When eating a Vietnamese rice dinner, it's not a complete meal unless you have a soup side dish, also known as Canh. In fact, my dad will not eat a rice dinner without it. I find it burdensome to have to quickly make Canh whenever he comes over for dinner or deal with the constant grumbling. Fortunately, Canh can be quickly whipped up with whatever protein and vegetables you have on hand. One of the quickest and simplest Canh is ground pork with cabbage. It can, however, look dull in a bowl. To fancy it up, I would stuff cabbage leaves with ground pork and tie it with a green onion, making cute little packages of savory goodness. The taste is the same whether I stuff the cabbage or not, but it makes a pretty presentation. It requires a little bit more labor but it's a great way to fish for the needed compliments once in awhile.
Vietnamese Stuffed Cabbage Soup Recipe (Canh Bap Cai Cuon Thit)
1 small head cabbage
1/2 lb ground pork
8-10 green onions (finely mince up 3 green onions)
1/4 cup dried Woodear Mushrooms (re-hydrate in water, drain then mince finely)
1 large shallot (peel then mince finely)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
6 cups water for soup
1 tablespoon dried pork stock powder
Slice the cabbage in half. Remove the core at the end. Bring a small pot of water to a boil then blanch cabbage halves and whole green onions for 30 seconds. The hot water will soften up the cabbage and green onions for easier handling. Drain content into a colander and slowly peel the whole leaves from the cabbage.
Combine ground pork with minced green onions, Woodear mushrooms, shallot, salt and pepper.
Wrap about 2 tablespoons of ground pork into each cabbage leaf, tying each one up with a blanched green onion.
Bring a small stock pot to a boil with 6 cups water. Add stuffed cabbage. Turn the heat to low and lightly simmer for 30 minutes. Remove any scums that float to the top.
Season with dried pork stock powder.
Vietnamese sweet and sour soup (canh chua) is an example of everything that is great about Vietnamese home cooking. It uses a variety of fresh vegetables and herbs to produce a soup of contrasting yet complementary textures and flavors.
Soups, otherwise known as canh, is a staple in Vietnamese home cooking. However, rather than being served on its own, soup is treated as a side dish to steamed rice and a protein entrée. A simple Winter/Fall soup is Vietnamese Kabocha Squash.
Vietnamese Pork Spare Rib Soup with Chayote (Canh Suon Nau Su Su) is one of my favorite soups. Chayote, also known as Mirliton Squash or Trai Su Su in Vietnamese, is part of the gourd family. It is light green, pear-shaped and grow on vines with a pit in the middle. Once cooked, it has a very sweet taste. Best of all, it cooks up quickly. Chayote with fall-of-the-bone tender spare ribs is a traditional Vietnamese home-cooked soup that will fill the belly and comfort the soul.
It's starting to feel like Summer! The weather is finally warming up. The birds are chirping. The kids are playing outside and the neighbors are walking around half-naked. More importantly, the garden is blooming. The other day, I harvested my first Opo Squash (Bầu). I'm so proud of it because it's the first ever Opo Squash that didn't die as soon as it got started. Opo Squash, also known as Calabash Gourd or White Gourd, grows on vines and can grow up to the size of a baseball bat if you let it. Not only can you use it as a lethal weapon, Opo Squash can be used in a traditional Vietnamese side dish, Opo Squash and Shrimp Soup (Canh Bau Tom).
Whenever I come home from traveling, I long for nothing more than traditional Vietnamese home-cooked food. And nothing's more traditional than Vietnamese Sweet and Sour Catfish Soup (Canh Chua Cá Trê) and Vietnamese Caramelized Clay Pot Cat Fish (Cá Kho Tộ). One fish. Two easy dishes. Add steamed white rice and you have a complete Vietnamese home-cooked meal.
La Giang, also called River Leaf, mainly grows in Southeast Asian countries. 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.
