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Vietnamese Buddhist Sour Soup

As mentioned on Vietnamese food, many buddhists in Vietnam are vegetarian part of the time. A canh is a category of soup that is meant to be eaten with rice spooned into each bowl of soup. This recipe is from the Mekong delta region of Vietnam.

3 tofu blocks (about a pound or half kilogram)
1/4 cup tamarind pulp; dissolve in 1 cup hot water
Just under 1/2 pound okra (2 cups)
5 cups of water
3/4 cup fresh pineapple in quarter-inch chunks
1 stalk giant taro (bac ha) in 1.5 inch segments (optional)
3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 medium tomatoes; wedges
1 teaspoon soy sauce

Garnish and flavorings:
1/4 cup oil: peanut or soy or whatever
1/2 cup chopped shallots
2 to 3 cups bean sprouts (mung); rinse and drain
12 leaves Asian basil; tear roughly
6 sprigs rice paddy herb (ngo om, optional)
2 to 4 bird or serrano chiles; mince; vary amount for different amount of heat, bird chiles are hotter than serrano
Drain the tofu by squeezing between two plates with a bit of weight on top for 30 minutes, pouring off water every 15 minutes or so. Cut into 1/2 inch cubes.

With your fingers, squeeze and press the tamarind to get it to dissolve completely and to get all the pulp off the seeds and pith. Drain through sieve into a bowl; keep the liquid and toss the solids.

Trim tough bits off the okra and cut in half.

In a skillet, use the oil to brown the shallots; set aside.

In a large nonreactive pot: place tamarind liquid and 5 cups water in pot. Bring to vigorous boil. Add okra (if it's fresh and tender, add later, maybe with tomato wedges) and pineapple. Boil vigorously for 3 minutes. Add taro, sugar, salt and tomato. Bring back to boil. Add tofu cubes and soy sauce. Cook for 2 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning balance to your preference.

Divide bean sprouts, basil and ngo om into 4 to 6 large soup bowls. Divide soup, with veggies and tofu into bowls. Put a tablespoon of oil and shallots into each bowl. Put a pinch of minched chile into each bowl. Serve with rice, preferably in the bowls, but on the side is good too. Let people put more chile in if they want.

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