Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Eel Tamarind Hot Pot (Lau Canh Chua Luon)--serves 2

eel tamarind hot pot (lau canh chua luon)
vegetables for the hot pot
eels for the hot pot

I enjoy eating canh chua, a classic Vietnamese sour soup made from tamarind extract. People typically use ca loc which is mud fish or snakehead fish found in Southeast Asia. I have made this soup many times using salmon, shrimp, and a variety of seafood. My husband and I were in Charlestown for the Bunker Hill parade and then took the ferry back to Boston. On our walk from the harbor we stopped in Chinatown for some ingredients. There were some whole eels at the fish counter. I asked for one but the fish monger said something in Cantonese that sounds like he was disappointed that I want only one. When I pointed out the 2 that I want he seemed to approve. In Chinatown when you purchase fish they clean it (scale and gut) for you without asking. It's a great service. Since the eels do not have scales he gutted them and bagged them for me.

While in the store I also ran into one of the women who worked at the Vietnamese banh mi shop. She saw me and stopped to chat. She tells me she does not eat eels because they are too slimy. She also confirmed that she is leaving the sandwich shop to take care of her 3 grandchildren. It will be sad not to see her at the shop making my sandwiches. She has been there with the other women for several decades. It may sound like I shop there frequently but honestly I only go there a few times a year. Every time I shop there I talk to them and through the years have built a rapport with them.

Here is my recipe for the eel tamarind hot pot or lau canh chua luon in Vietnamese. Unfortunately I don't have ngo om or rice paddy herbs---making the canh chua more fragrant and authentic. For the vegetables the typical ones are mung bean sprouts, water spinach (or rau muong), tomatoes, okras and bac ha (a tuber plant with leaves that resemble taro--a plant that I have no name for in English). My mother likes to use these along with cabbage and pineapple in her soup. She also fry up a little garlic and oil and add this to the pot right before serving. Since this is a hot pot and the vegetables and eels are meant to be cooked at the table I add the fried garlic and oil in the broth. This little addition makes everything smell so good!

Eel Tamarind Hot Pot (Lau Canh Chua Luon)--serves 2


6 cups cold water
1 tsp of good fish sauce
2 Tbsp Tamarind Soup Base (Sinigang Sa Sampalok Mix)
1 Tsp olive oil
2 large garlic cloves (about 2 Tbsp chopped)
1 eel (about 12 oz), cleaned well and cut into 2-inch lengths
A few cabbage leaves, cut into 3-4 inch pieces
About 10 okras, trimmed
1 large tomato, cut into wedges
A handful of water spinach
A handful of mung bean sprouts


1) Heat a pot with water over high heat. Once the water boils, turn heat down and add fish sauce and Tamarind Soup base. Adjust the seasoning to your taste. Turn heat to low.
2) Heat a small pan over medium high heat. Add oil. Once the oil is hot add garlic. Saute until the garlic is golden brown but not burned.
3) Pour the garlic oil mixture gently into the soup. Take a ladle of soup and rinse the pan and pour this back into the pot.
4) Ladle the soup into a hot pot. Cover the pot if needed to heat up.
5) Add eel and the vegetables (such as okras and cabbage) that require the longest time to cook.
6) Add the other vegetables and eat while everything is cooking.

*You may make individual little dipping sauces with a good fish sauce and some spicy chili pepper.
*This hot pot is good with either rice or  rice noodles.
*Prepare as little or as much vegetables and eels as you can eat. It is best to prepare more than you think you will eat. This way you will not be running back into the kitchen to wash more vegetables.
*The Tamarind Soup Base is used today due to convenience. However, it does contain a small amount of monosodium glutamate (MSG). If you prefer not to eat any MSG then you may extract tamarind from the ripe pods (be sure to remove and discard the tough brown skin) with hot water to get the sour taste for this soup. If you do this you will need to season your broth with fish sauce, salt and sugar according to your taste.
*If you have any ngo om or rice paddy herbs then chop them up and add to the broth.
*If everyone in your party can eat spicy food then you may add some chili in the pot.
*Eels can be bloody and very slimy. Be sure to clean them well. My mother cleans her eels with both salt and vinegar. Check out my previous blog on How to Clean Eels
*A few photos below came from the 2016 Bunker Hill Day parade. This huge parade is an annual tradition for the city to commemorate the Battle of Bunker Hill Day which was fought on Breed's Hill on June 17, 1775 in Charlestown, Massachusetts. This battle was part of the Siege of Boston--which took place during the American Revolutionary War (aka the American War of Independence).

2016 Bunker Hill Day parade
2016 Bunker Hill Day parade
2016 Bunker Hill Day parade
2016 Bunker Hill Day parade

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