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Sour Soup with Fish (Canh Chua Ca)

Serve this delicious soup with a side of fish sauce and red chilies!Sour Soup?  The word “sour” may be off-putting to some and not a taste that is immediately appealing.  The name of this dish is the direct translation for this soup’s Vietnamese name “Canh Chua” but some subtleties get lost in translation.  I’d rather call this “Perfectly Balanced Tart, Savory, and Sweet with Abundant Vegetables and Hearty Fish Soup” but that’s quite a mouthful.  So, unfortunately, the name gets abbreviated to something most people recognize.  My point:  Please don’t let the name of this soup turn you off to trying it.  It is a wonderful balance of flavors and textures and much more than just “sour” so I hope you’ll give it a try!

Notes on the Recipe, Tips and Tricks

A good base is essential for this soup.  I prefer a chicken stock or broth which adds taste without dominating the soup’s primary flavors.

Fish is usually the meat of choice in this soup.  Catfish, specifically catfish steaks, are often used.  I am not a big fan of eating fish with bones, especially in soup, so opt to use fish fillets.  Feel free to use a fish you enjoy but, select a sturdy fish that will hold up well to boiling like red snapper, halibut or mahi mahi.  Shrimp is a good alternative as well.  If using shrimp, cook them in the stock until they turn pink (about a minute or so).  Remove and set aside in a bowl.  Add the shrimp back to the soup once the vegetables are done cooking.

The timing of this soup is important.  You don’t want to over-cook the fish but you also want your vegetables to be cooked properly.  The fish fillets take about 5-7 minutes to cook depending on the thickness.  If you’re not sure how to time everything, you can cook the fish first and then remove from the soup.  Then cook your vegetables to the doneness that you like and add the fish back into the soup just before serving.

Regarding the tartness, if you’re not sure how much you can handle, add just half of the tamarind sauce per the below recipe and adjust from there.  If it’s too tart, add the pineapple juice (leftover from the canned chunks) or add more sugar to balance the flavors.

I use canned pineapples chunks because it’s convenient and I don’t have to buy a whole pineapple.  At my house we love pineapples so I use the entire 20 oz can.

Elephant ear stems can be difficult to find and so you can substitute with celery.

The rice paddy and sawtooth herbs are essential greens for this dish.  Again, they can be difficult to find unless you go to an Asian grocer.  If you don’t have these herbs, substitute with other fragrant herbs like Thai basil or cilantro.

At my local 99 Ranch Market, they sell a packaged Sour Soup mix which contains elephant ear stem, okra, tomatoes and the fresh herbs.  Super convenient!  You have the basics and can add whatever else you like.

As a shortcut for making the tamarind sauce, you can use the powdered tamarind which is inexpensive and pretty good.  Just a quick note, most of these packets contain MSG.

If you want to enjoy this dish the Viet way, serve it with a side of undiluted fish sauce with chopped red chilies.

To complement the tartness of this soup, you’ll want to serve it with a savory dish like Braised Fish in Clay Pot (Ca Kho To) or Braised Pork and Shrimp.

Watch the video below for instructions.

Ingredients

1 lb swai fillet (or any fish of your choice)
1 Tbsp fish sauce
1/8 tsp ground black pepper

3 oz wet tamarind
1 cup hot water

4 garlic cloves
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
6 oz okra (approximately 1 cup)
8 oz pineapple chunks (approximately 1 cup)
2 small tomatoes
4 oz elephant ear steam (approximately 1 cup)
6 oz bean sprouts (approximately 2 cups)
6-8 sprigs rice paddy herb
6-8 sprigs sawtooth herb
6 cups Chicken Stock
1 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp fish sauce
1/8 tsp ground black pepper

Directions

Cut the fish fillets into smaller sections.  Drizzle 1/2 Tbsp fish sauce on the one side and sprinkle with ground black pepper.  Flip the fish over and drizzle with another 1/2 Tbsp fish sauce and add more ground black pepper.  Allow the fish to marinate while continuing with the next steps.

Peel and mince the garlic.  Set aside in a small bowl.

Cut off a section of the wet tamarind and then cut into small chunks.  Add into a measuring cup along with the hot water.  Mash the tamarind and mix it with the water for 5 minutes or until a thick sauce forms.  Strain the tamarind using a sieve.  Set the sauce aside for now.

