Sinigang is a traditional Filipino soup. It is characterized by its medley of sweet, tangy, and tart flavors. While it is typically made with pork, I love this shrimp version because it is so light and fresh tasting. It’s the kind of soup that is just as home when it’s a little chilly out as it is in our sweltering Miami heat. My husband is from the Phillipines so I make Sinigang Shrimp Soup when he’s feeling homesick. And while deeply flavorful, it comes together very quickly with the help of some streamlined techniques and ingredients that pack a punch. It’s also a great way to add some extra vegetables into your meal.
It’s all about the broth!
Making it flavorful
I start this soup by making a deeply flavored broth. I cheat a little by using store bought chicken broth; I prefer the low sodium kind so I can control both the amount of salt, and the quality of the salt in my finished dish. After sautéing my aromatics, fresh ginger and onion, I add the chicken stock and simmer to steep the flavors. If you have homemade chicken stock, feel free to use it here and your soup will be even more delicious.
Frozen shrimp is absolutely fine and delicious. In fact, almost all of the shrimp that is available to purchase is frozen. And unless you have a source for locally caught shrimp and can get it right off the boat, frozen is convenient and available year round. Frozen shrimp is flash frozen when caught, preserving its freshness. When you get “fresh” shrimp at most grocers, it has been previously frozen and is sitting in its thawed water for days, adversely affecting the texture.
So if you have a choice, ask them if they have frozen shrimp and defrost it yourself. I usually buy peeled, tail on shrimp, 21/25 size, meaning that there are 21-25 pieces of shrimp per pound. You can use larger shrimp, like 16/20, or smaller like 36/40, but you will have to adjust your cooking time accordingly. To thaw it, I put the shrimp into a bowl of cold water. They thaw in less than 10 minutes, and then I drain and pat them dry. If the recipe calls for a quick shrimp broth, I buy unpeeled shrimp so I can use the peels and tails for that purpose.
To give the Sinigang broth its characteristic tart flavor, I add tamarind concentrate. Tamarind is a fruit used throughout Asia and Latin America. It has a rich, sweet flavor combined with citrusy notes. It’s readily available in Miami since it is used in many Latin dishes, but any decent Asian grocer should have it, as well as being available online. There really isn’t a great substitution for it; pureed apricots may be used, but your soup will still be delicious without it. We also add vinegar, lemon juice, fish sauce, and some brown sugar which will give it lots of zing and authentic Filipino flavor. Fish sauce, a traditional ingredient across Southeast Asia, imparts a pungent blast of umami flavor. These days it is stocked in the Asian section of most grocery stores. While it smells very fishy in the bottle, it really adds a nice bit of salty funky flavor, and the pungent scent kind of dissipates in the dish (or maybe your nose just gets used to it!).
Once the broth has simmered, it’s time to add the veggies. I use Chinese eggplant, which is longer, thinner, and more tender than its Italian cousin. It also has fewer seeds, making it less bitter. Chinese eggplant can be found at Asian markets, but you can use Italian or Globe as well. Alternatively, feel free also to add or sub your favorite vegetables. For example, zucchini or summer squash would work well here, as would trimmed snow peas. If you have some mushrooms you need to use up, they would be great additions too. The vegetables only need to cook in the simmering broth for a few minutes: just until they are soft and tender!
Then we add the vinegar, tomato and the shrimp, which will cook very quickly, just 1-2 minutes. Once the shrimp starts to curl up and turn pink, we add the spinach and then remove from heat. Finally, taste the soup, and adjust the seasonings. If you want it with a saltier, funkier punch, add a little more fish sauce. If you want it tarter, add a little more tamarind or vinegar.
Your delicious, authentic Sinigang Shrimp Soup is ready to eat! A healthy flavorful dish made in under an hour!
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A light and bright fresh soup, with traditional sweet and sour Filipino flavors.
- 1 Tablespoon neutral oil
- ½ large onion cut in half lengthwise and thinly sliced
- 2-inch piece fresh ginger (about 1 oz.), peeled and lightly smashed
- 4 cloves large garlic lightly smashed
- 3 cups chicken broth (use low salt if store bought)
- 4 oz tamarind concentrate
- 2 tablespoon fish sauce
- 2 teaspoons light brown sugar
- 1 chinese eggplant cut in half lengthwise and then thinly sliced
- 1 medium tomato cut in half, seeded, and diced into medium cubes
- 4 oz green beans, trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces
- ¼ cup white vinegar
- ½ pound large shrimp (21/25 size), peeled and deveined
- 5 oz baby spinach
- Heat the oil in a heavy soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Add the onion, ginger, and garlic and cook until they soften and are aromatic, about 3 minutes. Take care to keep the aromatics from burning by lowering the heat if necessary.
- Add the chicken broth, tamarind concentrate, fish sauce and light brown sugar and bring to a simmer. Lower the heat so that the broth simmers gently for 15 minutes.
- Add the eggplant and green beans and simmer for 3-4 mins.
- Stir in the tomatoes and simmer for another 2 mins. and then add the vinegar and shrimp and simmer until the shrimp is just cooked through 1-2 mins.
- Add the spinach, taste the soup and adjust seasoning (add fish sauce or salt if needed).
- Serve the soup immediately with lemon wedges on the side for friends to add as they like. (Make sure to fish out the ginger before serving.)