picture below, I've included white rice (not actually healthy but my weakness) and a Thai-chili lemony fish sauce condiment.

Serving suggestion


How to Make Tasty Meatballs

Any ground meat can be used. I usually use lean ground turkey as it is lean and has less fat calories. There are a number of fillers that you can use to add flavor and make it tender and moist. Most Asian meatballs call for chopped onion, green onion, cilantro and sometimes, finely chopped carrots or red chilies. Cornstarch is commonly used to hold the meat together. In general, use one to two tablespoons of cornstarch for one package of ground meat. Alternatively, you can also used crushed crackers or oats.

Depending on the amount of meat used, season with salt, sugar, fish sauce and pepper. Season the ground meat well as some of the seasoning will leach out to the soup. Under-seasoned meatballs can taste flat. While you don't want to overload, be sure to add enough seasoning. If you're not sure, pinch off a tiny amount, microwave it and taste it before adding more seasoning. I use this trick often and it has worked well for me.

Equally important in the process is the simmering time. Allow meatballs to simmer for at least 45 minites to an hour. This helps to bring out the flavor of the meat to enhance the flavor of the soup. It also makes the meatballs soft. Simmering also brings oil to the top, where you can conveniently ladle it off. Less oil means less worry about waistline.

If you like the recipe, please give it some stars. Thanks.


Don't Want to Make it From Scratch?

No problem--that's why they sell the ready to prepare Tom Yum paste. Just bring stock to a boil and add paste according to instructions found on the bottle. Add your favorite meat, seafood, tofu or vegetables. In Thailand, straw mushrooms are typically used but hey, nobody is going to cry foul if you wish to use your favorite mushroom. For added flavor, add slices of fresh galanga, lemon grass, kaffir leaves. You may have to doctor it up with more salt, fish sauce, sugar and lime juice. The soup can be ready in half an hour if you make it this way.

Thai Cooking and Essential Spices and Herbs

Thai cooking is known for its bold use of herbs and spices. Their dishes are intense and loud--meant to awaken every senses and drench every taste bud. Although there are non-spicy Thai dishes, most dishes favor the use of Thai chilies, basil, lemon grass, kaffir leaves, galanga, coconut sugar, fish sauce and limes, lots of limes. The combination of these aromatic herbs and spices give Thai dishes a distinctive swag. Some may find it too intimating but for Thai food lovers, it's the ultimate food experience.

In making Tom Yum Soup, there are three ingredients that you cannot skim or skip. Lemon grass, Kaffir leaves and limes make the soup. Without these trio, your soup would be simply be..... soup.

Interestingly, Tom Yum soup has been the subject of research in Thailand and Japan because the soup is believed to have immune-boosting capabilites to fight cold and flu viruses. They discovered that the ingredients used in Tom Yum Soup is 100 times more effectve in inhibiting cancerous tumor growth than any other foods. Although these findings are by no means conclusive, it makes me feel good that Tom Yum soup is one of my favorite soups.


To illustrate, I've included two stars of Thai cooking and their health benefits:

Kaffir Leaves

Kaffir leaves, recognizable by its double shaped leaves are commonly used in Thai, Burmese, Laos, Indonesia and Malaysian dishes. It is intensively aromatic with citrusy and floral undertones. Crushing the leaves or cutting them up releases the fragrance that is at once delightful and refreshing. It is often added to soup, curry pastes or stir-fries for its ability to intensity flavor and bring out zest.

Though mainly used in food, Kaffir leaves are used in other ways. In Thailand, it is used in shampoo to prevent hair loss or used in as deodorant. It is often used as digestive aid to purify blood. Its antiviral properties are said to promote healthy teeth and gums.

In cooking, usually only the first 3 to 4 inche of the stem from the roots up is used. Sliced thinly or crushed to release fragrance. It is also blended in some curry paste for making curries.

In cooking, usually only the first 3 to 4 inche of the stem from the roots up is used. Sliced thinly or crushed to release fragrance. It is also blended in some curry paste for making curries.

Lemon Grass

As a kid, I would sometimes develop hives when I come into contact with certain plants. My mother would boil lemon grass in hot water and then have me wash with it. Miraculously, the hives together with the itch will vanish.

I couldn’t figure out why but now I know. Lemon grass has antiseptic properties and is used in traditional medicine to treat various skin infections and sores. Its antiseptic properties have also been used to treat vomiting, insomnia, high blood pressure and fever. According to the Science and Technology Department’s Food and Nutrition Research Institute lemon grass is rich in antioxidants and may help to prevent cancer.

Today, it is widely used to make soaps, deodorants, perfumes and often used in spa treatment to relax and rejuvenate.


Ingenira on October 15, 2012:

Wow, what a hub about tom yum soup ! I go to Thailand to work often lately, and I always look for places with good tom yum soup, and I like the way you described it :

soulfully sour and spicy, with the citrusy note of Kaffir leaves that lingers long after the heat is turned off from under the hot pot

anglnwu (author) on September 24, 2012:

Audrey, good to hear from you. Yes, you can make a vegetarian version. Just use vegetables stock and use tofu and vegetables instead of meatballs. The Thai spices are a must since they give the soup its characteristic flavor. Try it some time. Thanks for commenting.

Audrey Howitt from California on September 24, 2012:

I love this soup! Can it be made in a vegetarian form?

anglnwu (author) on September 03, 2012:

YogaKat, I used to have lemongrass growing in my backyard and then the gardener took them out when we were gone for vacation. He may be seizing the chance to get rid of what he thought were weeds. Anyhow, I will be planting some and yes, I must include a kaffir tree as well and limes. Just imagine everything you need in your own backyard. Thanks for dropping by to comment.