During the cold months, Kabocha Soup or Canh Bi Do is my one of my go-to soups. Kabocha squash is plentiful, starting in the early Fall. You can find them in both Asian and American supermarkets. They are similar to pumpkins but instead of a bright orange skin, it is deep green. Some may have bumpy knobs on the surface, and the center of the squash is hollow and filled with large seeds. The flesh is bright yellow/orange and hard as a rock. When cooked, it softens and tastes sweet, making it perfect for soups and stews. If you can't find kabocha squash, substitute with pumpkin.
Time and time again, I proclaimed Canh Chua is the best Vietnamese soup for a Vietnamese home cooked meal. I just love the smorgasbord of bold flavors: sweet, sour and spicy. Plus, you can use whatever protein and vegetables you like. The only requirements are the tomatoes (for the vibrant red color), and the green aromatic garnish of either Thai Basil, Culantro, or Rice Paddy Herbs. The rest is entirely up to you. For this version, I use squid for the protein and thin Enoki mushrooms for the vegetables. And of course, loads and loads of Thai chili for that wonderful kick of heat. Nothing makes me happier than a very spicy Canh Chua that makes me cry.
Vietnamese folk remedy says Papaya Soup, or Canh Du Du, stimulates lactation in new mothers. Whether it's true or not, I surely didn't complain when I was endlessly served Canh Du Du after the birth of my children. Canh Du Du and Vietnamese Sour Catfish Soup (Canh Chua) are two my favorite Vietnamese soups.
Vietnamese Crab & Asparagus Soup, Sup Mang Tay Cua or Sup Mang Cua for short, is a soup dish we always have at the dinner table for weddings and holidays.
When eating a Vietnamese rice dinner, it's not a complete meal unless you have a soup side dish, also known as Canh. One of the quickest and simplest Canh is ground pork with cabbage. It can, however, look dull in a bowl. To fancy it up, I would stuff cabbage leaves with ground pork and tie it with a green onion, making cute little packages of savory goodness. The taste is the same whether I stuff the cabbage or not, but it makes a pretty presentation. It requires a little bit more labor but it's a great way to fish for the needed compliments once in awhile.
My mother-in-law makes a killer Vietnamese Chicken Soup with Bamboo Shoots (Canh Ga Nau Mang). The first time I made this soup myself without any instructions from the expert, it was a complete disaster. I didn't know that you can't use bamboo shoots straight from the grocery store. Bamboo shoots have a very pungent smell. They need to be boiled and rinsed at least three times before using in any dish. Once you remove that overpowering smell, bamboo shoots are delicious and it has a nice crunchy texture.
Fish Soup with Chinese Celery and Tomatoes (Canh Ca Nau Ngot) is a traditional Vietnamese soup that can be whipped up in mere minutes. This soup is similar to the Vietnamese Sour Fish Soup (Canh Chua Ca) but it's more mild in flavor and utilizes fewer ingredients. It's a great alternative when you don't have all ingredients for Canh Chua.
A traditional Vietnamese family meal usually comes with a vegetable soup dish. Not only is it a healthy side dish, but having soup to slurp helps with the digestion of the food in a multi-course meal. One of the simplest traditional Vietnamese soups is mustard green soup or Canh Cai Be Xanh.
Vietnamese pork spare rib soup with potatoes, or Canh Suon Khoai Tay, is a staple in my house. This particular soup is usually one of the dishes in our multi-course family dinners because of its simplicity. It's made from a stock of pork spare ribs that's been marinated with fish sauce and shallots. Carrots, potatoes and/or cauliflower are then added to the pot and simmer on low until fork tender. The low simmering brings out all the sweetness of the vegetables into the pot, making it a flavorful and hearty broth.
Vietnamese Soup Shrimp soup is a traditional side dish in Vietnamese home-cooking. It's a classic soup component for many Vietnamese family-style meals. It's sweet, spicy, savory and sour.
One of the quickest soups that I make is Winter Melon Soup with Shrimp or Canh Bi Dao Tom. Winter melon soup has a mild sweet taste and because shrimp is used, it cooks up in minutes.