Monday, May 18, 2015

Two Vietnamese Chicken Soups.... Hot and Sour Soup and Chicken Noodle Soup...

It's been a whirlwind few weeks leading up to all my Food Revolution Day activities that ended Saturday (cooking demo event post to come). My husband's sister's family visiting from Montreal stayed over the long Victoria weekend making it that more busy getting the house cleaned, accommodations ready and enough energy to entertain and prepare meals. But I'm not surprised it went superb.... my kids were totally preoccupied with their adult cousins and my in-laws were really chill and just enjoying the time with our family. In fact, I didn't have to do much cooking at all... my sis-in-law (an awesome cook of home-style Vietnamese cuisine) and sweet husband did most of it.... cooking up energy-boosting chicken soups for dinner that we haven't had in a while and something that my body and soul definitely welcomed.

As Vietnamese classics go, hot and sour soup is one of the ultimate family dish. It's packed full of contrasts- sweet pineapple, sour tamarind and tom yum paste, crunchy vegetables, aromatic herbs and umami saltiness from fish sauce. This alluring soup intrigued me the first time my husband made it (his specialty in fact) and I'm happy to see my kids are taken to the complex flavours as well. Other variations use fish (very popular) and shrimp. Your best bet to get all the ingredients are at an Asian supermarket.

Hot and Sour Soup with Chicken 
Makes 8 to 10 serving

3 L (12 cups) water
2 lbs. chicken pieces with bones, rinsed and seasoned with salt
3 tomatoes, cut into wedges then halved
4 taro stems (sometimes called elephant ears), peeled and thickly sliced on the diagonal
3 cups fresh pineapple chunks (or 1 can pineapple chunks with juice removed)
1 Tbsp. tom yum paste (use sparingly as this is very concentrated thus spicy)
1/2 pkg. (40 g) tamarind soup base or 3 Tbsp. tamarind paste
fish sauce to taste
brown sugar to taste
4 large handfuls of bean sprouts, well rinsed and drained
2 Tbsp. oil
3 Tbsp. fried shallots (sold in containers in the Asian sauce aisle at Asian supermarkets)
a small bunch rice paddy herb, washed and chopped
a bunch Vietnamese cilantro rau ram, washed and leaves plucked
a small bunch sawtooth coriander herb, washed and chopped
fish sauce and fresh red Thai chilies, sliced for the table

Place chicken pieces into a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and let cook for one hour.

Meanwhile, prepare the vegetables and herbs.

Taro stems have a spongy appearance when sliced.

Add the tomatoes and taro stems to the soup. Let cook for 10 minutes before adding the drained pineapples. Season by adding tamarind soup base and tom yum paste. Add fish sauce and sugar. Let cook for 10 minutes. Adjust flavour by tasting to suit your family tastes. 

Tamarind and Tom Yum Paste adds slightly sweet and rich sour notes to the soup base.

Add bean sprouts and half the combination of chopped herbs to the pot and stir. Bring to a boil and cook for 10 minutes more.

Meanwhile, prepare the aromatic topping by swirling the oil in a hot skillet, adding the fried shallots and remaining mixed herbs. Cook until sizzling while stirring. Remove into a small bowl.

Serve soup in individual bowls or the most popular way of setting it in the centre of the dining table in a big bowl, topped with all the remaining fresh herbs, and a dollop of the shallot herb condiment. Offer a small bowl of fish sauce with sliced chilies if desired for the family or guests to season the soup further.

This second recipe, Vietnam's equivalent to Western chicken noodle soup is really comforting and nourishing- simplicity at its best! It is a nice delicate alternative to the more strongly seasoned beef soups, and is a great soup to have on a day you don't want to eat heavy. I would say pretty light on the preparations and in your belly, but satisfying nonetheless.

Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup
Makes 6-8 servings

1 (1.5 - 2 kg) whole chicken, gutted and rinsed 
2-3 green onions, cut into 2-inch pieces 
5 Litres (20 cups) of water  
1 - 2 pkgs. dried vermicelli, cooked according to package instructions
4 eggs, beaten
Prepared Vietnamese pork loaf (Chả lụa) bought in Asian supermarkets
3 Tbsp. fish sauce
3 Tbsp. chicken bouillon powder
bunch cilantro, chopped
2 green onions, chopped
fish sauce and fresh red Thai chilies, sliced for the table

To prepare the chicken, rub salt into the cavity of the chicken and stuff with the onions. Place into a pot and fill with water. Bring the chicken to a boil and then reduce heat to medium and cook for about 10 minutes (slightly covered with a lid) and further reduce heat to low to cook a further one hour. Carefully remove chicken from soup pot and place into a bowl to cool slightly to handle. 

Tear the cooked chicken apart from its breast bone and shred the meat with your fingers. Discard the bones and reserve the meat.

Prepare thin egg crepes in a pan. Fold and thinly slice; place onto a platter.

Slice the prepared pork loaf into strips and set on the platter with egg strips and add shredded chicken.

Have your noodles hot and ready (reheat in microwave if needed). 

Set the platter of toppings at the table for people to serve themselves along with chopped onions and cilantro, and a bowl of fish sauce and chilies to flavour the soup (if desired).

Delicious right gang? Thanks to great auntie!

As an appetizer we served store-prepared Vietnamese pork ham (nem chua). Nem chua is a Vietnamese fermented pork loaf with black peppercorns embedded throughout. You can buy this at Vietnamese deli shops where they sell Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches. The meat is sweet, sour, salty and spicy often topped with chilies, garlic and sometimes cilantro. The texture is slightly springy and the combination of flavours salty, garlicky and piquant. YUM!

Comforting and delicious! Just what I needed! :)

And a walk through Toronto's Edward Gardens with my extended family and mine was a super recharger. Just taking in the beautiful sights and smells was incredible to help unwind and get back into zen mode (at least for the moment)! Thank you to Kathia my niece, a budding photography hobbyest for all her fantastic photos from the garden!

With my awesome sweet niece Kathia Le.

 Just beautiful!
My husband's sister's family! Thank you for a wonderful weekend!

A well-rested few days has me back on track... looking forward to getting back in the kitchen to cook my heart out again!! 

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