Tamarind-based soups laced with a little sugar is quite popular in Vietnam. They shouldn’t be too unfamiliar for Filipinos — just imagine a slightly sweet but spicier sinigang and with a different mix of vegetables. The sweet-sour flavor is mild but the heat from the chilies is much more pronounced. The addition of lemongrass gives the soup a fresh fragrance that truly tickles the appetite.
I cooked this beef and green papaya with sweet-sour tamarind soup in the slow cooker, but I only did it for convenience and because, in the slow cooker, the flavors from the bones get coaxed out so much more efficiently. The cooking can be done on the stovetop with a regular thick-bottomed pot and the result will be just as great. On the stovetop, it takes two to three hours to cook the beef to that falling-of-the-bones stage of tenderness.
Beef and green papaya with sweet-sour tamarind soup
- Place the beef shank in a pot. Pour in enough water to cover. Bring to the boil. Boil the beef for 10 minutes. Strain, rinse and strain again. Throw out the cooking water. This pre-boiling prevents the formation of scum when the meat is transferred to the slow cooker.
- Place the rinsed meat in the slow cooker. Pour in as much water as the cooker can handle. Add the lemongrass stalks. Season with about a tablespoonful of fish sauce. Cook on HIGH for two hours. Continue cooking on low for another eight hours.
- When the beef is nearing its 10th hour of cooking, peel the green papaya and scrape off the seeds. Cut the flesh into wedges. Add to the beef. Throw in the chilies too. Taste the broth and add more fish sauce, if needed. Cook for 45 minutes.
- Pour the tamarind extract to the pot. Sprinkle in the sugar.
- Add the spinach leaves (stir if the cooker is not packed too much). Cook for another 10 minutes.