Trim ends off the okra.  Cut the okra at a diagonally, making 1/2-inch thick slices.

Cut tomatoes in half and then into wedges.

Drain pineapple chunks and set aside.

Remove skin from elephant ear stem using a vegetable peeler.  If the stems are thick, cut in half lengthwise.  Cut the stems at an angle making slices that are about 1/2-inch thick.

Coarsely chop the rice paddy herbs and sawtooth herbs.  Set aside for later use.

Heat a large pot over Medium heat and when hot add vegetable oil.  Add the garlic and stir-fry until golden brown, approximately 30 seconds.  Transfer into a bowl and set aside for now.

Add the chicken stock into the same pot, cover and bring to a boil over High heat.  Add the fish (do not cover) and cook until the stock comes to a boil again, approximately 3 minutes.  Reduce the heat to Medium.

Add the sugar, fish sauce and tamarind mixture.  Gently stir everything together.

Add the okra and pineapple chunks and cook for 2 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and cook for 1 minute.

Add the elephant ear stems and cook for 1 minute.

Add the bean sprouts.  Gently stir everything together.  Cook for another 1-2 minutes.

When serving, garnish the soup with the ground black pepper, rice paddy herbs, sawtooth herbs and fried garlic.

Yields: 6-8 servings

Check out this link to learn more about herbs: Quick Guide to Vietnamese Herbs.

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Sizzling Savory Crepes (Banh Xeo)

Sizzling Savory Crepes Wrapped in Lettuce with Fresh HerbsIt looks like an omelette but is often called a pancake or crepe.  “Banh” means cake and “Xeo” means sizzle–that’s the sound the batter makes when it’s poured into the hot skillet.  So “Sizzle Cake” is translated here to Sizzling Savory Crepes.   Whatever you call it,  these savory cakes made from a rice flour batter, filled with meat, shrimp and vegetables and then pan-fried until crispy, are simply scrumptious.  Believe it or not there are no eggs in this recipe.  The bright yellow color is actually from turmeric powder, a wonderfully fragrant spice.

These crepes can be enjoyed as an appetizer or main dish.  Some things you must not omit when serving these delicious crepes are lots of fresh greens, lettuce and assorted herbs, Carrot and Radish Pickles and Fish Sauce Dipping Sauce.  Eat these crepes like lettuce wraps.  Cut a piece of the crepe and wrap it in chilled lettuce.  Add some fresh herbs and zesty pickles.  Then dip the lettuce wrap in lots of fish sauce dipping sauce.  So tasty and refreshing!

A few notes on the recipe

The batter needs to rest a minimum of 3 hours to allow the flour to settle to the bottom so you can pour off the liquid from the top.  This process “washes” the flour and makes for a nice and light batter.

You can buy the batter in ready-to-mix packages at the Asian grocery store if you don’t want to mix your own batter.  Just follow the instructions on the package for adding the liquid.

For lower calorie crepes, substitute milk for the coconut milk.  So folks even use beer as the liquid of choice.  Give it a try!  It adds an interesting flavor.

The traditional recipe uses pork but I like chicken in this dish.  Feel free to use any meat you enjoy.

These crepes are best made using a heavy 9-inch skillet. A weighty skillet holds the heat well and allows the crepes to cook evenly and quickly.

Stir the batter each time before pouring into the skillet as the mixture settles. Don’t use too much batter. The crepes should be thin and not thick like a pancake.  Pour just enough batter to cover the skillet.

The proportions for each crepe are as follows:

Batter: a little less than 1/2 cup
1 oz onions
2 oz chicken
3 shrimp
1 Tbsp mung bean
1 oz jicama
1 oz bean sprouts

As stove settings and temperatures vary, adjust the heat accordingly after making your first crepe. This recipe does require you to adjust the heat constantly so diligence is required.

If you’re not serving the crepes right away, place them on a wire rack and keep them warm in the oven set at 200 degrees F.  Don’t place them on a flat surface or they will get soggy.

Store any leftovers in the refrigerator.  To reheat, bake them in the oven for a few minutes to get them toasty and warm again.

Watch the video below for instructions.


