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Vietnamese Crab and Asparagus Soup

(Sup Mang Tay)

Delicate and moony, this is one of those gorgeous Eurasian hybrids that is neither French nor Vietnamese, but something quite in its own category. French colonialists brought asparagus to Vietnam, but couldn't get it to grow--so they imported cans and cans of it...and the Vietnamese people got hooked. Although the soup is customarily made with canned white asparagus, I prefer fresh--and green is even prettier, to my taste. Serve hot as a first course to 4-6 people. It could be an absolutely sensational start to a perfectly roasted chicken.

  • 1 teaspoon peanut oil
  • ¼ lb. cooked crabmeat, cut into bite-size chunks
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 5 cups Vietnamese chicken stock (or regular chicken stock simmered with a 1-inch piece of smashed ginger)
  • 1 Tablespoon cornstarch dissolved into 2 Tablespoons water
  • 1 lb. asparagus. If using fresh, cut off the tips, slice each spear lengthwise, then chop into halfmoon shapes
  • 1 egg white, lightly beaten

Garnish: 1 thinly sliced green onion; 2 Tablespoons cilantro leaves; red wine vinegar

Heat the oil in a large saucepan, then stir in the crab, salt, and pepper and toss for about 1 minute. Pour in the stock and asparagus and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and cook until the asparagus is tender--about 5 minutes or more, depending on the thickness of the pieces. Stir in the cornstarch liquid and allow it to thicken the soup for a minute or so.

When ready to serve, slowly pour the egg white into the simmering soup, stirring slowly to create ribbons. Let these set for a minute, then ladle the soup into bowls and top with the green onion and cilantro leaves. Serve piping hot--and pass the red wine vinegar separately.