It was 11 degrees overnight in Austin. On top of that, the cedar is plaguing most of us with allergies. This is my favorite soup when I have that sore throat, achey, runny nose kind of feeling. It has big, bright flavors that will wake up your taste buds and clear your head: lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, pineapple and lime juice, with shrimp and rice noodles.
The only downside to this soup is that it has to be made fresh and eaten immediately. It's not a good candidate for freezing and having on hand for later when you feel bad. The freshness is part of what makes it so good. So make it to keep yourself warm or to perk up a friend who's under the weather. It's just the thing.
I've been making and fine tuning this recipe for years. A long time ago, I had a sweet and sour soup at a Vietnamese restaurant that included tomatoes, which added a nice texture and tang. That got me started looking for a version I could make at home. The fresh pineapple is my favorite element. I think this is the version I'm sticking with. Wish I had a bowl tonight.
Sweet and sour soup with shrimp and pineapple
1 pound medium-sized shrimp, shells on
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 tablespoons shallots, minced
8 cups of fish stock or chicken broth
3 stalks lemongrass
one bunch cilantro
2 kaffir lime leaves
4 slices of galangal
pineapple, peeled and cored, with core reserved; cut into bite-sized chunks
4 tablespoons fish sauce
3 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon peppercorns
1/4 cup lime juice
16 shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, cut into quarters
4 tablespoons sugar
orange, red or yellow bell pepper, stem and core removed, cut into slices
one pint cherry tomatoes, cut in half
approximately 14 oz. package rice stick noodles, soaked in hot water according to package directions and strained
Make the broth:
Remove the shells from the shrimp. Reserve the shells. Devein the shrimp and set aside.
Place the shrimp shells in a stockpot with vegetable oil. Add shallots and cook together for about 5 minutes over medium heat, stirring.
Add the broth, lemongrass, the stems of your cilantro, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, the pineapple core and the fish sauce. Stir together. Bring up to a boil, reduce heat and let simmer at least 15 minutes. (Longer will mean more flavor, if you have the patience.) Strain the broth through a sieve and then put the broth back into the pan. Discard the lemongrass, etc. that you've strained out.
Grind together in a mortar and pestle into a paste: garlic, peppercorns, 2/3 of the cilantro leaves. Add to the broth and stir together.
Turn the heat back on under the broth to about medium. Add the lime juice, mushrooms, sugar, about half of the pineapple chunks and the bell pepper strips. When the broth is just below a boil, add the shrimp and simmer until the shrimp are pink and just cooked through. Watch carefully, this will only take a few minutes. You don't want your shrimp to be tough and overcooked. When shrimp are cooked through, remove from heat and add tomatoes.
To serve, place one serving of rice stick noodles into each bowl. Ladle soup into bowls and top with remaining pineapple chunks and sprinkle with cilantro.
Adapted from Terrific Pacific by Anya von Bremzen.