Recipe: Vietnamese Sour Tamarind Soup (Canh Chua)

Tamarind Soup

It's amazing how, as a kid, you never question what you are eating. At least I didn't. I either liked it or didn't. It was that simple.

I didn't realize how little I knew about the dishes I grew up with until I started asking my mom or my aunt (who was like a mom to me) for the recipe, and then not knowing what half of the ingredients are. "What is that called in English?" I would ask. The answer back would always be, "I don't know, take a picture and go find out".

This Vietnamese sour tamarind soup was one of my favorite soups growing up. I loved the sour taste of the tamarind, combined with the sweet pineapple balanced with the shrimp and fresh veggies. I seldom use tamarind in my everyday cooking, so I was excited when I finally had a chance to use it.

Chinese brown sugar, one of the ingredients in this soup, is solid cane sugar sold in blocks. It is brown in color and rock hard. It is typically divided up into equal pieces.  The 65g of Chinese brown sugar called for in this recipe should be one full piece of the sugar sold in most packages.

This recipe yields 6-8 servings.

Vietnamese Sour Tamarind Soup (Canh Chua)
- 1 elephant ear stem, cut into 1/2 inch slices on an angle (if not easily accessible, substitute with 3-5 stalks of celery, sliced)
- 5 cups of bean sprouts
- 8-10 sprigs of rice paddy herb, roughly chopped with stems
- 2 large ripe vine tomatoes, roughly chopped
- 1 1/2 cups of fresh ripe pineapple chunks
- 1/2 lb of large shrimp with shell (approx 18-20)
- 824ml chicken broth
- 200g, 7 oz. block of tamarind me chua paste
- 6 cups of water
- 65 grams of Chinese solid brown sugar
- fish sauce or salt to taste
- fried shallots

1. Prepare the tamarind soup base by dissolving the tamarind pulp in 3 1/2 cups of hot water in a pot. Heat the mixture on medium high heat for 8-10 minutes, breaking down the tamarind with a spoon or fork while it is heating. Once dissolved, the tamarind will turn into a thick dark paste. With a sieve, strain the seed and pulp to extract the tamarind water. Use a spoon to press the pulp to get more tamarind water.

2. In a large pot, combine 2 cups of the tamarind water, chicken broth and 2 1/2 cups of water, and bring to a boil. Add the solid brown sugar and mix until completely dissolved. Add the shrimp and let it boil until it is just cooked (approx 1-2 min). Take out the shrimp and set aside so they don't overcook. Turn off the heat. Your soup base in now ready. At this point, depending on your taste, you may want to add a bit more water to make it less sour, some fish sauce to add flavor and to make the soup saltier, or more tamarind water for a more sour taste. Everyone likes it slightly different.

3. This soup is meant to be enjoyed fresh and you only prepare it when you are ready to serve. For 1 individual bowl, in a pot, combine 1 cup of the tamarind soup base, 3 pineapple chunks, 3 tomato chunks, 5 slices of elephant ear stem, and bring the soup to a boil (2-3 minutes). Add a handful of the bean sprouts, 3-4 cooked shrimp and let it boil for another minute. Turn off the heat and pour the soup into a soup bowl. Garnish with rice paddy herbs and fried shallots. Enjoy the soup hot, plain or with white Jasmine rice. To prepare a larger bowl, simply scale up from the portions described above.

For extra flavor, you can prepare a small bowl of fish sauce mixed with sliced red Thai chiles and dip your shrimp into it. If you don't like shrimp, you can substitute it with white fish or chicken. Do not use beef. It will alter the taste of the soup.

Elephant Ear Stem
Elephant Ear Stem

Tamarind Soup Platter
Ingredients for Sour Tamarind Soup

Recipe: Mango Pineapple Smoothie

Mango Pineapple Smoothie

This mango pineapple smoothie was inspired by 2 things: the mango lassi drink and my recent interest in salsa dancing. You combine the two together and you get this!

I absolutely encourage you to use fresh mangoes. I find frozen ones lack flavor and have only a faint mango taste when you compare it to the fresh stuff.

As for the cinnamon, I recommend using Vietnamese cinnamon. It is regarded as the best cinnamon in the world and you will understand why once you taste it. It's high essential oil content is what gives it its awesome flavor.

Mango Pineapple Smoothie
- 2 fresh mangoes, cut into chunks
- 3/4 cups of pineapple chunks
- 1 frozen ripe banana
- 1/2 cup of plain yogurt
- 1/2 of small lime, juice
- 1 Tbsp flax oil
- 4-6 fresh mint leaves
- 1/8 tsp of cinnamon
- 1 cardamom pod, seeds only, shell discarded (optional)
- choice of sweetener (optional)

1. Place all of the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Pour shake into a cup and enjoy.

Mango Pineapple Smoothie