I think almost all South East Asian countries have their own version of tamarind-based soup, slightly spicy with loads of soft vegetables. Malaysians with their laksa soup, Filipinos with sinigang, Thais with tom yam. Sourish tamarind deserves much more credits than it already has. It is one of the ingredients that made our cuisine as exotic as it now is.
Our tamarind soup uses sliced tamarind (asam potong) and salam leaves with vegetables that can nicely soak up all the beautiful flavors from tamarind, bay leaves, lemongrass, palm sugar (gula merah) and chilies. It is also very easy to prepare. Grind up some paste, boil the water, add the paste and cook the soup over simmering heat. Drop all the vegetables in the pot and be done with it. Serve with steamed rice and sambal belacan for that extra kick. Sometimes we love the crunchy anchovies deep-fried to perfection. Delish.
Fresh spices to be used whole – tomatoes, slices of tamarind, galangal, lemongrass and salam leaves.
Spices to be ground – garlic, ginger, shrimp paste, chilies, shallots and candlenuts. Leave the palm sugar out, that is for the soup.
These beautiful gnenom fruits are always included in the tamarind soup.
Again, I left out the turmeric. Never too late. I ground everything using a coffee grinder attachment of my blender.
The color was moving towards orangish once the turmeric was added. Beautiful paste.
Vegetables used are young corn, snake beans.
Chayote (or pear squash, labu jipang), cut into bite sizes.
Cabbage, cut into manageable squares.
Boil water in a large stock pot and drop gnemon fruits (melinjo) into the boiling water. They take the longest to cook, naturally the first one to go in.
Add spice paste into the pot.
Fresh salam leaves.
Lightly bruised lemongrass stalks.
Heavily bruised galangal
Lastly, the rest of the vegetables.
Palm sugar or gula melaka is the last to go in.
Together with the tamarind slices (asam potong).
Let simmer until all vegetables are cooked. If you like them to be slightly crunchy, remove when they are just cooked. I personally love mine to be boiled till mushy. They are utterly delicious when the vegetables absorbs all the essence of spices used. The flavors develop even better the next day. Serve warm with steamed rice, some sambal belacan and fried salted fish.
Vegetable Tamarind Soup, Sayur Asam
10 (40 g) red chilies
5 (20 g) shallots
3 (15 g) garlic
5 (15 g) candlenuts
1 fresh ginger
1/2 tbsp (8 g) shrimp paste, or belacan
2 cm turmeric, or 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
8 salam leaves
2 stalks lemongrass
25 g galangal
1 tomato, quartered
60 g palm sugar, or gula merah / gula melaka
20 g tamarind slices, or asam potong
500 g cabbage, cut into squares
100 g snake beans, cut into 5cm length
500 g chayote, cut into squares
100 g young corn
150 g gnenom fruit, or melinjo
1500 cc water
Grind chilies, shallots, garlic, candlenuts, ginger, shrimp paste and turmeric into fine paste.
Boil water in a big stock pot. Add all ingredients into the pot.
Let simmer for 30-45 minutes over low heat.
Serve warmed with steamed rice with sambal belacan.