When you first arrive in hot, humid Vietnam, soup isn’t your immediate craving. However, you quickly get initiated into the classics, such as pho and, oddly, they do refresh you. This is loosely based on canh chua tom, which is not dissimilar to tom yum. I’ve used meatballs instead of prawns, but do use either. Traditionally it’s served with the rice alongside, but I like to spoon a dollop into my bowl.
Boil the rice for about 8 minutes until al dente, drain, rinse in cold water and set aside.
Meanwhile, chop the tough ends off the lemongrass and bash with a rolling pin. Remove the outer layers and set aside.
Heat the vegetable oil and garlic together to slowly let the garlic cook until golden. Keep the heat low so they don’t burn, then remove from the pan. Drain on paper towels and set aside.
Add the ginger and whole lemongrass to the pan and let sauté for 3–4 minutes. Add the tamarind, fish sauce and sugar and heat through until the sugar melts. Pour in the tomatoes, uncooked meatballs and stock. Simmer for 10 minutes over a medium heat.
Just before eating, add the lime leaves (if using) and the pineapple cut into 3 cm (1¼ inch cubes) to the stock. Cook for 3 minutes until warmed through.
Serve the soup in four bowls with a big spoonful of rice and the crisp garlic spooned over. Top with the fresh herbs and chilli and serve with lime wedges.
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