Towards year ends, I always feeling nostalgic about my childhood (A Mother's Heart by William Joseph playing in the background :-P.) Since the passing of my parents in 2001, the memories of mom's cooking became more evident. She cooked with no written down recipes but from her memories of what she saw on TV, magazines or someone told her how to cook certain dish by word of mouth at the local fresh market. She was able to recreate dishes she liked when I took her out to dine at local eateries whenever I'm free from work. I'm proud of her abilities to cook just from such methods (or should I said from scratch?) because she only managed to study until 11 - 12 years old. Being the only child in her family and both her parents passed away in her early adulthood must have lead her to harness such skill to survive independently. Sad to say, until today I never seen pictures of my grandparents but my priority was to make my mom happy throughout her living years... :-)
Voila! All that aside... one of the dishes I missed from my mom is fish cooked in tamarind based soup. I would attacked 2 plates of plain rice soaked up to the brim with the soup! It's like drinking Assam Laksa soup with whole fish instead of deboned fish meat. The way to cook Assam Laksa is similar too but with lots of fish instead.
Actually, I don't know the origin of this dish we called 'Hoo Khong Assam' (Hokkien dialect.) It's been in my family as far as I could remember. It's quite confused because Southeast Asia is Cauldron of Cuisine that links with each other in some ways or another. As for me, I think this dish is similar to Thai's Gaeng Som as my mom is half-Thai. There are other versions using tamarind as the main ingredient like Nyonya/Peranakan cuisine's Gerang Asam which used candlenuts and Filipino's Sinigang. Since her version was not written down, I started from scratch as much I could recalled but this time with measurement and not estimates as most traditional Asian mothers would do :-D This recipe is all about taste and love of my mother that made it so special in my heart.
Fish In Tamarind Soup (Hoo Khong Asam)
Serves 4 -6
300 g -500 g Spanish Mackerel fish - cleaned and gutted
For the Soup:
3 - 6 pcs Tamarind slices
4 cm Fresh Tumeric - washed & roughly sliced or bruised
10 g -15 g Fresh Vietnamese Mint Leaves/Laksa Leaves-washed & trim leaves.
4 - 6 pcs Fresh Red Chillies or Bird's Eye Chillies
2-3 nos Tomatoes - quartered
5 - 10 nos Shallots - cleaned and roughly crushed
1 stalk Ginger Flower - remove stem & cut the flower bud into half or quarters
4 - 8 pcs Ladies Fingers (Okra) - washed and cut into halves
2 stalks Lemongrass - use only the white parts & lightly bruised
10 g Galangal - washed, remove dirt and bruised skin, sliced thinly
10 g Shrimp Paste (Belacan)
1 liter of Water
Salt and Sugar OR Fish Sauce to taste
1. Prepare all the vegetables and set aside.
2. Trim off the fins and tails. If the fish is large, cut into halves. Set aside.
3. In a pot, heat the water until it boils. Put in all the vegetables except Ladies Fingers/Okra and tomatoes. Reduce heat to medium and let it boils until the liquid changes color.
4. Add in the Ladies Fingers/Okra and Tomatoes.
5. Let the soup boils for few seconds and add in the fish.
6. Add in salt and sugar or Thai fish sauce to taste.
7. Continue to boil the soup until fish is cooked.
8. Serve hot with rice.
Notes: If you can find Belimbing Buluh or Belimbing Masam (Averrhoa Bilimbi) is even better to add sourness into the soup as Tamarind slices or Asam Gelugor (Garcinia atroviridis) considered by locals to be too strong for the stomach. Please use sparingly, if you're prone to gastric problems. I preferred to use seafood like fish or prawns for this recipe instead of meat. If you can't find Shrimp Paste or Belacan, you can omit it and adjust the taste with more Fish Sauce. Always remember to taste your cooking several times and adjust accordingly.