Monday, February 27, 2017

Southeast Asian Sour Beef and Vegetable Soup...

Seriously, what's more comforting than a pot of soup on the stove? When you've got the frigid air out there, you've got warmth and nourishment in here :). What I got when I customized my own combining ingredients from two Southeast Asian sour soups after tasting their addictive saliva-inducing flavours while dining out family-style on two occasions. First, a Filipino Bulalo Soup (oxtail and vegetable) served at Summer House and then a Malaysian Seafood, Tofu and Salted Vegetable Soup at Gourmet Malaysia. My kids, hubs and I were deeply captivated with their unique sour notes. While the fam was spooning and slurping away, I had a eureka moment, taking mental notes on merging our favourite elements from both into one delicious concocted homemade brew. The results-- deelish!

Southeast Asian Sour Beef and Vegetable Soup

Famous as the cattle-raising region of the Philippines, Batangenos found their own unique way of cooking their specialty – bulalo. Bulalo or beef bone marrow soup (often combined with beef shank), has been a clear Filipino soup favourite especially during the cold weather months. Simmered over a long period of time to release the marrow's collagen and fat, and to tenderize the beef, the tangy tart touch comes from vinegar combined with splashes of fish sauce. 

In the second soup, the pickled salted vegetable also known as 'soon ham choi ' in Cantonese, aside from imparting a rich sour flavour to soups, it is said to have 'heat-reducing' properties. Sometimes tamarind is added for a double hit of sour, but tomatoes were used instead in this seafood-based soup. Nappa cabbage was used in both.This is a nice clean soup among Malaysia's many rich and hearty curry coconut-based ones that make them famous such as laksa.

Photo Credits: (left) and sumptuousblog.wordpress (right)

So what I did was make a beef-based broth with all bone-in beef shanks instead of bone marrow/oxtail (due to using a cheaper cut but still getting great beef flavour) and soured seasoned the soup with pickled salted vegetable and fish sauce. Nappa cabbage, chopped bite-sized tomatoes and tofu made for the chunky ingredients-- a real cinch, oh so tasty and comforting!

Southeast Asian Sour Beef and Vegetable Soup
Makes 8 to 10 servings

2-1/2 lbs. beef shanks
3 slices ginger 
10 cups water
300 g pickled salted vegetable (aka green mustard), drained from package, and chopped
1 or 2 tomatoes, cut into chunks
1/4 medium nappa cabbage, thickly sliced
350 g tofu (two squares in package in photo), cut into medium cubes
3 Tbsp. to 1/4 cup fish sauce (to taste)
salt and ground black pepper (to taste)

Parboil the beef bones in a stockpot of boiling salted water with slices of ginger for five minutes to release the impurities. Drain, discard the ginger and rinse the bones. 

Place cleaned beef bones in 10 cups water, bring to a rolling boil and then reduce the heat to medium low to cook for three to four hours. Skim off any debris or oil that accumulates on the surface. Half way into cooking time, add the pickled salted vegetables. Continue to cook until half hour before finished, then add the cabbage and tomatoes. Let simmer for 15 minutes and add the tofu. Stir and let cook for 15 minutes more. Pour in the fish sauce and adjust the seasoning if needed with more fish sauce, salt and pepper.

Voila...Soup is ready! Fork-tender beef and plump vegetables and tofu await!
The broth is aromatic, pungent sour and salty to easily whet the appetite.

Served with steamed rice, it is a hearty meal in one. Otherwise enjoy it as a side with the rest of your Asian dinner!

For another variation of pickled salted vegetable soup, try my Vietnamese Pork Rib Soup with Pickled Mustard Greens.

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