Yen’s Bachelor Soup

Fun fact: I have cooked for Yen a total of two times in the ten months we have known each other. Yes, really. We’re busy people, for one thing. But maybe a bigger issue is that I just don’t know how to cook his usual food, his comfort food. Sure, I could whip up a bouillabaisse and he’d be a happy boy. But I just haven’t gotten around to it much.

This is a hard thing because I think you all know that cooking is my primary wooing tactic. Why he has stayed around so long when I’m not feeding him (and he doesn’t like baked goods…) is really beyond me. But I need to be proactive here.

We’ve started cooking together Wednesday nights. This is a hard night for him because he plays hockey at 11pm, but we’re making it work. The inaugural dish was good old jambalaya, and I’m pleased to say he ate three bowls of the delicious stuff. But we didn’t want this to be just me cooking and him eating. No, the secret plan here is that I will use this as a vehicle to finally grasp some Vietnamese (or Vietnamesish) cooking.

Last night, Yen made his bachelor soup. When he was in grad school and living with roommates, he would make a giant batch of this and live on it for a week. You’ll see that for a bachelor dish it is surprisingly lacking in Pizza Hut, and full of vegetables.

Like a lot of southeast Asian cooking, it contains a spectrum of flavors, and it can seem strange when you read the ingredient list. But trust me: they all come together and compliment each other perfectly.

One final note: this soup falls into the category of what Yen called “tribal cooking,” a term I have decided to adopt forever. By it, he means it’s composed of whatever items you have on hand. It is less about specific ingredients, and more about making something good for your body that takes very little effort on a weeknight.

Yen’s Bachelor Soup

1. Begin by sauteing half a minced onion, a few shrimp, and some halved fish balls in a little oil. What’s a fish ball? Well, visit Wikipedia for a full description. They’re delicious, I think. Compact, salty little balls that aren’t precisely chewy, but they give you something to bite into among a bowl of other soft soup bits.

2. When the shrimp is just about cooked, add a box of chicken broth, some halved soy puffs, three quartered tomatoes, a few handfuls of bean sprouts, a large can of pineapple (in water, undrained), a few handfuls of chopped okra, a chopped green onion, a packet of tamarind soup mix, and a couple spoonfuls of tamarind paste, and enough water to make it souplike. Everything will stay near the top. Don’t worry about this – just push it down with the spoon as you need to.

At this point, let me say: someone should invent a french-presslike device for a soup pot. You know, to keep things pushed down.

3. Once that’s come to a boil, skim off any scum that doesn’t look appetizing.

4. Now add some vegetables that don’t have English names: bac ha, ngo gai (spiky celery), and ngo om (fragrant celery). Now add a little fish sauce (looked like about 1/3 cup to me) and some sugar (I think it was about 1/4 cup).

5. If you’re feeling saucy, now you can also add some tom yum paste for a little kick. Be careful, though, because you’re not making tom yum soup here, people.

Once everything is nice and hot, serve this over a little rice if you want something more substantial. Like all soups, it will be even better the next day.