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Canh chua cá (Vietnamese hot and sour fish soup)


Any firm fillets of fish work well in this classic Vietnamese soup, which is also very good with the addition of shellfish like mussels or clams. The sourness comes from tamarind, but you can also use lime juice when limes are in season. I love the cleanness of flavours here, the brightness from pineapple and chilli, and a depth from the addition of fish sauce (even more so if you opt to use a good fish stock as the base)

Ready in 15 minutes

Serves 4

25g piece from a block of tamarind

80g thin vermicelli

1 Tbsp neutral cooking oil

½ onion, sliced

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 tsp finely chopped ginger

1 small red chilli, finely sliced

2 Tbsp fish sauce

4 cups water

3 cups no-added-salt chicken or fish stock 

1 cup fresh bite-size pieces pineapple

2 medium tomatoes, quartered

8 fresh okra, trimmed and cut into bite size lengths (if you can’t find okra, use green beans instead)

  1. Soak tamarind in ½ cup boiling water for 5 mins to soften, then strain the liquid into a small bowl using a sieve, pushing the tamarind seeds down into the sieve to force all the usable pulp through.
  2. Cook vermicelli by plunging in boiling water for 2 mins then drain and set aside.
  3. In a soup pot, heat oil and saute onion, garlic, ginger and chilli for a few minutes until fragrant. Add the tamarind liquid and fish sauce and stir. Add the water and stock and bring to the boil.
  4. With soup on a gentle boil, add the pineapple, tomato and okra and cook for a minute. Add the fish pieces and cook for 2 minutes until fish is just cooked through.
  5. Divide cooked vermicelli between serving bowls and ladle over soup, making sure to get an even amount of fish and other ingredients into each bowl. Serve with herbs such as coriander, mint and Vietnamese mint, fresh beansprouts, and extra chilli for those who like it hot.

Note: In Auckland, I buy fresh okra can from produce markets like Avondale, Otara and Wesley. Or try Indian grocery stores in the Sandringham Shops. This okra is imported from Fiji, and it can be a bit damaged in transit, so pick through and choose the best, most firm and bright green pods. For the this soup, the okra really needs to be fresh or it will go mushy. In other dishes like stews, I tend to opt for frozen Egyptian okra.

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