Not Hot, But Sour Soup
Something caught my eye when The Boy & I were at the Asian supermarket the other day. Was it what I think it was?
I have been trying to remember the name of this thing for the longest time. I kept describing it as a “porous celery” – no one knew what I was talking about. And now that I had it, I knew that for dinner we were having canh chua. The Boy wasn’t too disappointed to hear that.
Although not as popular as pho here in the States, canh chua is a common dish you’ll find on the Vietnamese dinner table. Everyone has their own recipe, but the base should include pineapple and tomatoes. If you don’t have either of these, you’ll have to rename the dish. Most people finish the cooking process with catfish or shrimp. Sometimes, I forgo the seafood. I think, in some world, that deducts points from how Vietnamese I am. But in an attempt to earn some of those points back, I will say that I made this with shrimp. But I don’t like to use bean sprouts. (Doh, there go 2 more points.) When The Boy and I first started dating, I didn’t cook but I craved canh chua all the time. It was a taste of home. My dad had verbally given me the recipe 1,000 times, but for no good reason, I never attempted it. It wasn’t until The Boy & I spent two years eating uptown and trying to find a place that made it right, that I was like, “Freakin’ A. I’m just going to try to do this since nobody is making it right.” By the way, if you’re familiar with Vietnamese restaurants in the Chicagoland area, let me know if there are any places that make great (I cannot settle for good anymore) canh chua because of the the place I went to were just wrong, wrong, wrong (bamboo was a featured ingredient at one place . . . and another place must have poured a good 1/2 cup of sugar in. Why would you put sugar in a sour soup????).
In any case, there has been a lot of trial and error to get it. But I think I’ve finally got it the way I want it.
And traditionally, the accompanying dish is ca kho to (clay pot fish). I am still trying to figure that one out!
The Boy’s Reaction: “This is really good. I’m glad we’re not eating the bamboo version anymore.”
The Girl’s Shrimp Sour Soup (Canh Chua Tom)
10 cups of water
2 large tomatoes (approximately 1/2 lb), cut in huge chunks
2 cups of fresh pineapple chunks (I used to use can but it gave it a weird taste. Fresh is 10x’s better)
20 okras, split in half
1/4 cup tamarind concentrate (or 2 tablespoons of a tamarind soup base mix – most of them contain MSG, so the preference is up to you)
1/4 cup fish sauce (feel free to add more)
1/2 lb of shrimp, unpeeled (half the adventure is unpeeling them while eating)
1 small bunch of Vietnamese coriander (approximately 6 stems), chopped*
1 smell bunch of long coriander (approximately 6 stems), chopped*
1 cup of bean sprouts (I never add it though)
1 long taro stem (about 1/2 lb), cut into 1″ chunks
10 cloves of garlic, sliced (doesn’t really matter which direction)
3 tablespoons oil
Bring water to boil. Add tomatoes and pineapple. Keep heat at medium-high and let cook until tomatoes look soft. Add okra and tamarind. When the okra becomes semi-tender, add fish sauce and the 2 corianders (if you don’t have both, it’s okay to use just one of the types). Let simmer for about 10 minutes. Add shrimp, taro stem and (if you must), bean sprouts. While these are cooking, take out a small frying pan. Add oil. When the oil is heated, throw in garlic and cook until golden brown. Pour the oil & garlic into the soup (stand back because the sizzle might be startling). Stir together. Feel free to add more fish sauce to taste.
You can serve this in a hot pot if you want that cool authentic experience. Otherwise, just eat with rice and if you have it, ca kho to.
*If you don’t come across this too often, just buy more than you need and freeze the rest.