Friday, 20 February 2015

Hot & Sour Prawn & Pineapple Soup

If you like spicy, fragrant food, this soup is just for you. It is incredibly quick to prepare, it looks wonderful and it tastes absolutely delicious.  I love the combination of prawns and pineapple with a background note of spicy heat supplied courtesy of the red chillies that have been included.  I have recommended using 3 or 4 red chillies, but you can use two if you’re not as keen on a bit of heat in your food.

Tamarind paste gives the sour element of this dish and whilst you will definitely notice its presence, it is not mouth-puckeringly sour in the way that biting on a slice of fresh lemon would be. I have been using tamarind paste a lot recently and love the depth of flavour it gives to those dishes in which it is used. I remember when I first became really interested in cookery and how difficult it used to be to source certain ingredients; I found it so frustrating! Thirty years ago you wouldn’t have had a hope of finding tamarind paste for sale in an Irish supermarket or shop and yet these days, ingredients like these can be found in many corner shops! For the enthusiastic and experimental cook, this is great.
 
As with all my recipes, I encourage you to put your own stamp on the dish… always taste as you go along and adjust seasoning, spicing etc. as necessary. I find it amazing that so many people cook without tasting! It is the most important step when cooking. I season using sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, but I also keep a lemon on hand as I find a squirt of fresh lemon juice can often enliven any dish without making it taste lemony… try it out… it really works!

This dish could be served as it is, almost like a substantial soup, but you could also serve it with rice as a light curry; it depends on how hungry you are feeling and what you are in the mood for. I like to serve it accompanied by flatbreads, which also serve as a vehicle to mop up all the yummy sauce!
 
To make this dish, you need to firstly create a paste base for the soup, but this is easy with the aid of a food processor. If you don’t have a food processor, you could chop the vegetables into small pieces and pound them along with the shrimp paste to blend everything together. The paste does not need to be absolutely smooth but everything does need to be well combined and broken down, particularly, the often fibrous fresh ginger and the lemongrass.
 
I think it is perhaps appropriate that I say a quick word about shrimp paste… this stuff looks seriously unappealing and when you spoon it out of its jar/container, it smells… well frankly… horrible! However, when mixed with the other ingredients and fried off in the pan, it is transformed and creates the most wonderfully complex base for the soup. So, don’t be put off by the shrimp paste in the beginning despite any initial reservations which you may have!

Ingredients:

Paste base for the soup:
3-4 thin red chillies, chopped
4-5 shallots, chopped
1 lemongrass stalk, outer husk removed and chopped finely
25g fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1tsp shrimp paste
1tblsp vegetable oil
Soup:
1tblsp vegetable oil
2tblsp tamarind paste
1tblsp palm sugar (or Demerara sugar)
1 litre of vegetable stock
400g raw prawns, peeled and deveined
150g fresh pineapple, cut into small chunks
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
To finish:
Some fine egg noodles, cooked
1 lime cut into wedges
Some very thinly sliced red chilli pepper
Fresh coriander leaves
 

Method:

Paste base:
1. Place all the ingredients into the bowl of a food processor and pulse to create a paste. Alternatively pound the ingredients together using a pestle and mortar.
Soup:
2. Heat the oil in a medium sized, heavy based saucepan over a moderate heat and add the paste base for the soup. Fry gently for 2-3 minutes until it deepens a little in colour, stirring regularly so that it does not catch on the bottom of the pan.
3. Add the tamarind paste and sugar and stir well and then add the vegetable stock. Increase the heat under the saucepan and bring the mixture up to the boil. Then reduce the heat and allow to simmer for 10- 15 minutes, uncovered.
4. Add the prawns and pineapple and simmer for a further 5-7 minutes until the prawns are just cooked.
5. Serve in bowls with noodles and wedge of lemon and a little of the sliced chilli and fresh coriander scattered over the top.

Serves 4-6.