This brothy soup gets its pucker from sour leaf (pictured here and page 110, also see page 50), a favorite green among the Burmese. You don’t have to wait to find sour leaf to make this soup though. A mix of sorrel leaves and spinach leaves can be used in its place with the help of tamarind water. But keep your eyes peeled for fresh sour leaf. Or ask a Burmese friend where to buy it frozen.
This soup makes for a light lunch with rice served on the side or it can be served in small bowls as part of a larger meal. To make it richer, add thinly sliced lotus root. For the fish, any kind of white-flesh variety - catfish, cod, or rockfish - will do. Or skip the fish and use peeled and deveined shrimp
Serves 4 to 6 as part of a larger meal
12 ounces boneless, skinned white fish fillet, such as rockfish
1 ¼ teaspoons salt
¼ cup canola oil
2 cups finely diced yellow onion
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons shrimp paste (see page 238)
1 teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon cayenne
½ teaspoon turmeric
2 to 3 Thai chiles, each cut crosswise into 3 pieces
4 cups of firmly packed fresh, stemmed sour leaf; or 1 cup frozen and thawed sour leaf (about 1 bunch); or 4 cups spinach and 2 cups stemmed and coarsely chopped sorrel leaves
1 tablespoon fish sauce
4 cups water
¼ cup Tamarind Water (see page 218)
½ cup thinly sliced yellow onion or shallot
10 cilantro sprigs, for garnish
Trim away any bones from the fish fillets. (Rockfish fillets often have a set of ribs running halfway down the center. Simply slice down both sides of the bones to cut them out.) Cut the fish into ½- to 1-inch pieces. Transfer to a bowl and mix with a ½ teaspoon of the salt. Let sit at room temperature while you prepare the other ingredients.
In a 4-quart pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Stir in the onions and cook, stirring often, until the onions have browned around the edges and softened, 4 minutes.
Stir in the garlic and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the garlic is very aromatic, about 2 minutes. Stir in the shrimp paste and cook for 1 minute.
Stir in the paprika, cayenne, turmeric, chiles, and the remaining ¾ teaspoon salt and cook briefly, about 30 seconds. Add the fish and stir to coat in the aromatics. (It’s okay if the fish begins to break into smaller pieces.)
Add the sour leaf, packing it down so it all fits in the pot, and cook until wilted if fresh and warmed through if frozen, about 4 minutes. If it has been previously frozen, use a spoon to break up the chunks. If it’s fresh, stir it to encourage the leaves to wilt.
Add the fish sauce, water, and tamarind water and bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer and stir in the sliced onions. Cook for 3 minutes more. By now, the fish should be fully cooked and the sliced onions softened but still slightly crunchy. Taste, adding more fish sauce, tamarind water, or salt as needed. Ladle into bowls and garnish with cilantro.