Ingredients

for the Batter:
1-16 oz bag rice flour
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
4 cups water
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp turmeric powder
1-14 oz can coconut milk
4 green onions

for the Filling:
1/2 cup peeled split mung bean + 1/4 tsp salt + 2/3 cup water
1 small onion
1 lb jicama
1 lb bean sprouts, washed and trimmed
2 lbs chicken thighs
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1 1/2 lb size 31/40 shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/3 cup vegetable oil


Directions

Combine the rice flour, all-purpose flour and water in a large bowl.  Stir until the mixture is smooth and free of lumps.  Let the mixture rest for 3 hours.

Rinse the mung bean with water several times until the water is clear.  Fill the bowl with water and let the beans soak for 1 hour.  Drain into a colander and shake off any remaining water.  Add the beans into the rice cooker along with salt and water.  Spread the beans out making an even layer and then add water (just enough to cover the beans.)  Cook the beans in the rice cooker.  When the cooker switches to the Keep Warm setting, unplug the rice cooker and allow to cook for another 10 minutes.  Gently scoop out the beans into a small bowl and set aside for now.

Peel the onion and then cut into thin slices.

Use a vegetable peeler to remove the skin from the jicama.  Cut it into thin strips or use the fine blade on a mandoline to shred.

Trim the bean sprouts.

Cut off the root end of the green onions and discard.  Chop the remaining stems and set aside in a separate cup.

Cut the chicken into thin strips. Combine the chicken with minced garlic, salt and black pepper.  Set aside for now.

Carefully pour out the liquid from the top of the flour mixture removing 1 cup and discard.  Add the sugar, turmeric powder, and coconut milk and then mix well.  Stir in the chopped green onions.

Heat a skillet over Medium heat until it’s hot.  Brush the skillet with 1 tsp of vegetable oil.  Add 1 oz onions and 2 oz chicken and stir-fry for 3 minutes.  Add 3 pieces of shrimp to the pan.  Stir the batter quickly to dissolve any settling.  Pour a ladleful of batter, a little less than 1/2 cup, into the skillet.  Quickly swirl the skillet and distribute the batter into a thin and even layer.  Sprinkle 1 Tbsp of mung beans, add 1 oz of jicama and 1 oz of bean sprouts onto the crepe.  Cover the skillet with a lid and cook for 2 minutes (until the shrimp is pink).

Remove the lid and turn up the heat to Medium High.  Cook for another 2 minutes.  Check under the crepe and make sure it’s golden brown.  Use a spatula to fold the crepe in half and then cook for another minute.   Transfer the crepe to a wire cooling rack.  Continue making the crepes until all the ingredients are used.

Yields: 15 crepes

Savory crepes filled with chicken, shrimp and vegetables and then pan-fried to golden perfection!

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Grilled Shrimp, Egg Rolls and Rice Vermicelli (Bun Cha Gio Tom Nuong)

Lemongrass Grilled Shrimp - A few simple ingredients makes this the easiest dish to make!Savory lemongrass grilled shrimp, crispy egg rolls on mounds of springy rice vermicelli and fresh greens–This is a favorite dish among those dining out mainly because it’s perceived as complicated with all of the different ingredients.  Yes, this dish requires a lot of ingredients and component recipes but it’s truly simple and consists of some very basic Viet recipes:  Rice Vermicelli, Carrot and Radish Pickles, Scallion Oil, and Fish Sauce Dipping Sauce  It’s the perfect dish to make at home for several reasons.  First, if you made egg rolls, chances are you have a lot leftover.  This is a great dish to make to get rid of the leftovers.  Nobody wants to waste food and I love repurposing leftovers to make other tasty meals.  The time-consuming part of making the egg rolls is already done.  This Grilled Shrimp recipe is the easiest ever and can be made in minutes.   If you don’t want to fuss with the skewers, just toss everything in a pan.  It doesn’t get simpler than that!  My final reason for wanting to make this dish at home is the restaurants never give you enough greens and herbs.  I typically double the veggies in this recipe and my bowl looks more like a big salad than a noodle bowl but this is how I enjoy it.  In fact, I highly recommend that you try this dish as a salad.   Cut the rice vermicelli into shorter strands.  Add everything into a large bowl and then toss together.  Serve the “dressing”, the fish sauce dipping sauce on the side so everyone can add as much as they like.

Watch the video below for instructions.

