I love food, everything about it. I love the markets, I love cooking, I love eating, and most of all I love sharing what I create with people. Food is a universal language, one that has the potential to transcend language barriers, socio-economic status, even racism. Food can console, comfort, love, heal, and seduce.
In terms of health and fitness, developing a love of food is very important. You need to be aware of exactly what is going into your body, and there is no better way to do this than to cook your own meals. I so often hear people complain that “healthy food” is boring or doesn’t taste nice, and this is simply not true. Nourishing yourself isn’t about denial; it isn’t about segregating yourself to avoid being tempted by others’ fatty treats. Rather, it’s about delicious creations made up of a symphony of different flavours; about finding the freshest and best-quality ingredients, and about sharing your culinary masterpieces and health-giving dishes with the people you love.
In Khmer this dish is called Somlor Mchou Youen, which literally means “Vietnamese Sour Soup.” Does that make this a Vietnamese dish? Maybe. I don’t know. Maybe I should call it an Australian dish, given that so many citizens eat it. As far as I’m concerned, it’s my dish now, part of my culinary heritage, the legacy of countless friends, parties and thermos-packed lunches taken to the farm, a tribute to life in a country where everyone is free to preserve their own culture as well as participate in the cultures of other people.
What you need to know is that it’s delicious, and allows you to combine protein, carbs and fruit in one meal. Tomatoes contain anti-oxidants and have been linked to a reduced rate of heart disease, and a cup of pineapple contains over 100% of your recommended daily intake of vitamin C. Chicken broth has been considered by many cultures to be nutritious and good for digestion. If, like me, you tend to lose your appetite when stressed, this tangy, slightly sweet, a-tiny-bit-tart soup, punctuated with crunchy pineapple and fresh herbs, will help you to eat while being easy on the stomach.
Here’s my version of Somlor Mchou Youen… Did I mention that it’s delicious and low in fat? Try it and enjoy!
1 chicken, chopped into pieces. (You can set the spine and wing-tips aside to use for chicken stock in something else… You only need pieces which have meat on them. A free-range chicken will give the best flavour.)
1 pineapple, peeled and chopped into small-bite-sized pieces.
4 firm tomatoes, each cut into eight pieces.\
A piece of galangal, about the size of your thumb. (This is a rhizome which looks a little like ginger, except that it has a delightful pinkish blush to it and a fresh fragrance… If you can’t find it, you can still make the soup. I recommend substituting with a stalk of lemongrass or some kaffir lime leaves.)
Fish sauce to taste.
Coriander, Thai basil and chilli padi (bird’s eye chilli) to garnish. (The original version of this dish doesn’t include basil or chilli, but I love the way basil complements the sweetness of pineapple and tomato, and the Singaporean in me means that I compulsively add chilli to everything…)
Bring the chicken to boil in a stockpot of filtered water. For some reason, south East Asian soups always taste better when boiled over the highest heat, which is best achieved on a gas burner. This is NOT a European-style chicken soup to be simmered slowly for hours until meat falls off the bone. Like most things in Asian cooking, this is done quickly, cooking everything while maintaining the freshness and integrity of all the ingredients.
When the chicken is cooked but still firm, add the pineapple and tomato and allow the soup to come back to the boil. Once it starts boiling again, start adding fish sauce, tasting the soup as you do so. You are looking to create a combination of sweet, sour and salty flavours. If you will be eating this soup with rice, as is traditional, bear in mind that you will need to make it a little more salty to counteract the blandness of the rice.
When you are happy with the seasoning, the soup is done. Serve in a big bowl in the middle of the table, topped with the fresh herbs, and give everyone a bowl of rice and let them help themselves.