YogaKat from Oahu Hawaii on September 03, 2012:

I am so addicted to Tom yum, that I now grow my own kaffir lime trees and lemongrass. A good friend gave me a few of her limes, so I have a few sprouts from the seeds. I use a stock made from shrimp shells, using the shrimps as soup meat later. I like the addition of turkeyballs and tofu.

anglnwu (author) on August 09, 2012:

Lady E, kaffir leaves can be found in Asian stores. They're very aromatic and I'm sure you'll like it. Thanks for commenting--always good to hear from you.

Elena from London, UK on August 06, 2012:

Very healthy Recipe, that will encourage me to eat brown rice. I always have white rice. First time, I have heard of Kaffir leaves. I absolutely love the way you cook, Angeline. Thanks for all the photo's too. 5 Star. :-)

anglnwu (author) on July 01, 2012:

Brett, good to see you here. I haven't tried Tom Saap but your mention peaked my curiosiyt and I had to google it. Turns out it's rather similar but roasted red pepper. I 've got to try it since I love anything spicy. Thanks for adding to this hub with your suggestion.

anglnwu (author) on July 01, 2012:

Totalhealth, sometimes, looks can be deceiving as is the case here. It may not look so nice (haha..sorry about that) but trust me, you'll love the taste if you like kaffir leaves. Thanks for coming by to comment.

Teaches, give it a try--there's seafood, chicken and vegetarian tom yum soup (normally) at any credible Thai restaurant. Thanks again for your continual support. Have a great day.

Brett C from Asia on July 01, 2012:

A great effort and share. I love it too, but really like it hot, so I also enjoy Tom Sap. Have you tried it? This would be great for people to try, as it is a traditional Thai dish, adapted for the home.

Sharing, up and awesome.

Dianna Mendez on June 30, 2012:

This sounds like a recipe I would enjoy. We just had a new Thai restaurant open nearby and I may have to try this if it's on the menu. Thanks for sharing.

TotalHealth from Hermosa Beach, CA on June 30, 2012:

Have to be honest, and I mean no disrespect, but at first glance the soup does not seem that appealing. However, and after reading the contents, and I was excited to see Kaffir leaves as an ingredient, I have changed my mind. It looks yummy and I cannot wait to try it. Thanks for sharing!

anglnwu (author) on June 29, 2012:

Om, coming from you, my lovely Thai friend, that has to be the Da Bombbest comment. I agree without kaffir, the soup would be missing something--it has that distinctive taste that cannot be duplicated. Well, you can always buy online (see my amazon capsule--hehe). I've a big 99 Ranch market here, even then, they dont' always carry it. Fortunately, there's also a Vietnamese supermarket and they almost always have it. If you want it badly, holler, I can send some to you:))

anglnwu (author) on June 29, 2012:

Thanks, huyenchi, for your kind comments.

anglnwu (author) on June 29, 2012:

Haha, chef -de-jour, you made me laugh. Chef Tom Yum and Yum Yum would make a good pair--they're sure the rock the kitchen with great dishes.

Galanga is a spice. Actually, we call it "blue ginger" in my Asian dialect--part of the ginger family but very aromatic, more so than regular ginger. As for cilantro, you're right--it's a herb grown from coriander seeds ( I believe).

Thanks for commenting. Enjoy your cooking with your son.

anglnwu (author) on June 29, 2012:

being well, thanks again for your kind comments.

anglnwu (author) on June 29, 2012:

Arlene, as you tell, I use a lot of ground lean turkey since my husband doesn't eat pork. Enjoy making the soup and thanks for dropping by to comment.

anglnwu (author) on June 29, 2012:

vespawoolf, thanks for the nice comments. Your soup will still taste nice with Kaffir leaves but not quite the same. Kaffir leaves give it a distinctive flavor that cannot be substituted. You can also find kaffir leaves online. Thanks for your comments.

Om Paramapoonya on June 29, 2012:

As a lifelong lover of tom yum, I can tell this recipe is DA BOMB!!!! You're so lucky to be able to get kaffir leaves. I've been looking for them at my local Asian stores but haven't been able to find any. Without fresh kaffir leaves, I always feel like my tom yum is not quite complete.

huyenchi from London - Hanoi on June 29, 2012:

yum!! I love Tom Yum especially with fresh herbs, and as I look at your photos, my mouth waters. Vote up!

Andrew Spacey from Sheffield, UK on June 29, 2012:

Tom Yum - that would be a great name for a soup chef. And his assistant Yum Yum...sorry, getting carried away with the names!

This recipe looks great and so very clearly set out even my teenage son could make it. I must admit I've never tasted this soup but it looks delicious and as you say would be a healthy nutritious meal in itself. With some chunky bread or croutons?

One question- is galanga a spice?

And cilantro a herb?

Thanks for this nicely laid out hub.

beingwell from Bangkok on June 28, 2012:

I LOHVE your recipes. I'm gonna' copy some of these ok. :) hihihi...


Arlene V. Poma on June 28, 2012:

Can't wait to try your recipe for Tom Yum Soup, Angin. I am always trying to use turkey in my cooking, so I'm very interested in this dish. Great photographs. I would like a couple of bowls of the soup right now because I'm sure I'll be getting compliments from hubby. But like all good things, he's going to have to wait!

Vespa Woolf from Peru, South America on June 28, 2012:

This soup sounds absolutely fabulous and what a beautiful hub with gorgeous photos to boot! We have all the ingredients here but kaffir leaves. I wonder if there's a substitute? Would the soup still be delicious without it? Soup is a big deal in Peru. No lunch is complete without it. I'm sure this would be very popular in our household. Voted up and shared!

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