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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Canh Chua tamarind broth with silver perch and elephant ear stem

Elephant ear stems must be up there as one of the most exotic-sounding and evocative vegetable names in English.

The Fairfield City Council guide to South-East Asian Greens explains that Elephant Ear Stem (Khoai So)

"...gets its name from its wide elephant-like ear leaf (not shown). The stem and stalk are used for cooking and yield mild grassy flavoured spongy flesh. Khoai So is a good source of thiamin, riboflavin, iron, phosphorus and zinc.

Use stems to add texture and absorb the flavours of soups and stir-fries."

Elephant ear stem is most often encountered in the Vietnamese classic dish Canh Chua. This clear soup is sour with tamarind, sweet with pineapple, and a little bit sticky from the slices of okra. Thick chunks of fatty and rich silver perch provide sustenance, and there's plenty of textural interest in the jumble of tomato wedges, squeaky bean sprouts and wilted herbs like saw tooth coriander and rice paddy herb on top.

The flavours are absorbed by the quiet star of the show, the spongy elephant ear stem that squelches sour and sweet and salty soup with every bite.

This dish was a surprise hit during our cooking session at the conclusion of Luke Nguyen's Cabramatta Tour. The tangy soup is soul-reviving and tastes so clean you just know it's good for you.

Canh Chua Ca Chem
Tamarind broth with silver perch and elephant ear stems
from Luke Nguyen's Cabramatta Tour

1 silver perch (400g-500g) cut into 1.5cm thick cutlets
1 1/2 litres water
50g tamarind pulp
4 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons fish sauce
100g sliced pineapple
50g elephant air stems, peeled and sliced
50g okra, sliced
2 tomatoes, sliced into wedges
50g bean sprouts
1 bunch rice paddy herb, sliced
1 bunch saw tooth coriander, sliced
1/2 teaspoon fried red Asian shallots
1/2 teaspoon fried garlic chips
1 chilli sliced

Soak a clay pot in cold water overnight. This will prevent it cracking when heated. A normal pot is fine otherwise.

Dissolve the tamarind pulp in 250ml warm water. Work the pulp until dissolved and then strain the liquid through a fine sieve, discarding the pulp.

Combine the tamarind liquid with 1.5 litres of cold waster, fish sauce, pineapple and sugar in a large clay pot and bring to the boil. Add the fish pieces to the pot and return to the boil, skimming any impurities.

Add the tomato, elephant ear stem, okra and bean sprouts to the pot and return the boil again.

Garnish with the rice paddy herb, saw tooth coriander, fried red Asian shallots, fried garlic and chilli.

Serve with jasmine rice or vermicelli noodles.

Related GrabYourFork posts:
SIFF 2009 - Luke Nguyen's Cabramatta Food Tour
SIFF 2009 - Luke Nguyen's caramelised pork belly recipe

SIFF 2009 - Cheese making workshop - mozzarella and camembert
SIFF 2009 -
Nose-to-tail barbecue with Fergus Henderson
SIFF 2009 - Sugar Hit at Azuma Kushiyaki
SIFF 2009 - World Chef Showcase
8 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 10/22/2009 01:31:00 am


  • At 10/22/2009 7:23 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Very intrguing! I think of Aloe...does it taste anything like that? Oh, on your title 'both' should be 'broth'?

  • At 10/22/2009 11:59 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Great recipe. Can't wait to try it. Is silver perch an easy fish to purchase?
    Also, when do you add the fish to the broth?
    "johnny forks"

  • At 10/22/2009 12:08 pm, Anonymous clekitty said…

    Your an absolute legend! This recipe along with the caramalised pork recipe were my favourites :)Thank you!!

  • At 10/22/2009 12:50 pm, Anonymous Benn said…

    I saw this recipe on his show last week - looks good!

    I think finding Elephant ear stem (and not steam ;) is the interesting one. Perhaps a trip to Cabra might be the trick.

  • At 10/22/2009 3:14 pm, Anonymous Arwen from Hoglet K said…

    Elephant ears is the best name! The soup sounds like it has a great range of flavours.

  • At 10/23/2009 12:15 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Ellie - It's not quite as jelly-like as aloe. Hard to describe - like a thick asparagus stalk with the absorbent qualities of tofu? lol. And thanks for the correction - the perils of starting a post after midnight!

    Hi Johnny Forks - Silver perch is usually found in Asian fishmongers - it's quite a fatty fish, especially around the belly. I've corrected the recipe - I skipped the line about the fish. Egads, what would I do without eagle-eyed readers! Thanks for letting me know!

    Hi Clekitty - You're welcome. It was interesting to see which recipes readers were most interested in. Hope you enjoy it soon!

    Hi Benn - It was a nice coincedence that Luke cooked the recipe on the show. Elephant ear stem would definitely be found in Cabra - not sure about other suburbs though. And thanks for the pick-up. lol. Nice work guys!

    Hi Arwen - It's the best name isn't it? I can almost hear an elephant trumpeting each time I say the name out loud. lol. The soup is really refreshing, I suppose a bit like a tom yum but sweeter, without the heat, and a lot more veggies!

  • At 10/26/2009 2:47 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    The recipe sounds good except for the okra...
    I can't seem to appreciate its gooeyness...
    Other than that, yum yum. Sounds just like my mum makes :)

    A.V <<<

  • At 10/28/2009 11:46 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi A.V - I took me a while to get used to okra but in this dish, it wasn't too overcooked so it wasn't quite so sticky and gooey. Yes mum's recipe is always the best!


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