Monday, February 1, 2010

Súp Nem Nuong đậu hũ - Vietnamese Pork & Tofu Soup

This is a different riff on the Vietnamese dish Nem Nuong. Instead of skewering the pork and grilling them over a flaming grill, I am going to braise them in a soup.

Nem means ground pork while Nuong means grilled. The pork patty generally is seasoned with salt, pepper, sugar, combined with Nuoc Mam (Vietnamese fish sauce), and finely minced garlic. It is commonly wrapped and rolled in rice paper to make a spring roll or cuon and dipped in Nuoc cham sauce. I made a homemade Nuoc cham sauce and I will share the recipe with you later.

I wanted to make a lot of pork balls so I combined:
  • 1 lb of ground pork
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed and finely minced
  • 1 shallot, finely minced
  • small chile, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons of Nuoc cham sauce

After mixing the ingredients, I left it in the fridge for about an hour so the flavors could fuse together.

The Nuoc cham sauce is available in Asian markets but if it cannot be found, try this recipe.
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 3 tablespoons of sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of lime juice
  • 4 tablespoons of fish sauce
  • 1 cup of water

Mix it all together to enhance the flavors and give it a good simmer for a few minutes.

Next, you want to form the pork balls. Shape them into any size you want. The smaller the better to achieve a decent bite size. I made them a little too big but I was getting excited.

I wanted to make a big pot of soup so I added about 6 cups of chicken stock. Now, homemade chicken or vegatable stock would make this soup way better but if you are pinched for time, a high-quality, store-bought stock will suffice. Bring the chicken stock to a simmer.

Baby bok choy and tofu was added to the dish for subtle flavors. While the soup simmers, chop up a head of baby bok choy.

Properly drain the firm tofu between a towel by putting a heavy weight on top of it. This will draw out the water. The longer length of time, the better. Chop up the firm tofu any style you like. I like mine the way the Japanese chefs cut tofu for miso soup, in little tiny blocks.

Add the pork balls to the simmering broth and cook for ten minutes. Then add the bok choy and cook an additional 5 minutes. Bring in the tofu at the end just to warm them up. Sprinkle on ripped-up sprigs of cilantro to garnish.

This version of Vietnamese Pork & Tofu soup was easy to prepare and satisifying to the taste. I added a little more of the Nuoc cham sauce into the bowl to give it a little more heat and sweetness. It rounded it out well. The pork balls were a little too big but the flavor was right on. The little cubes of tofu seemed to add a little creaminess while the bok choy and cilantro provided an earthy taste.

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