There’s something incredibly comforting about a bowl of tomato and meatball soup on a gloomy day. Its hearty flavors balance perfectly with the heaps of fresh herbs. Don’t be intimidated by the long list of ingredients! Most of them are just herbs, and you definitely don’t need all of them. For a casual bowl, you can just top it with scallions or mint and call it a day. With the growing popularity of the Instant Pot, you can definitely use it to prepare the stock. It will be ready in just 30 minutes! How does that sound? Why not give it a try?
- 3 pounds pork neck bones (I prefer pork, but chicken works too!)
- 4 quarts water (16 cups)
- 2-3 tablespoons Bún Riêu seasoning, to taste
- Salt, to taste
- 1 cup dried shrimp, soaked in warm water for 20 minutes, then minced
- 1 pound raw, peeled shrimp, minced
- 1 14-oz jar minced crab in spices
- 1 tablespoon shallot, minced
- 1 teaspoon garlic, minced
- 4 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- Black pepper, few grinds
- 2 tablespoons neutral oil
- 2 tablespoons shallots, minced
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste, optional
- 2 tablespoons shrimp paste (Mắm tôm / 鹹蝦)
- 2 pounds tomatoes (approx 5-6 large), wedged
- 1 pound fried tofu, halved or quartered (depending on size)
Assembly and Garnish
From the list of garnishes, you can pick and choose what you like. I can’t always find every ingredient, but I try to get lime, mint, scallions, and perilla. Those are my absolute must-haves when I eat bún riêu. If you can’t find perilla, that’s fine! Mint is less spicy, but will do the job just fine.
- Vermicelli, medium thickness (Bún)
- Mung bean sprouts
- Scallions, sliced thinly
- Vietnamese perilla (Tía tô)
- Vietnamese balm (Kinh giới)
- Banana flower, sliced and soaked in vinegar water for 1 hour
- Limes, quartered
- Extra shrimp paste (Mắm tôm / 鹹蝦)
To make the stock:
- Cover the bones with just enough water. Bring to a rolling boil, and continue to boil for 5 minutes. This step is called parboiling, and helps get rid of the impurities in the bones.
- Drain and rinse out the bones. Try to get the blood and gunk out of the nooks and crannies to keep our resulting broth clean. You want to wash the pot as well.
- Add back the parboiled and rinsed bones, plus 4 quarts (16 cups) of water. Simmer on medium-low heat for 1 hour 30 minutes*. Keep the pot either fully or partially covered to prevent too much liquid from evaporating.
* Note: If using Instant Pot, cook on High Pressure for 30 minutes. If your Instant Pot can’t fit all that liquid, you can go ahead and reduce the amount of liquid, and just dilute it when the stock is done.
Let’s prepare the vermicelli and herbs plate!
- In a large pot, boil the vermicelli until soft (Not al dente! This needs to be cooked all the way through.) Once cooked, drain the liquid and run under cold water until the noodles are cool and bouncy. Be careful not to burn yourself! You can portion them out by twisting the noodles into a loop and letting them rest on a strainer. You can’t eat vermicelli immediately. They must be rested in a strainer basket for at least an hour until ready to use. This helps them absorb the soup flavor.
- Prepare your banana flowers if using. You have to slice them and let them sit in vinegar water for at least half an hour. I use 1 tablespoon of white vinegar per 1 cup of cold water. You can taste them throughout. They are done soaking if they lose that bitter, banana-skin flavor. It’s pretty unpalatable otherwise.
- Wash and prepare your limes and herb garnishes onto a serving plate. Set aside until ready to use.
While your stock is simmering away, let’s make the tomato seasoning!
- In a shallow pan, heat up the neutral oil, and sauté the shallots and garlic until slightly golden in color.
- Add in the tomato paste and sauté until we get some color.
- Finally, add in the shrimp paste and tomatoes, and cook until the tomatoes have softened slightly. Remove from heat and set aside.
- The fried tofu will be added directly to the soup later, so don’t worry!
Time to make some meatballs!
- Soak 1 cup of dried shrimp in warm water for 20 minutes. Drain and blitz in a food processor (or mince by hand).
- For the best flavor, mince the dried shrimp, then the raw shrimp into a fine paste. Mix in the minced garlic, minced shallot, crab in spices, and then stir in the eggs.
- Season with salt + pepper and set aside.
We’re almost there!
- At this point, your stock should be about done. Remove the bones and season with 2 tablespoons of bún riêu seasoning to start. You can adjust later.
- Add in the tomato seasoning mixture, then the fried tofu.
- Next, use a spoon and dollop the meatballs into the broth, one by one, until all the mixture is used.
- Bring to a boil. Once boiled, turn down to medium heat until the meatballs are cooked all the way through. They should cook within minutes, since they are quite porous.
At this point, taste the soup. You may want to add more bún riêu seasoning or salt, to your liking. You may even choose to add some more shrimp paste. Everyone has their own preference! I prefer mine funky, so I always add more shrimp paste. Use salt if you want a cleaner broth.
Assemble your perfect bowl and enjoy!