The Australians have been producing some wonderful Vietnamese cookbooks to capture how cooks in Vietnam are preparing food today. The works are great travel books with provocative location photos and interesting recipes. These are books that are perfect for people who’ve traveled to Vietnam and have a sense for the ingredients there. For example, Viet shallots are the size of boiling onions in the States.
I recently bought Vietnamese Street Food by Tracey Lister and Andreas Pohl, Australian ex-pats living in Hanoi. Tracey is a former chef who runs the Hanoi Cooking Centre, a place that I point people to for cooking classes in the capitol city. Flipping through Vietnamese Street Food (released this year in the US and then pulled for a re-release next year, which I don't understand) I was captivated by a number of recipes. One of them was a mock crab noodle soup prepared with soymilk that’s directly coagulated in the pot to mimic rich crab tomalley. (Why eat fake meat? There are many Asian Buddhists who are part time vegetarians and others who want to try something interesting.)
The regular crab noodle soup is called bun rieu cua, a tomatoey, briny northern Vietnamese specialty. In the regular version, there’s a prized floater of crabbiness that you spoon atop the noodles before ladling in the clear broth. In my recipe in Into the Vietnamese Kitchen, page 215, I add eggs to facilitate as tasty floater of crab meat and fat (tomalley), ground shrimp and tomato. It’s magical and tasty.
I’d heard about the use of the tofu curds for mock crab noodle soup from the people at Dong Phuong, a Little Saigon tofu shop in Garden Grove that I wrote about in Asian Tofu. I was curious about the dish but didn’t have enough space to include it. However, a recipe from Vietnamese Street Food got me to make the noodle soup.
I used organic soy milk and tweaked a few things to up the flavor. You should not make this dish from boxed soymilk because the curds will be grainy. Buy soy milk from an Asian market or tofu shop in a 2-quart plastic container. Or, make your own from the light soy milk recipe in Asian Tofu. The coagulant used is vinegar, which imparts a light tang that goes with the dish.
To prepare you for the coagulation process, here’s a video tip:
There’s a triple dose of soy in the recipe because along with the soy milk, fried tofu is used as a garnish and soy sauce is a seasoning. This noodle soup is light in flavor, great for lunch or brunch. Many thanks to Tracey’s Vietnamese Street Food for inspiring this recipe.
(NOTE: I’m embarking on adding metric to my recipes. Please be patient and report things that may be incorrect.)
Vietnamese Faux Crab Noodle Soup
Bun Rieu Cua Chay
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
- 10 ounces (280 g) firm tofu
- 5 ounces (140 g) shallots, sliced
- 1/3 cup (80 ml) canola oil
- 2 ripe tomatoes (about 10 oz /280 g total), chopped
- ¼ teaspoon sugar
- About ¾ teaspoon sea salt
- About 2 teaspoons soy sauce
- 8 cups (1 liter) soy milk
- About 3 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
- 8 to 10 ounces (227 to 280 g) dried round rice noodles (bun), boiled for 4 to 5 minutes, drained and flushed with water
- 2 to 3 tablespoons cilantro or Vietnamese balm leaves, roughly chopped
- 1 green onion, green and white parts, cut into rings
- 1 ½ cup shredded Romaine or iceberg lettuce
- Cut the tofu into 1-inch pieces, each about ¾ inch thick. Drain on a clean, dry dishtowel or paper towels for 10 to 15 minutes. Take 1/3 of the shallots and pat them dry with paper towel to fry later. Reserve the rest.
- In a 3-quart pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Pat the tofu dry, then in batches, shallow fry until golden and crisp, 3 to 4 minutes total. Flip them midway. Transfer to a plate to drain. Lower the heat to medium, fry the shallots that you blotted dry, stirring, until golden, about 3 to 4 minutes. Drain on paper towel and cool to crisp. (See the crispy caramelized shallot recipe for guidance.)
- Add the remaining shallots to the pot, cook, stirring for 5 minutes, or until no longer raw smelling and starting to turn blonde. Add the tomato, sugar, and salt. Cook, stirring, until the tomato has totally broken down. Taste and add extra salt or soy sauce for savory depth.
- Add the soy milk. Increase the heat to medium-high, then bring to a boil. Remember to stir often to prevent scorching. Lower the heat to a simmer, then follow the above video to add the vinegar to coagulate. Taste and adjust the flavor with extra salt or soy sauce.
- Divide the noodles among individual serving bowls. Gently scoop the curds on top, then ladle on the broth. Top with the fried tofu, sprinkle of fried shallots, scallion, and herb of choice. Serve with the lettuce on the side for guests to add green crunch.
- Vietnamese herb primer
- Vietnamese Noodles 101: Round rice noodles (bun)
- Crispy caramelized shallot (Hanh Phi)
- Chicken Pho (Pho Ga)
- Beef Pho (Pho Bo)
- Phnom Penh Noodle Soup (Hu Tieu Nam Vang)
More recipes from 2012 Asian cookbooks
- Homemade Bun Rice Noodles from Vietnamese Home Cooking by Charles Phan
- Faux Viet Crab Noodle Soup from Vietnamese Street Food by Tracey Lister and Andreas Pohl
- Fried Ginger Chicken from Japanese Farm Food by Nancy Hachisu
- Pork Belly, Pickled Mustard Greens and Tofu from Burma by Naomi Duguid
- Soy-Glazed Black Pepper Chicken from The Hakka Cookbook by Linda Anusasananan