A Vietnamese staple and one of my favorite Vietnamese soups, Canh Chua can be prepared solely with just vegetables (traditionally tomatoes, okra, and bean sprouts), shrimp, salmon, or catfish. The above picture shows mushrooms and tofu - these non-traditional additions are recent for our family to cater to my husband's preferences. Like Vietnamese dipping sauce (some prefer it sweeter while others prefer it more tangy), a lot of other Vietnamese dishes are slightly varied from family to family. It was thanks to this soup that my mom got me to eat (and LOVE!) okra.
Onto the recipe:
For a 5 quart pot:
1/2 pound of shrimp (other options: salmon, catfish)
3 tomatoes, diced into 8 parts each
2 cups of pineapple chunks (if using canned pineapple chunks, do not drain the juice)
About a dozen okra, diagonally sliced
3 stalks of bac ha (Vietnamese taro stem), diagonally sliced (alternative: celery)
1 cups of bean sprouts
a handful of springs of ngo om (Vietnamese rice paddy herb) - alternative: ground cumin
nuoc mam (fish sauce)
4 cups of shrimp stock (thank you Insatiably Epicurious for this)
1/2 a package of block tamarind
optional ingredients: tofu and mushrooms
Bac ha (taro stem) and okra, diagonally sliced
Here is the tamarind block we use:
Here's what it looks like out of the package:
1. Boil 3 cups of water in one pot. Meanwhile, fill a 5 quart pot halfway with water.
2. Place 1/2 of the block of tamarind into the pot with 3 cups of boiling water.
3. Let boil for 10 minutes. If the liquid becomes too thick, add a bit more water. This is what it should end up looking like:
4. Strain the tamarind liquid through a strainer into the 5 quart pot like so:
5. Using a spoon or ladle, press down onto the tamarind liquid to squeeze out every bit of juice:
6. Pour the shrimp stock into the 5 quart stock pot. Add equal amounts of sugar and fish sauce to taste. Point of reference, we added 6 ladle full of fish sauce and 6 ladle full of sugar (gotta love the Asian method of measurements). To be more exact, I believe that's a 2 oz ladle. Anyway, bring the soup to a boil and then reduce to simmer.
7. Add the pineapple and simmer for about 10 minutes to allow the natural sweetness of the pineapple to release into the tamarind soup.
8. Add the okra and tomatoes (and tofu and mushrooms). Let simmer for about 5 minutes.
9. Garnish with fried shallots (if you made fried shallots, throw in a bit of the shallot oil as well) and a handful of rice paddy herbs. If you don't have rice paddy herbs, add 1 - 2 tsp of cumin.
To serve: Put a handful of bean sprouts into the serving bowl. Ladle the hot soup over the bean sprouts. This ensures that the bean sprouts aren't over cooked. Serve over rice.
Like I said earlier, every family's recipe may slightly vary. This is just how my family prepares it. If yours prepares it differently, do share!