Ingredients

for the Grilled Shrimp
16 jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 Tbsp minced garlic
1 Tbsp minced lemongrass
2 tsp vegetable oil

for the Grilled Shrimp, Egg Rolls and Rice Vermicelli
2 cups shredded green leaf lettuce
4 cups cooked rice vermicelli
1 cup bean sprouts
1 bunch cilantro, washed and plucked
1/2 bunch mint, washed and plucked
1/2 English cucumber, thinly sliced
8 Egg Rolls/Spring Rolls
4 Grilled Shrimp skewers (see above)
1/4 cup Carrot and Radish Pickles
1/4 cup Scallion Oil
1/4 cup crushed peanuts
Fish Sauce Dipping Sauce (to taste)

Directions

In a large bowl, add shrimp, salt, ground black pepper, garlic, and lemongrass and mix together.  Marinate shrimp for 15 minutes.

Place shrimp on bamboo skewers by piercing the head of the shrimp and then the tail so the body lays flat on the skewer.  Place approximately 4 shrimp per skewer.

Heat a grill pan over Medium High heat.  Brush the pan with a generous amount of vegetable oil.

Place the skewers on the grill and cook for 2 minutes.  Flip the shrimp over and cook and on the other side for another 2 minutes.  Remove from the heat.

To assemble the dish, take a large bowl or plate and add 1/2 cup of shredded green leaf lettuce.
Layer 1 cup of rice vermicelli on top of the lettuce.
Warm egg rolls in toaster oven.  Cut 2 egg rolls in half and add to the dish.
Add 4 pieces of grilled shrimp.  (You can remove the shrimp or serve on the skewer.  It’s up to you.)
Add a handful of bean sprouts
Add a few sprigs of cilantro and mint.
Add a generous amount of cucumber slices
Top the dish with the pickles.
Drizzle shrimp with Scallion Oil.
Sprinkle peanuts on top.

Serve with fish sauce dipping sauce on the side and allow each person to add as much as he/she prefers.

Yields: 4 servings

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Pickled Bean Sprouts (Dua Gia)

Here’s a delicious pickled vegetables recipe made with bean sprouts, carrots, green scallions and chives.  Not as tart as most pickles, they are satisfyingly crunchy and quite refreshing.  Serve these pickled beans sprouts as an appetizer or as a side dish with your favorite savory dishes.  These pickles are often the companion dish for Braised Pork and Eggs.

Ingredients

1-13 oz bag bean sprouts
1 medium carrot
2 green scallions
10 chives
4 cups water
1 1/3 Tbsp salt
1 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp vinegar

2-24 oz canning jars with plastic lids

Directions

Pluck bean sprouts and remove any wilted and soft parts.  Peel and julienne the carrot.  Cut green scallions into 3-inch long strips.  For the scallion bottoms (white portion), cut in half lengthwise.  Wash and trim chives.  Cut into 3-inch long lengths.  Combine sprouts, carrots, scallions and chives in a large bowl.

In a medium saucepan, combine water, vinegar, salt and sugar and bring to a gentle boil.  Remove from heat and allow liquid to cool to room temperature.

Wash pickling jars and shake off excess water.  Microwave jars on high for approximately 1-2 minutes to sanitize and dry them further.

Evenly distribute veggie mix between the 2  jars.  Pour in the pickling liquid.  The liquid will not cover the veggies completely.  In a day, the liquid level will increase so we don’t want to fill the jars to the top.  Cover and allow to pickle for 1 day.  Enjoy these pickles the following day.  Refrigerate any remaining portions.  Consume within the week.

Yields:  6 cups

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Clean and Lean Salad

Clean and Lean Salad with Honey Lemongrass Dressing

I love the simplicity of this salad and the refreshing taste.  The juicy vegetables gives this salad such great crunch.  The best part is–it makes you feel good about eating something good for you!  If you need some protein or want to make it a meal, add pan-fried tofu or grilled chicken.  Try this delicious salad with the Honey Lemongrass dressing.  Yum!

Ingredients

1 stalk romaine lettuce
1/2 cup julienned carrots
1/3 cup julienned red bell peppers
1/2 cup bean sprouts
1 green scallion

Directions

Chop romaine into thin strips.  Cut off tops (green part) of the scallions, cut into 1-inch sections and then into thin strips.

Add all ingredients into a large mixing bowl and toss together.

Sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper and serve with Honey Lemongrass dressing.

Yields:  3 cups

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