Friday, August 5, 2011

Food from my Past: Vietnamese Hot and Sour Soup

The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers. – Thich Nhat Hanh

Photo: sweet redbird, Flickr ccl
I guess I’m on a kick about posting food that I remember from “days of yore.” This is two in two days. Of course Vietnamese hot and sour soup isn’t a lost creation. But have you ever looked at recipes online? There’s countless variations with widely differing results. I know. I’ve tried a few of them.

These are tamarind pods. Inside is a dark sweet flesh.
Photo: su-lin, Flickr ccl
I've been looking for a particular version for some time. “My” soup used to be served in a restaurant on Barrington Street in Halifax. I believe the restaurant’s name was Kin Doh, or very close… 

I can still remember sitting in their window on one particularly cold day. It was decades ago when I was going to NSCAD.

Snow was coming down with a vengeance outside. Inside where it was warm the always helpful waiter brought us our bowls of steaming sweet tangy goodness with crisp vegetables and shrimp. It was a wonderful way to start a meal.

The restaurant has been gone for a few years now. It’s a little funny, because I remember all their food as being excellent, but I’m hard pressed to remember anything except this soup. That’s the impression it made on me.

Whenever I look at Vietnamese soup recipes I always scan for what I remember being served there. I was completely amazed recently when I found one that was very close. It was missing a few ingredients (and had a few that needed removal), but there it was. My nugget of gold.

Thai red chillies (bird's eye chillies) are rarely over 3" long.
Photo: AlphaTangoBravo / Adam Baker, Flickr ccl
I believe the secret is in the broth. Tamarind sauce is a must. It’s made from concentrate with a few other ingredients to make a very dark brown sweet/tart liquid.

Fish sauce is another necessity. Without those two (well, actually any of the ingredients) this soup just wouldn’t be the same.

If you can't find tamarind sauce, you can use paste, but use only half as much.

The two Thai red chilies were just enough heat. It was spicy, but not unbearably so. Thai chilies are the little red ones that are very slender. They pack a punch.

I made this soup last night and was completely amazed at how close this recipe was to what I remember. The only difference? There was more “stuff” in my version than the restaurants. But isn’t that always the way? Restaurants have to stretch what they serve to maximize profit.

I was ecstatic with how this turned out. This recipe is very health conscious and comes together very quickly as well. I hope you enjoy.

Vietnamese Hot and Sour Soup
Prep: 15 min  |  Cook: 15 min  | Serves 4 or 8 as appetizer

1 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined
(or 1 block extra firm tofu, cubed)
1/4 cup cornstarch
3 tbsp sesame oil
6 cups chicken stock
4 tbsp tamarind sauce
1 stalk lemongrass, bruised
1 small red pepper, seeded and cut into squares
1 can (14oz) pineapple rings, cut into eights
2 Roma tomatoes, cut into thin rounds
1-2 thai red chillies, to taste
1-1/2 cups bean sprouts
2 tbsp fish sauce
1-1/2 tbsp sugar
1/2 salt
1 tbsp basil, chopped
3 green onions, chopped
1 lime cut in wedges

Coat the shrimp (or tofu) with the cornstarch in a bowl. 

Heat 2 tbsp of the oil in a wok. Fry the shrimp until just underdone, about 2-3 minutes. They will finish cooking later. If using tofu, fry until it begins to brown. Remove to a bowl.

Heat the chicken stock with the lemongrass and tamarind sauce. Let simmer for 3 minutes. 

Add both peppers, pineapple and tomato and simmer for 2 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and add the shrimp (or tofu), sprouts, fish sauce, sugar, salt and basil. Let simmer for 1 minute to heat through. All the vegetables will still be crisp.

Serve sprinkled with the green onions and lime wedge.


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