The other day I was making the unprecedented move of checking the comments automatically marked as spam on this here ole blog, and I came across a single one that I wasn’t entirely sure was really spam. Someone identifying himself as “San Antonio personal injury lawyer” had left a comment on my Spicy Vermicelli Soup post saying my soup sounded a lot like the Vietnamese dish Bun Rieu. I looked up Bun Rieu to see if it really did sound similar to my recipe, figuring if it did, the comment was legit enough for me. It did seem a little similar – in that it’s a soup and it involves rice vermicelli – so I approved the comment, but I found myself interested in this Bun Rieu as a byproduct. It did sound delicious…but decidedly unvegan: full of crab and shrimp and fish sauce. If you know me at all by now, though, you’ll recognize that I immediately viewed this as a challenge. I shall make vegan Bun Rieu!
I need to be clear though: I’ve never had Bun Rieu, or even heard of it before being left a possible spam comment on my blog a couple of days ago. All I know about it is a few recipes I was able to scrounge up on the internet (this one was probably the most helpful). I couldn’t tell you if what I ended up with was anything remotely like Bun Rieu. I can tell you that it was pretty darn good, though, and I’m glad I got that comment, spam or not. This is me in my element: challenged to veganize some crazy Asian dish I’ve never actually had. Especially a soup. (Have you noticed I sort of love soup?)
Now, first of all, I want you to know that I have not become a spokeswoman for Nature’s Soy, although I just did a post on one of their products earlier today and I’m using two of their products in this meal. In fact, it wasn’t until just a couple of weeks ago that I even realized that several of the tofu and seitan products I’ve been buying at Super H and other Asian grocery stores are from the same company, Like the tofu puffs I use in this recipe: I used to buy them all the time to make a recipe that Mark loves (I’ll do a post on it soon), but I had no idea they were made by the same people who make the “chicken” seitan I use in my “tuna” salad until tonight when I looked more closely at the packaging. Rather than looking at brand names, I usually just immediately flip everything over and stare at the ingredients list. Conditioning is a funny thing.
Anyway, on with my Bun Rieu experience. Bun Rieu is not just full of crab meat; it also contains shrimp and/or shrimp paste (as well as, often, fish sauce), all of which may seem like pretty big deterrents for veganization. I had already decided that if I could get away with using that chicken-style seitan as tuna, I could use it for crab, but what to do about shrimp paste? My first thought was actually to use some Thai green curry paste. A lot of Thai curries contain shrimp paste, so I guess I associate the two in my head, and I figured the curry paste – a vegan version of which I have on hand – is pungent and salty like I assume shrimp paste is. I’ve never had shrimp paste so this is a guess. But I wanted to see if I could concoct something, maybe something that those of you who don’t have access to ready-made vegan Thai curry paste might be able to make. So first, I’ll show you how I made vegan “shrimp” paste, then I’ll show you my Bun Rieu using it.
1 large or 2 small shallots, minced
1 clove garlic, minced, pressed, or smashed
1 cube vegan vegetable bouillon
1/4 tsp salt (I used pink Himalayan, mostly because of the four different kinds of salt I keep out in salt pigs, it’s used the least often and I figured it deserved some glory today)
1 tsp miso (optional – it tasted good even before I mixed this in)
1 1/2 tsp powdered kelp
1/4 tsp ground dry lemongrass (this is a bit esoteric and therefore optional; you could use a bit of fresh lemongrass if you have it on hand)
1 tsp black vinegar, optional
Mince the shallot(s).
Put the shallots, garlic, salt, lemongrass, kelp, and crumbled bouillon cube into a mortar …
… and crush to a paste with the pestle. Add the black vinegar if you have it, although I tasted it before adding and it was good without it, so don’t go out of your way to buy black vinegar just for this.
Looks delicious, no? I ended up with just about a quarter cup.
Bun Rieu, or Veitnamese “Crab” Noodle Soup
- 1 onion, chopped
- 4-6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
- 1 red hot chili pepper, sliced
- 2-4 tomatoes, quartered OR 1 can diced or whole tomatoes OR 1/2 can diced or whole tomatoes + 1 1/2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved (I used the latter because that’s what I had on hand)
- 6 oz tomato paste
- 1/4 cup vegan “shrimp” paste (see recipe above)
- 4 cups vegan “chicken” or vegetable stock
- 1 package Nature’s Soy chicken-style seitan OR 16 oz tofu, chopped OR 1 large can young green jackfruit, shredded
- 3 scallions, chopped
- 2 Tbsp rice vinegar
- 2 Tbsp tamarind paste
- 1 Tbsp vegan “fish’ sauce OR soy sauce
- rice vermicelli
- bean sprouts
- mint leaves
- tia to (perilla) leaves
- fried tofu puffs (optionally chopped into bite-sized pieces)
Don’t not make this because you can’t find this style of seitan. While most homemade seitan is too dense and chewy to provide the right texture, tofu would have been very good in this. It may not have been anything like crab meat, but it would have been very good.
Do your mise en place: chop the onions, scallions, and tomatoes, mince or press the garlic, slice the chili pepper, chop the tofu puffs, pull apart the seitan or chop the tofu.
In a heavy soup pot, heat some oil, then add the onions and cook until soft, then add the garlic and cook another minute.
Add the chili peppers, fresh or canned tomatoes, and tomato paste and cook a minute or two.
Add the stock and bring to a boil.
Add the rest of the ingredients, except vermicelli (and garnishes), reduce heat, and simmer for five minutes.
Add the rice vermicelli. I wanted to show you how much I added, so here it is. That mole on my hand looks like an eye and it looks like my hand is eating the vermicelli, does it not?
Cook until the vermicelli is done. This will vary depending on brand and how thick it was; this brand took longer to cook than the stuff I used for my previous soup. (It was also unsettlingly spaghetti-like.)
Here’s the finished product:
To assemble, ladle some of the soup into a large bowl.
Garnish with as many or as few of the garnishes as you’d like, keeping in mind that I personally find lime pretty important: squeeze it all over the soup and mix in. Obviously sriracha’s a given for me too.
And that’s it! It looks harder than it really is; I’ve called for a lot of ingredients, but most of them get tossed in at the same time, so this is a fairly fast meal. I thought it was really good; I was pretty impressed with myself. I have no idea if it tastes or even looks like true Bun Rieu, but I’ll make this again.