I really love discovering new and different herbs, vegetables and spices as I generally spend countless days afterwards thinking how to incorporate them into dishes. I particularly like it when the vegetable or spice in question also has a very questionable name.
Roll in then, the elephant ear stem or bac ha in vietnamese. Part of the same plant family as taro the two vegetables could be no more dissimilar. Taro being the corms of the plant is starchy and potato like. Elephant ear stems on the other hand are quite like a airy bouncy celery.
In Vietnamese cooking, elephant ear stem is most commonly used in the dish canh chua – tamarind broth with fish and elephant ear stems. The spongyness of the stem in this dish soaks up all the lovely juices of the broth, whilst giving some crisp texture. With the temperature outside beginning to cool down, we thought it was no better time to cook up a hot, fragrant steaming pot of tamarind fish broth.
Instead of serving this dish individually, we will generally make the broth, and place all the vegetable ingredients on the dining table for each person to cook themselves – essentially eating this dish ‘hot pot’ style (broth of pot on a gas cooker). If you are doing this, once the fish is cooked, bring the pot to the table and bring the broth to boil on the gas cooker before adding the remaining ingredients.
Canh Chua tamarind fish broth with elephant ear stems
- 1 whole white fish (400g-500g) cut into 1.5cm thick cutlets
- 1 1/2 litres water
- 50g tamarind pulp
- 4 tablespoons sugar
- 2 teaspoons fish sauce
- 2 stalks of lemongrass, bruised and cut into 3 segments
- 100g sliced pineapple
- 50g elephant ear stems, outer skin peeled and sliced
- 50g okra, sliced
- 2 tomatoes, sliced into wedges
- 50g bean sprouts
- 1 bunch rice paddy herb*, sliced
- 1 bunch saw tooth coriander*, sliced
- 1 red chilli sliced
* All vietnamese herbs can be purchased from good vietnamese grocery stores.
First prepare to prepare the broth, dissolve tamarind pulp into 250ml of warm water. Massage the pulp to dissolve before straining though a fine sieve, discarding the pulp.
Combine the tamarind broth, water, fish sauce, pinnapple and sugar in a pot (or clay pot) and bring to the boil. Add the fish pieces, and skim off any impurities from the surface of the broth. Add the lemongrass and simmer on low heat for 10 minutes.
Add the okra, tomatoes, elephant ear stems and bean sprouts to the boil and return to boil.
Serve each potion and garnish with sliced rice paddy herb, saw tooth corriander and a slice of red chilli.
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