[Photograph: Nick Kindelsperger]

One of the most rewarding experiences of a recent trip to Thailand was the chance to attend a cooking school, where I witnessed first hand how many recognizable Thai dishes were really made. For the most part, each was lighter and more dynamic than I had previously encountered, but they were also more complicated, with many using loads of ingredients that would be difficult to track down back in the States.

Except, that is, for a very simple and satisfying bowl of Tom Kha Gai. This coconut milk and chicken soup soup can be whipped up quickly, but thanks to a few key ingredients, it has tremendous depth of flavor. I couldn't wait to get back to try out the recipe.

Thing is, I forgot my detailed notes back in Bangkok. So now I have this beautiful memory of this soup, and I'm trying to piece it back together. No doubt, some of the proportions are probably off, but the main points are definitely here. Specifically, galangal and lemongrass are simmered with chicken stock and then removed, so that each sip has their fragrant fingerprint. Also, the chiles aren't added until the very end, something that seemed off to me at the time. But you also smash them, making them extra ready to give up their heat. The longer they hang out in the soup, the hotter each sip becomes. Linger too long and you may start to feel the burn.

Galangal used to be hard to track down, but I feel like I've been seeing it around more lately. I can't say the same about Kaffir lime leaves, which I picked up at a local Thai grocery store. Leave them out if you can't find them. Otherwise, the rest of these ingredients are easy to track down.

About the author: Nick Kindelsperger is the editor of Serious Eats: Chicago. He loves tacos and spicy food. You can follow him as @nickdk on Twitter.

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