This is a simplified but still flavorful version of my mom’s Vietnamese Sweet and Sour soup and can be ready in under 30 minutes. 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:
- pineapple (canned is okay for this recipe)
- Vietnamese fish sauce
There are Vietnamese sweet and 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. It’s much easier to just use lemon juice.
If you are in Dubai, you can sometimes get your hands on some Vietnamese coriander 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.
A tip on buying okra: if you are using okra in this dish, try and buy baby okra which is about 1 inch to 2 inches long. You want the younger, more tender shoots since they are cooked very briefly until just soft enough to eat. Longer okra is usually too old and tough – save those for stewing.
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. Enjoy this soup by itself or serve over white rice or thin rice noodles.
Give it a try because I kid you not, this soup is slurping gooooood!
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Vietnamese Sweet and Sour Soup
This is a simplified but still flavorful version of my mom's Vietnamese Sweet and Sour soup and can be ready in under 30 minutes. Pineapple is used to sweeten the broth and lemons are used for the sour element. Easy and fast to prepare.
- 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)
- 3 Tablespoons lemon juice (about half a lemon)
- 2 Tablespoons sugar
- 5 Tablespoons Vietnamese or Thai fish sauce (aka 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.
*I don't like the taste of commercial chicken stock nor chicken stock cubes and I find that simmering 4 chicken drumsticks (preferable de-skinned) for about 20 minutes before adding the rest of the ingredients will make a much more flavorful soup than just using water. Just remove the chicken when the soup is ready to be served or debone it and add the meat back into the soup.
1. Other ingredients that I sometimes add are salmon fillets and diced soft tofu. I throw them in at the last 10 minutes of cooking.
2. This soup is great on its own but it is also traditionally served over white rice or over rice noodles for a complete meal.
This post was originally published on October 8, 2009 and last updated January 9, 2018.