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.
7 oz squid (cut into rings)
2 oz tamarind pulp
6 cups water
4 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 garlic cloves (minced)
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon mushroom/chicken/pork stock powder (optional but highly recommended)
1 large tomatoes (slice into wedges)
1 package Enoki mushroom (or any mushroom of your choice)
1 cup thinly sliced basil leaves
1 Thai chili pepper (thinly sliced)
If using fresh squid, clean it thoroughly by removing the outer skin and discarding the guts. Give it a couple of rinses then cut into rings. You can also use the tentacles if preferred. Alternatively, frozen squid is available in many Asian supermarkets. They are usually already prepped and cut into rings if you're short on time.
In a medium-size stock pot, bring 6 cups of water to a boil. Add tamarind pulp. Break up the pulp with a wooden spoon until it's completely dissolved. Use a strainer to scoop out the remains of the pulp then discard.
Season pot with sugar, fish sauce and/or stock powder.
In a small frying pan, heat up vegetable oil on medium high. Add garlic and fry until fragrant. Add squid. Season squid salt then transfer squid (and all its juices) to the stock pot.
Bring the pot back to a boil. Once it comes to a boil, add tomato and Enoki mushroom. Immediately turn off heat and let the residual heat continue cooking the vegetables. Top the soup with minced basil and Thai chili before serving.