Vietnamese Hot and Sour Soup

For years, I tried unsuccessfully to recreate the unique taste of this soup from my favorite Vietnamese restaurant.  Then I finally asked the owner what made the broth so special.  The secret is tamarind!  Incarnations of tamarind soup are found all over  Southeast Asia.  In the Philippines it is called Sinigang, and in Vietnam it is called Canh Chua Chay (Chay indicates the vegetarian version, as opposed to the more common one with shrimp).
  • a  lemon-sized piece of tamarind pulp or ¼ c. prepared tamarind paste*
  • 1 T ground chili paste
  • 1 T minced garlic
  • 3 T vegetarian fish sauce* or soy sauce
  • 3 c. light vegetable stock + 3 c. water
  • 2 T sugar
  • ½ t. salt
  • 1 c. pineapple chunks, fresh or canned, with some of the juice
  • ½ onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 stalk celery, thinly sliced
  • 1 c. chopped tomatoes or halved cherry tomatoes
  • 1 15 oz can peeled straw mushrooms, rinsed and drained
  • 1 15 oz can cut baby corn
  • 1 10/5 oz package lite silken tofu, firm, cubed
  • 2 c. shredded bok choy leaves
  • juice of one lime
  • 2 c. bean sprouts
  • Chopped scallions
  • Cilantro leaves
  • lime wedges
* available at Asian markets

In a small bowl, pour ½ c. boiling water over the tamarind pulp (if using) and soak for 30 minutes.  Push pulp through a sieve to extract liquid.  Set aside.

Sauté the garlic and chili paste in a little water until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Add vegetarian fish sauce or soy sauce and stir for another 10 seconds.  Add water, broth, sugar, salt, and tamarind and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and add pineapple, onion, celery, tomatoes, mushrooms, baby corn, tofu, and bok choy.  Simmer for 3 minutes.  Just before serving, remove from heat and stir in lime juice.  Taste and adjust flavor with more chili paste, vegetarian fish sauce, sugar, or lime juice to taste.

To serve, ladle soup into individual large bowls and allow each person to garnish with the bean sprouts, scallions, cilantro, and lime wedges.

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