I've been back home from Vietnam for two weeks now, and what I miss most about Vietnam is the food (my loving and dear family members are a close second). The foods I miss most are the simple home cooked meals with ingredients that you can't find here in the States, one of which is La Giang.
La Giang, also called River Leaf, Sour-Sop Creeper or the more scientific name, Aganonerion Polymorphum, is a bushy shrub that grows to tall heights on trellis and poles. The foliage on this plant has a tart flavor and is often used in traditional Vietnamese soups (Canh Chua). It mainly grows in Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. So during my recent trip to Vietnam, I made sure to bring some home with me. The leaves were boiled, frozen, and tucked neatly into my check-in baggage. Now when I have that craving for Canh Chua, I just thaw out my frozen boiled La Giang and I'm ready to go. No other vegetables are necessary unlike other Canh Chua recipes. The tomato is simply for color. It is one version of Canh Chua that takes half the time to make (all you need is a plane ticket to Vietnam to get the ingredient).
For the below recipe, I used La Giang in a sour Vietnamese Fish Soup (Canh Chua La Giang Nau Ca). La Giang also goes great in the chicken version of the soup (Canh Chua La Giang Nau Ga). For both versions, I use lots of chili peppers because hot and sour go together so well. If you can't find La Giang at the Asian grocery store or didn't smuggle them into the U.S. like I did, you can try a different version of this soup made with tamarind as the sour component. Happy eating!
Vietnamese Sour Soup with River Leaf (Canh Chua La Giang)
1 lb fish (whole or filet catfish, salmon or any fish of your choice. You can also use chicken thighs cut into bite-size pieces)
2 teaspoons fish sauce
3 chili peppers (optional; slice thin)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 garlic cloves (peel and roughly chop)
1 small shallot (peel and roughly chop)
1.5 liters water
200 grams blanched La Giang
1 tomato (slice into thin wedges)
5 tablespoons granulated white sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon pork/chicken/mushroom stock powder
Marinate the fish with fish sauce and chili peppers for at least 30 minutes at room temperature or overnight in fridge.
In a medium-size stock pot, heat up vegetable oil on medium-high. Add garlic and shallot. Saute until fragrant.
Add water to the pot and bring it to a boil. Add the marinated fish and accompanying juices.
Cook the fish for about 10 minutes on medium low. Skim off any foam that floats to the top and discard.
Once the fish is fully cooked, add La Giang and tomato. Season the soup with sugar, salt and pork/chicken/mushroom stock powder. Turn off heat and serve as a side dish to steamed rice.