I spent last week in Venice Beach, California. Rory was on spring break and I needed to square a few things away for the Asian Tofu manuscript. In between my appointments and editing work, we went out for a bite or to meet up with friends. There was a lot of eating involved – Musha for izakaya, Gjelina for styled-out Cal Med, Bouchon for fancy French bistro, A Frame for modern urban, Nguyen Hue for old school pho, Primitivo for happy hour. We also cooked dinner with friends in Silver Lake.
We attended a memorial service with my parents and decided to decline the post-event invitation to a country club luncheon. Instead, we went back to my parents’ home where my mom fed us a giant Vietnamese meal. My mom said, “I’ve been waiting for you to come home so we can really eat!” My modest contribution/gift to my mother was a zip-top bag filled with egg custard buns. She’d read the post from last week and was delightfully curious.
My dad pulled out bottles of bubbly, red wine, and cognac. He said to Rory, “For Lent, I gave up drinking but today I’m making an exception because you are here.” My folks were looking for an excuse to eat and drink. That was quite a Friday.
On Sunday morning when we packed up and drove home, we’d had our fill of indulgent eating. With 6 hours in the car, we had plenty of time to plan dinner. I wanted to cook an easy Asian meal. Specifically, I wanted a little quick soup – called canh in Vietnamese, a stir-fried vegetable, and a meat dish. Rice was included, of course. Those are the elements of a traditional multidish meal.
We stopped off at Whole Foods and I spotted quart-size tubs of freshly cut pineapple chunks. You may be familiar with pineapple in Vietnamese seafood soups, flavored by tamarind and garnished with cuminy rau om. That is canh chua ca, a popular southern Vietnamese favorite. But there’s a pineapple-centric soup that’s extremely simple to prepare and satisfying: canh dua.
With just onion, pineapple, and pork (or chicken thigh) – seasoned by fish sauce and salt, the soup may seem bland and boring. But it’s surprisingly not, especially when made with ripe pineapple, which lends a delicate sweetness and tang. The pork and seasonings offer savory depth to balance things.
My mom prepared canh dua for dinner when I was young. The tubs of pineapple at Whole Foods triggered that childhood taste memory. But instead of cutting up a whole pineapple for the soup, I was able to put it together with no sweat.
For last night’s welcome home dinner, I made kung pao chicken as the main dish, and the soup complemented the robust stir-fry well. Our vegetable was just stir-fried shredded green cabbage. The pot of soup was enough for four. There was plenty leftover for lunch today.
Pineapple and Pork Soup Recipe
Canh Dua Thit Heo
Feel free to substitute chicken thigh for the pork. I bought a small “thin cut” pork chop for this soup.
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 small or 1/2 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
One little pork chop (about 1/3 pound), deboned and thinly sliced into bite-size pieces
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon fish sauce
41/2 cups water
1 1/2 to 2 cups fresh pineapple chunks, cut into bite-size pieces
5 or 6 cilantro sprigs, coarsely chopped
1. In a 4-quart saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and gently cook until fragrant and soft, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the pork, stirring to separate the pieces and evenly cook. Add the salt and fish sauce. Cook, stirring for 3 to 4 minutes, to develop the flavors in the pork.
2. Pour in the water and bring the soup to a boil. Skim and discard any scum that rises to the top. Lower the heat to gently simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Add the pineapple, adjust the heat to simmer, then cook for another 5 minutes. If you’re not serving right away, turn off the heat and cover.
3. Right before serving, bring the soup to a simmer. Taste and add extra salt or fish sauce, if necessary. If the soup is too salty, add a splash of water. Ladle the soup into a serving bowl. Garnish with the cilantro and serve immediately.