canh chua

Dear Mom and Dad,

I still remember the day we ordered canh chua at a restaurant. We were in a plaza at Sheppard and Midland and it felt like you were excited to try a new Vietnamese restaurant. We were warned by the staff that it would take some time, but you happily agreed to wait. When the tangy seafood stew arrived, we divided it up into four bowls and took our first sips. It was so good!

I don’t think we’ve ordered it at a restaurant since then. Perhaps it’s hard to find or places don’t frequently offer it. Luckily, you’ve made it at home and it always felt like a treat because it didn’t happen often. Maybe once or twice a year?

I’m so happy to have found a simplified version of the recipe that I can now create in my home. Yes, it’s missing many of the herbs you put in, but I kind of love how much easier this is! And I don’t need to buy tamarind – because I never know what to do with the leftovers, so it felt wasteful. I’m glad to have discovered pomegranate molasses this week!

Pomegranate Molasses
Recipe from Vietnamese Food Any Day by Andrea Nguyen
(Makes ½ cup)

2 cups pomegranate juice
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
¼ sugar

  1. Pour everything into a saucepan over medium-high heat.
  2. Cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. The original volume of 2 cups should now be at half a cup. The molasses should coat the back of a spoon.
  4. Let it cool before using for a least 15 minutes.
  5. Transferred into a glass jar with a lid and keep refrigerated for up to 6 months.

While the pomegranate molasses is cooling, take the time to prep all the proteins and vegetables. Keep in mind, I do omit a few things from the original recipe. The wonderful thing with this stew is that you can substitute a few of the items based on your preference.

Tangy Seafood Stew or canh chua
Recipe adapted from Vietnamese Food Any Day by Andrea Nguyen
(Makes about 4 portions)

1 tablespoon of neutral oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
6 cups water
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
1½ tablespoon fish sauce
½ teaspoon salt
8 ounces frozen pineapple chunks
10 ounces mild-tasting fish fillet (I used mahi mahi)
8 large shrimps
2 celery stalks
2 medium tomatoes
2 cups bean sprout
⅓ cup fresh herbs (I used cilantro)
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
1 Bird’s eye chili

  1. In a large saucepan over medium-low heat, add the oil and garlic. Cook until the garlic is sizzling and golden brown.
  2. Pour in the water and add the brown sugar, pomegranate molasses, fish sauce, salt, and pineapples.
  3. Bring to a simmer on high heat and let it boil for 10 minutes.
  4. Adjust to medium heat and add the fish fillets and shrimp and let it cook for 4 minutes (the shrimp should curl).
  5. Add the celery and cook for 2 minutes.
  6. Add the tomatoes and bean sprouts and cook for 1 minute. Leave the saucepan there but turn off the heat.
  7. Add the cilantro and ground cumin, let it sit in the broth for 5 minutes.
  8. Taste to adjust. I added in another tablespoon of pomegranate molasses for a heavily sour note. But if you think it lacks saltiness, add more fish sauce. Or if you want it more sweet, add more brown sugar.
  9. Serve with rice or rice vermicelli. Try to eat the shrimp and fish on the first day if you plan on having leftovers.
  10. Store leftover stew in the fridge. The next day, add new shrimp and fish as you reheat the stew.

I love soaking my rice in broths, stews, soups, and sauces. Howard on the other hand, does not. I try not to wonder why so much, because it’s so good when rice is infused this way. It doesn’t matter, I serve them separately to him. I think I like this stew best with rice vermicelli!


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