Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Vietnamese Fish Soup (makes 5-6 servings as part of meal)


Canh chua cá literally translates into sour fish soup in Vietnamese.  It is a classic Vietnamese dish that is often served at home.  The base broth in this soup is tamarind and water.  I make the rest of the soup with whatever fresh ingredients I have available.  Often I make this with salmon steaks, water spinach, bean sprouts, okra, and a plant that is called bạc hà (see photo below). The scientific name for bạc hà is alocasia adora and it's in the taro family.  Bạc hà is spongy and it absorbs the soup well.  By itself it is bland.  Most of the time it is not available so I substitute with celery heart.  I don't normally add pineapple in my soup but my mother prefers to add them.  While driving the scenic route up in Kula (Maui) my husband and I came across Maui Gold pineapples for sale and we bought four of these sweet, juicy, and fragrant fruit.  They are great fresh, in a blended drink, in a stir fry or in this type of soup.

Ingredients:

1-1 1/2 lb ahi* belly (cut into 3-4 pieces)
10 cherry tomatoes, cut in half
4 large cabbage leaves, cut in 2 x 3 inch pieces
4 celery heart sticks, thinly sliced
1/4 pineapple, cut in bite size
4 young kaffir lime leaves, snipped thinly with scissors
1 C banana blossom (please see How to Prepare a Banana Blossom post)
10 C cold water
1 package of tamarind powder (I used the Knorr brand)
2 T fish sauce (or to taste)
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 T canola oil

Method:

1) Heat a large pot with water over high heat.
2) Once the water boils, turn the heat down to medium high, add celery and cook for 3-4 minutes.
3) Add pineapple, cabbage and cook for 2-3 minutes.
4) Add tuna, tomatoes, kaffir lime leaves, banana blossom, and tamarind powder, cook for 6-8 minutes or until fish is just cooked.
5) Add fish sauce to taste.
6) Just before serving put oil in a small pan over medium high heat, add garlic, sauté until garlic is lightly golden, remove and drizzle over soup.

here is another version of this soup
(this has salmon steaks, quartered roma tomatoes,
sliced okra, sliced bac ha, and bean sprouts)
*If you use fish with bones and head the soup will taste a lot better since the bones will add flavor to your soup base/broth.  Ahi is a yellowfin tuna that has a firm meat.   The belly was available for sale at the grocery store so I gave it a try.  It turns out that the belly was an excellent choice for this type of soup.  It tasted great even after reheating a few times.
*Instead of tamarind powder you can use the meat of the tamarind pod, extract it with some hot water if you have them available.  The powder is convenient and makes it a quick meal.
*I don't normally add banana blossom to this dish but I had lots of it prepared and it turned out to be very tasty in this soup. 

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