Sinigang sounded like such a strange, but incredible soup when I first heard about it on Francis Lam’s Splendid Table. It sounded like just the kind of recipe you could go crazy with and make your own in a flash if you understood the few crucial components that added flavour to the broth. Yes, it is basically just a broth that’s been flavoured frugally with fish heads, prawns and freshly squeezed tamarind paste. It’s also one of the most sustainable dishes I’ve come across as everything from the rice soaking water to fish heads make their way into this soup.
It’s also incredibly seasonal as Lam points out, which is to say that the souring agents change with the seasons. I used guava and tomatoes in this particular one, but you could add other sour fruits like mangosteen, pummelo, unripe watermelon or just up the lime or tamarind as per what’s available to you. The idea of this soup is to add a complex sour note to the final broth, which is why a combination of different souring agents helps instead of using just one. It would be interesting to see how a kokum singang would turn out, or even a sinigang using bimbli from Goa would be fascinating. In the absence of any or all of these, vinegar works too.
This Filipino soup is to be ladled over rice and can include vegetables, which can also be added as per your preference. I added radish to this one, which softened in the fish stock and tasted totally different from what it does when raw. You could add mushrooms, carrots, cauliflower, really just about anything that could go in a soup can go into this sinigang.
Filipino Sour Prawn Soup With Basmati Rice (Sinigang)
Yield 6 servings
This easy to make Filipino seafood soup is also the kind of nourishing broth I’d like a large bowl of when I’m down with the flu. Endlessly adaptable, this particular one uses the layered sourness from tamarind, tomatoes, guava and limes but you can play around as much or as little as you like with the sour components.
Head of 1 Rawas fish or Hilsa fish, washed
Prawns 500g, washed and deveined
Tamarind 50-60g of tamarind (1/4 cup) mixed with 100ml of hot water
Water 2 litres
Chicken stock cube 1 or vegetable stock cube
Basmati Rice 2 cups
Onion 2 medium, thinly sliced
Garlic 6 cloves, sliced
Fish sauce 3 tbsp, plus more to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
Tomatoes 200g, roughly chopped
Guavas underripe 2, roughly chopped
Lime juice from 2 limes
Radish or mooli 200g, any greens attached chopped
Spinach, Sarson greens, Beet Greens, Amaranth (any one) 100g, roughly chopped
You want to start on the rice first. Add the basmati rice to a bowl and fill with water that’s two fingers above the surface of the rice at least. Use your fingers to loosely rub the rice which should turn the water a milky colour, for about a minute. Drain this water keeping a firm hand on the rice as you tilt to pour the water out. Fill with water again and repeat this rubbing motion. The water should turn a milky white again. Don’t discard this water but instead pour it into the vessel/stockpot that you’ll be making the sinigang in. Fill the rice bowl with water again and let your fingers run through the rice once again. Pour this water into the stockpot as well.
Top up the water in the stock pot till it’s about 2 litres and cover with a lid and place over a high flame. Let this come to a boil. Simultaneously fill another pot with water with 3 cups of water to cook the rice. Cover this too with a lid letting both pots come up to a boil.
Once the rice’s water is boiling, add the rice with about 1 tsp of salt. Give it a minute for the salt to dissolve and for the rice to come back to a boil. Once it does, you want to turn the heat to low and put a lid on. Wait 15 minutes and check on the rice. It should have just a wee bit of water at the bottom. Again, clamp the lid on and let it steam for an additional 10-12 minutes after which each grain should be well cooked and fluffy. Use a fork to fluff the rice.
For the singang, once the diluted rice soaking water comes to a boil, add the chicken stock cube, onion and garlic and turn the heat down to a medium. After a few minutes when you see that the stock cube has dissolved completely, you want to add the tamarind extract. Again using your fingers try to work as much extract from the tamarind concentrate that’s been soaking in hot water. You want to work the same amount of tamarind concentrate at least twice to extract all the tamarind’s sourness. You could also do this in a wire mesh strainer over the pot with the soup. I find that this makes it a lot easier. After adding the tamarind paste, add the guava, the tomatoes and the fish sauce and bring everything up to a boil again. Once the liquid is boiling, add the radish and turn the heat down to a simmer and let this stock simmer for 15 minutes at least before checking the salt, adjusting with salt or fish sauce. Add about 1/2 tsp of black pepper and the juice of one lime first.
Finally with the stock still simmering, add the fish head, the prawns, radish greens and any additional greens you’ll be adding to your sinigang and cook briefly till both fish head and prawn are cooked, about 4-5 minutes by which time the greens should be done too and ladle the soup onto bowls of the fluffed up basmati rice. Top with more lime juice if needed.