Hope Sinks


VeganMoFo: Cultural Soup Hegemony!
October 1, 2008, 10:52 pm
Filed under: Cooking, Veganism, VeganMoFo | Tags: , , ,

For this, the first day of VeganMoFo, I decided to try some cultural appropriation in the form of my friend Mel C‘s Vietnamese-style Soup.

As a Canadian, I live in a multicultural society, but as a vegan, I sometimes find my ability to try truly authentic foods from different cultures and ethnic groups hampered. I couldn’t tell you what prosciutto tastes like, where to get a good plate (I think it’s served on a plate, anyway) of ceviche, or even how to properly pronounce “pho” (well, until I read Mel’s blog entry on that particular dish). In short, while I am eager to try new things, I am, at least in my town, sometimes unable. So, in the spirit of actually trying something new (and in the spirit of cheering up my recently-single sister, whose lust for Vietnamese soups is impressive and insatiable), I set out to make Mel’s Vietnamese-style soup.

Mel’s recipe calls for some ingredients not available in “regular” supermarkets, so I made a run over to Lucky 97 “Oriental Market” for some provisions. I visit Lucky 97 pretty regularly (I am lucky to live a 15 or 20-minute walk away from both an Italian supermarket and Lucky 97), but some of the ingredients in this soup had me wandering the aisles, looking, I’m sure, very much like the clueless white girl I am. Tamarind paste had me particularly mystified, and I never did find Ngo Om, a supposedly common herb in Vietnamese cooking. In this recipe, I ended up adding some thai basil in lieu of the Ngo Om, which is probably sacrilege, but I’m a basil freak, so I decided to go with it and put my own distinctive Western stamp on this otherwise traditional dish.

I did end up scoring tamarind paste (which, I learned, comes in seeded and unseeded varieties; I bought seeded but should have bought unseeded for this soup), lemongrass stalks, vegetarian “fish” sauce (well, called “dipping sauce” in English but “Poisson” in French), and, unrelated to the soup, steamed pumpkin buns, and some of the most amazing coconut ice cream (ingredients: coconut milk, sugar, coconut meat) I’ve ever had.

Mel’s recipe is amazingly straightforward: essentially, put all the ingredients in a pot (except whatever you use for protein and some fresh garnishes) and simmer for 35 – 45 minutes. Preparation was done while the pot bubbled, which made for amazing ease of cooking – I set up my cutting board next to the stove and just tossed stuff in as I chopped it, saving the fresher ingredients like the fresh tomato and garnishes and tofu for last.

Honestly, the hardest thing about this recipe was carting the groceries home, followed closely by getting the rather unorthodox packaging of the veggie fish sauce open. Otherwise, while I was a little hesitant to put the pineapple in for the full cooking time (I shouldn’t have been because it really added to the flavour), this was one of the easiest recipes I’ve ever made.

The finished product was, by far, the best Vietnamese-style soup I’ve ever had. The broth took on a bit of the tang from the pineapple, but tempered it with a bit of heat from the chili sauce I added (not too much – I’m a wuss) and the saltiness of the broth. The soup was just spicy enough to make my nose run a bit (which means it will be perfect for cold winter nights), but with enough big chunks of pineapple and tomato and with enough herbs to make it interesting.

Beautiful, isn’t it?

Advertisements