Tonight’s dish is canh chua tom, a sweet and sour shrimp soup. The soup itself is a quick and simple clear broth soup. Start by briefly stir-frying minced garlic and chili paste, then adding chicken broth, sugar, tamarind, lime juice, chopped tomatoes, and of course the ever-present fish sauce. Those ingredients are cooked together for about 10 minutes and then shrimp and fresh pineapple are added for the last few minutes of cooking.
As you can see from the picture, the soup is served garnished with mung bean sprouts, Thai basil, fried shallots, and an herb called ngo om – or rice paddy herb (pictured to the right). I had never heard of this herb until Minh’s mom Anh showed it to me this weekend at the Asian Market. The stems and leaves are chopped and used as a garnish for this and other types of soups. As I chewed on a leaf to try it, I first tasted a clean citrus or lemony flavor, and then along came a cumin spiciness. Two of my favorite flavors combined into one plant – I am going to have to find some other uses for ngo om!
Note: the recipe I used for this soup is published in “Pleasures of the Vietnamese Table” by Mai Pham, p.71.