One of our favorite restaurants in San Francisco is The Slanted Door, an exquisitely delicious modern Vietnamese restaurant located in the city's picturesque waterfront Ferry Building. If you're a food lover who appreciates excellent cuisine as well as high-quality ingredients, this place is a must for lunch or dinner (they have fabulous cocktails too). If you're not in the Bay Area pick up a copy of owner/executive chef Charles Phan's cookbook Vietnamese Home Cooking, a beautiful coffee table-worthy book with recipes that truly are doable for home cooks, and try some of his recipes at home.
This classic hot and sour shrimp soup, a sweet and tart soup that is wonderfully comforting on a cold night, is perfect as an appetizer or main meal. Note: bac ha is a celery-like vegetable that comes from the stem of the taro plant. It stays wonderfully crisp in soups, even when simmered. Look for it in Asian supermarkets. If you can't find it, no worries, you can use iceberg lettuce in its place.
Vietnamese Hot and Sour Shrimp Soup
From Vietnamese Home Cooking by Charles Phan
2 1/2 quarts chicken stock
2 ounces seedless tamarind pulp
2 Thai chiles, stemmed and halved lengthwise
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lime juice
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
8 ounces medium shrimp, peeled, deveined, and cut in halve lengthwise
1/2 medium pineapple, peeled, cut lengthwise into 6 pieces, core trimmed away, and cut
3 cups mung bean sprouts
1 1/2 cups bac ha, peeled and cut into 1/8-inch-thick rounds, or shredded iceberg lettuce
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon toasted garlic (recipe below)
In a large pot, combine the stock, tamarind pulp, and chiles and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat to a steady simmer and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally with a whisk to break up the tamarind pulp. Remove from heat, strain through a fine-mesh sieve, and discard the solids. Return the liquid to the pot.
Stir in the fish sauce, lime juice, and salt and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Add the shrimp and pineapple and cook for about 30 seconds, until the shrimp just turn pink.
Divide the bean sprouts and bac ha (or lettuce) among warmed soup bowls. Ladle the hot soup into the bowls and garnish with the cilantro and toasted garlic, dividing them evenly.
For the toasted garlic:
Makes 2 tablespoons
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
In a small saucepan, heat the oil over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring frequently to prevent burning, for about 5 minutes, until the garlic is light golden brown. Do not overcook or the garlic will become too bitter. Pour into a fine-mesh sieve, reserving the oil, and transfer to paper towels to drain. Save the oil in a tightly covered container for up to a week as it makes a wonderful addition to rice and in salad dressings! Use garlic immediately.