California Tom Yum Soup

A distant relative of the vibrant, brothy tom yum soup you likely know from many Thai restaurants. Part of its magic is the way it plays sweet off sour, balancing herbaceousness, feisty heat, and just the right amount of saltiness.

California Tom Yum Soup

This soup is a distant relative of the vibrant, brothy tom yum soup you likely know from many Thai restaurants. Part of its magic is the way (a good version) plays sweet off sour, balancing herbaceousness, feisty heat, and just the right amount of saltiness. There are infinite interpretations of it, but this is how I make it in my (California) kitchen. It has evolved over the years, and this version is vegetarian / vegan, made with a fresh tom yum paste, highlighting whatever seasonal produce is on hand. It evolves with with the seasons, and I like to use any leftover to the next day to add dimension to rice bowls, or as egg poaching liquid, or as the broth in a breakfast congee. Be sure to read the headnotes before you dive into this one. Enjoy! -h

California Tom Yum Soup

California Tom Yum Soup

California Tom Yum Soup
As a variation, I like to use the broth from this soup and the wontons from this wonton soup recipe. Really delicious.

101 Cookbooks Membership

Premium Ad-Free membership includes:
-Ad-free content
-Print-friendly recipes
-Spice / Herb / Flower / Zest recipe collection PDF
-Weeknight Express recipe collection PDF
-Surprise bonuses throughout the year

spice herb flower zest
weeknight express

California Tom Yum Soup

5 from 4 votes

This actually comes together very quickly once you have everything chopped, so be sure to have everything chopped and prepped before you start cooking. It's extra special if you have some of these roasted cherry tomatoes to use.

  • 8 cups of water
  • 2 large roma tomato (cut in 1/6ths), or 20 cherry tomatoes (halved), or mix
  • 2 dried guajillo chile peppers, coarsely chopped
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons palm, muscovado or brown sugar
  • 1 quantity of Tom Yum Paste* (see below)
  • 8 - 12 ounces mixed mushrooms (nameko, oyster, etc)
  • splash of shoyu or soy sauce, to taste
  • 1/3 cup fresh lime juice, or to taste
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro in each bowl, for serving
  • To serve: Serve on its own with lime wedges, or with steamed rice, and warm tofu. Bonus points for a drizzle of lemon olive oil, or lime oil for serving, and roasted cherry tomatoes.
  1. Bring the water to a boil in a medium saucepan, add the raw tomato, guajillo chile, and sugar. Simmer for a few minutes, until the tomato softens a bit, add the Tom Yum Paste*. 

  2. Allow to simmer for a minute or two, before adding the mushrooms. Simmer until tender, just a minute or two. Add a small splash of shoyu or soy sauce, and about half of the lime juice. Taste, and adjust with more of either, if needed. Place 1/4 cup of chopped cilantro in the base of each bowl, and top with the soup.

Prep Time
5 mins
Cook Time
10 mins
Total Time
15 mins

California Tom Yum Paste (Vegan)

4.86 from 7 votes

I make the tom yum paste and keep it on hand (or frozen) for quick weeknight meals. It is also great slathered inside spring rolls, dolloped on flatbreads, whisked into yogurt, etc.

  • 4 medium shallots, peeled
  • 3 stalks of lemongrass, tender centers roughly chopped
  • 2 serrano chile peppers, deseeded
  • 2 slices ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 4 makrut lime leaves (or 3 makrut lime + 2 Meyer lemon), torn and smashed
  • zest of one Meyer lemon (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
  1. Using a mortar and pestle, smash the shallots, lemongrass, serrano chiles, ginger, lime leaves, lemon zest, and salt into a very rough paste. Set aside. If your mortar and pestle is on the small size, work in batches.

Makes ~2/3 cup or enough for one Tom Yum soup recipe (above).

Prep Time
20 mins
Total Time
20 mins
If you make this recipe, I'd love to see it - tag it #101cookbooks on Instagram!

Post Your Comment

Recipe Rating


I love the taste of the makrut lime so much I bought a tree! Now, how should I pluck them , bottom up, top down, old ones first? I can’t wait to get started. Also when is best to pick the fruit. There are several on my tree. Thanks for your recipes and permission to use all the time.


I notice the ingredients for the paste are almost the same as what's in the jar of Thai Kitchen red curry paste I have, (which is also vegan), would it work to use that since I don't have fresh lemongrass and a couple of the other paste ingredients on hand right now?

HS: Hi Holly - yes! give it a try, and then adjust it to your liking with more or less paste, salt, etc.

Holly Donaldson

Dear Heidi, if I don't have the lime leaves for the tom yum paste what do I do with the limes and lemons? should I also smash them?

HS: Hi Anne - you can just leave the leaves out. Just use the zest of lemon or lime, and add a squeeze of juice as you're serving. Different, but still delicious.


I'm excited to make this Tom Yum paste and have it hangin' out in my freezer for last minute dinners - thank you!!!

Rachel @Clean Eating for the Non-Hippie

My husband and I love Thom Yum soup. We usually just buy it from a carryout, but the last time they gave us containers only 2/3 full, plus parking is terrible there. So I'd love to make it myself. I only have a tiny mortar and pestle, and I'd love to make extra paste for the freezer... Would a food processor work?

Yes, but I'd make sure you don't puree it completely, and I'd tear up the leaves by hand.

Lee Winemiller Cockrum

More Recipes

101cookbooks social icon
Join my newsletter!
Weekly recipes and inspirations.

Popular Ingredients

Use of this site constitutes acceptance of its User Agreement and Privacy Policy.

101 Cookbooks is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Any clickable link to on the site is an affiliate link.