Typically served as part of a meal in Vietnam, tangy-sweet, intensely aromatic soups like this one balance the savory, salty flavors of other foods on the table. We loved it on its own, too. Mai Pham, chef and owner of Lemon Grass restaurant in Sacramento, California, gave us the recipe.
2 tablespoons tamarind pulp* (from a 1-lb. brick)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 shallots, cut into 1/8-in.-thick slices, then dried with paper towels
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon sambal oelek* or other chili paste
1 qt. reduced-sodium chicken broth
About 1 tbsp. Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce
2 tablespoons sugar
2 Roma tomatoes, cut into 1-in. cubes
1 cup finely shredded green cabbage
1/4 fresh pineapple, cut into wedges, then into 1/8-in.-wide matchsticks
2 cups bean sprouts
2/3 pound raw shrimp (26 to 30 per lb.), peeled and deveined
Several sprigs rice paddy herb or cilantro, chopped
15 Thai basil leaves, torn into pieces
2 Thai bird chiles or other small hot chiles, chopped
2 limes, cut into wedges
How to Make It
Break off tamarind from brick and soak in 1/3 cup warm water 30 minutes, then push through a sieve and discard solids.
Heat oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot and fry shallots, gently stirring, until golden and crisp, about 12 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Pour all but about 2 tsp. oil into a heatproof bowl (reserve for another use).
Cook garlic in pot over medium heat, stirring, 20 seconds. Add chili paste, broth, 1 cup water, the fish sauce, sugar, tamarind liquid, and tomatoes; bring to a boil, covered.
Simmer, uncovered, 5 minutes. Add cabbage, pineapple, bean sprouts, and shrimp; cook just until shrimp curl. Stir in herbs and chiles; serve with shallots and lime wedges.
*Find tamarind pulp and sambal oelek in the Asian aisle of well-stocked grocery stores or at Asian markets.