This is a simplified but still flavorful version of my mom’s Vietnamese Sweet and Sour soup. Pineapple is used to sweeten the broth and lemons are used for the sour element. Simple and fast to prepare.
A hugely popular dish in Vietnamese homes and restaurants, this sweet and sour soup (simply called “Sour Soup” or “Canh Chua” in Vietnamese) is one of my favorite soups because it is fast to prepare and I just love its balance of sweet and tart flavors.
My mom will only make this soup with fresh pineapple chunks that she has cut up herself from a whole pineapple (a feat I have yet to contemplate attempting). And she will often use traditional Vietnamese vegetables growing in her garden not found in most grocery stores, such as elephant ear stems (“bạc hà”), rice paddy herb (“rau om”), Vietnamese mint (“rau răm”), and Vietnamese coriander (“ngo gai”, also known as recao or Mexican “culantro” or “stinking-herb” or “sawtooth herb”).
But you don’t have to worry about sourcing any of these complicated sounding herbs. All you really need are lemons, pineapple (canned is okay for this recipe), and of course, Vietnamese fish sauce.
There are sour soup recipes that call for tamarind but I have tried tamarind paste, tamarind blocks, and tamarind concentrate but could never reproduce the right quantities needed for the perfect sour flavor of this dish. I think it’s much easier to just use lemon juice.
If you are in Dubai, you can sometimes get your hands on some recao at Sunflower, the Thai Supermarket in Karama. I’ve started to grow my own because I am completely in love with this “stinking herb” after my short expat stint in Puerto Rico where it grows like crazy. The aroma of the leaves is intoxicating. It grows well in the Dubai weather from November onward but seeds quickly in heat. Oh, I digress…
Don’t let the ingredient list put you off making this soup. If you can’t find okra or bean sprouts, no probs, just leave them out. It’s all about the broth anyway. Give it a try – you can do it!
I kid you not, this soup is slurping gooooood!
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- 2 quarts water or chicken stock*
- 1 large tomato, quartered
- juice from 16 oz can pineapple and 3 pineapple rings cut into chunks
- 6-8 large shrimp, peeled and deveined
- juice from ½ lemon (or more if you like it more sour)
- 1-2 Tablespoons sugar
- 5 Tablespoons Vietnamese fish sauce (nuoc mam)
- handful of okra
- handful of bean sprouts
- 2 large leaves of culantro (aka recao or ngo gai) whole or halved (optional)
- salt, to taste
- hot pepper (1 teaspoon sambal or 1 whole thai bird chili), optional
- scallions and cilantro for garnish
- Bring water or chicken stock* to a boil.
- Add tomato, pineapple juice and pineapple chunks and reduce heat to simmer for 5 minutes.
- Add shrimp, optional chili, lemon, sugar, and fish sauce and simmer 3-5 minutes or until shrimp is cooked.
- Add okra, bean sprouts and recao. Cover and remove from heat. Let stand 5 minutes.
- Salt to taste and garnish with scallions and cilantro.
Other ingredients that I sometimes add are salmon and diced soft tofu. I throw them in at the very beginning so that they are completely cooked by the time the soup is finished cooking.
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