Sour Soup (Chin Hin)

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When we moved here last January, one of the first dishes I fell for was sour soup. It is served alongside curry dishes at many small curry and rice shops, and you usually are served a bottomless bowl of the stuff. There are a ton of variations on it, and I hope to share more of them with you in the months to come. This soup is called sour soup, but I don’t even know if the English word “sour” would be an apt description for it. Perhaps tangy suits better. What amazes me about this soup is that it has so much flavor and yet has no bone broth to help it along! The tamarind gets all the credit for the flavor on this one. And my language teacher, who also happens to be an amazing cook, gets all the credit for teaching me how to make it.

The version of soup I have eaten at shops here has more broth than veggies, probably because water is cheaper than vegetables. The recipe I am sharing is more vegetable heavy, and I like it that way. This soup is unlike anything I have had in America; there is no fat in it at all, which I would usually say is a bad thing, but in this case is makes for an easy to digest bowl of comfort. It is warm, soothing, tangy, and a nice dish for a day when one is feeling under the weather. Give it a try!

Sour Soup

Time to prepare: 30-40 minutes

Serves 8-10

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Ingredients:

Note on veggies: if you prefer to substitute green beans, potatoes, carrots, broccoli, etc, go ahead and give it a try! This recipe is very flexible, and will turn out great as long as you don’t skimp on the flavoring.

5-6 medium sized tomatoes, diced

2 medium sized eggplant, diced

1 slice of giant gourd, diced. Equivalent to about 3 cups when diced. (You won’t be able to find this vegetable easily, if at all in North America. I suggest 2 medium sized zucchini as a substitute, or an equivalent amount of some other neutral tasting vegetable.)

6 cloves of garlic, minced

2 medium sized shallots, sliced thin

10 pods of okra, cut into bite sized pieces

1 tablespoon salt (or to taste)

1/4 tsp chili powder (or more if you like it spicier)

1 tablespoon of fish sauce

6 pods of dried tamarind

1.5 quarts of water (approximately)

Vegetable oil

Method: 

Shell the tamarind and put it in a small saucepan. Add water until the tamarind pieces are about 1 inch submersed. Set to boiling and cook until the tamarind has softened and can be easily mashed with a fork. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a large pot, saute shallots and garlic with vegetable oil until aromatic and slightly softened.

Put the okra aside for later. Place all the remaining prepared vegetables into the pot with the garlic and shallots. Add salt and chili powder, and pour the water over the whole mixture. The amount of water is up to you. You can make this a thin soup or a thicker one, and add more tamarind, chili and fish sauce to enhance the flavor if you choose to make it a thin soup. I would recommend filling the pot with water halfway up to the level of the vegetables, so roughly 5-6 cups of water.

Turn up the heat and set the pot of vegetables to cook. Cook until all the vegetables have softened, then add fish sauce and the okra (add the okra with the other vegetables will ruin the the okra’s texture and turn it to mush).

Return to your saucepan of tamarind, and mash the tamarind fruit until it resembles a brown sauce/paste. Straining out the solids and stringy parts, pour the tamarind mixture into the soup. (It is important that you do not add the tamarind until the veggies have softened adequately, as Burmese cooking wisdom tells me that the tamarind can inhibit the veggies from softening. I have yet to personally test this theory.)

Give the soup a good stir or two, then ladle off some of the broth and give it a taste. Add more seasoning if needed. If it needs more tangy sourness (it can never be too sour, in my opinion), try and mash a little more juice out of your cooked tamarind, or simply cook some additional tamarind and add it to the soup.

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If you have tamarind paste in your pantry, this is also an acceptable way to make the soup sour. Stir the paste with hot water and continue adding until you like the flavor of your soup.

If you feel like this soup lacks some meaty warmth, add a little chicken bouillon to boost it.

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