Vietnamese Tamarind Soup with Shrimp – Canh Chua Tôm

Vietnamese canh chua (tamarind soup) is a classic soup that I love to eat but it’s also the most difficult of all homestyle soup to cook. The trick is knowing how to balance out the sourness of the tamarind with salt and sugar so when you eat this soup, it’s not too sour, too salty, nor too sweet.  I used to use tamarind pulp but because tamarind pulp can sometimes be naturally semi sweet or super sour, my seasoning for salt and sugar is not very balanced.  Mom helped me figure out a formula to help me cook for the family using just the Knorr tamarind soup mix and it came out just as good like the way she cooks with the tamarind pulp.  I hope it will help you too.

  • Notes:  I cook this in a 6-quart pot.  I used the “small” Corelle 11-ounce bowls and “big” 28-ounce bowls to measure out the vegetables.  See picture for reference.
  • Prep time: 30 minutes
  • Cooking time: about 20 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 gallon of water (about 3 L)
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 tsp vegetable oil
  • 5 1/2 tsp Knoor tamarind soup mix (see picture)
  • 8 Tbsp granulated sugar
  • 2 Tbsp salt
  • 3 Thai chilies
  • small bowl of fresh sweet pineapples
  • small bowl of mixed sawtooth and ngo om herbs
  • small bowl of tomatoes
  • small bowl of heart of celery
  • small bowl of large shrimp with red heads
  • big bowl of enoki mushrooms
  • big bowl of cabbage head leaves
  • big bowl of edible alocasia gigantea

My biggest problem when cooking canh chua is that it starts out from with a 6-quart pot, to an 8-quart pot, then sometimes transferred to a 10-quart pot because of all the vegetables I added. LOL!  So I came up with my measuring system to set my limit of vegetables in order to fit into this 6-quart pot.  Thank goodness.  

Note: I’ve always use okra when cooking this soup with shrimp.  You can add okra by substituting with the elephant ears or downsizing the bowls…as long everything fits into those bowls, it would be still good.  At least I don’t have to transfer into a bigger pot.

Direction:

1. Prep (peel and/or cut) the pineapples, tomatoes, cabbage leaves, elephant ears, enoki mushrooms, and heart of celery.  Here’s how I prep the elephant ears, heart of celery, and enoki mushrooms.

2. Prep the shrimp.  Leave the shell and head on.  Devein the shrimp by inserting a toothpick through the end of its back and pull out the black waste tube.   Mom calls it “shrimp poop”. Not sure if there’s a fancier way to call that.  Cut the sharp ends of the shrimp head off (optional).  I do this because I don’t like the head poking my fingers when I try to suck the head.

Get ready to cook once you have all your ingredients!  This will only take about 20 minutes or less to cook this soup. Set your timer!

3.  Heat up oil on high heat and toss in garlic until golden.

4.  Immediately pour in the gallon of water and add the pineapples.  Then measure out the seasoning mixture with 5 teaspoon tamarind soup mix, 8 tablespoon sugar, and 2 tablespoon salt.  Pour the seasoning mixture into the pot. Wait for broth to boil.

Always season the canh chua broth before you add in the vegetables and shrimp is what my mom told me.

5.  Right after seasoning the broth, bring the broth to a hard boil.  Then add the heart of celery and turn to medium high heat (#8 on my GE Spectra stove). Once you add the celery, do not bring broth to a hard boil, but just make sure it boils lightly.  For this pot of canh chua tom, heart of celery takes the longest to be cooked and soften up so cook the celery for about two minutes. The order of what vegetables go in first and last is important when cooking canh chua.

6.   Then pour in the cabbage leaves. Each time you add a vegetable, the temperature in the pot lowers so I had to turn the heat back on to “Hi” to bring back the light steady boil then turn the heat down again to #8 or #6.  Never let this broth boil hard because vegetable will be overcooked and mushy.

7.  After adding in the cabbage leaves, the liquid level is very high and obviously there’s no room for the other ingredients.  So I scoop some of the broth out to fill up a 28 ounce Corelle bowl and set it aside.  This broth on the side can be used to cook more shrimp to add to the soup later if there’s not enough shrimp for everybody.

8.  Add in the elephant ears and continue cooking for about 30 seconds.

9.  Add in the shrimp.  Heat is on medium high setting.

10. The last step: Bring broth to a boil.  As soon broth starts to boil again, add in the enoki mushrooms and tomatoes. Turn off stove. Add in the small bowl of finely chopped herbs and chili peppers. Stir so herbs are mixed in well. I love the smell of these herbs in this soup. Transfer pot to a non hot spot.  The vegetables will continue to cook in the hot broth.  Stir the vegetables up and let it sit for about 15 minutes before serving.

Serve with steamed jasmine rice or rice vermicelli noodles.  Enjoy!

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