This is a criminally simple soup, yet it’s very satisfying. Growing up, we referred to this as “canh” (literally, “soup”), and a fresh pot often sat on the back of the stove, recently simmered, waiting to be ladled on top of hot rice from the steamer.
This soup features a opo squash (“bau”), a large, long gourd with a pale green flesh. It is sold at all Vietnamese markets, and I’ve seen it at Fubonn and Uwajimaya. Some will describe the flavor as similar to zucchini. I suppose this is somewhat true. But I wouldn’t substitute zucchini in this soup anymore than I would substitue lime zest for lemongrass, or listen to Black Rebel Motorcycle Club instead of Jesus and Mary Chain, or masturbate to the mental image of Kirsten Dunst rather than Jessica Alba. OK, that’s a bit extreme. I actually listened to B.R.M.C. a lot, and Howl was a suprising changeup. And lime zest can add a nice flavor profile.
Squash and Shrimp Soup
- 1 large opo squash, or 2 smaller
- 6 cups water
- 1/2 pound shelled and deveined shrimp
- 6 green onions, chopped
- 1/2 bunch cilantro, leaves separated (discard stems), and coarsly chopped
- Coarse cracked pepper (I like a lot — probably too much — but that’s me)
- Fish sauce
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 sliced yellow onion
Using a small food processor, pulse the shrimp, half the green onions, and half the cilantro.
You could also do this on a wide cutting board. Lay the shrimp out, layer on the onions and cilantro, and go to town. I don’t like to go too minced out, though, preferring bits and pieces of shrimp to come through. Though shrimp meatballs could work just fine.
Transfer the meat to a bowl, and season with sugar, fish sauce (tablespoon or so), sesame oil, and pepper. Mix thoroughly and set aside.
Heat water in a large dutch oven. Peel squash, trim off ends, and cut into 1/2 inch discs, and then 1/2 juliennes. You can go real skinny, too — this was how my mom commonly sliced her squash.
Drop into pot and bring to a boil.
Once you have a nice boil, add sliced onion and use a spoon to drop small “dumplings” of the shrimp into the boiling soup.
Lower heat to a simmer, and salt (augmenting with a few squirts of fish sauce) to season to your taste. Once there, remove from heat, and throw in the onions and cilantro (but don’t stir). Cover partially and let sit for half hour or more.
I almost always serve this soup on top of a couple spoonfuls of steamed jasmine rice, and give it a couple squirts of Maggi to round out the flavor.