Old cucumber soup

Old Cucumber Soup with Red Dates and Wolfberries

This is a detoxifying soup that is perfect for any day.  It is soothing and nourishing for the body.  It is made with Chinese wolfberries (also known as Goji berries or “kei zi”) that pack a nutritious punch. Wolfberries provide a variety of antioxidants, including plant pigments called phenols, polysaccharides, vitamins A and C, beta carotene, lycopene, riboflavin, thiamine, and selenium.  Traditional Chinese medicine uses wolfberries to treat dry skin and dry cough. It is also supposedly good for the eyes.

1 old cucumber (老黄瓜 “lou wong gua” in Cantonese) IMG_1981
100 g lean pork – cut into 1 inch pieces
1 small dried cuttlefish – rinsed (optional)
5 dried red dates
5 dried figs (无花果 “mo fa guo” in Cantonese) or dried honey dates
2 dried scallops – rinse and soak in fresh water overnight
2 Tbsp wolfberries (构 杞 “kei zi” in Cantonese) – rinsed

Method:

  1.  Peel the old cucumber. Cut it lengthwise into 2 halves, using a spoon scoop out the soft, pulpy center where the seeds are.  Discard the soft pulp and seeds.
  2. Put the pork into the soup pot and add just enough water to cover it.  Blanch for a 1-2 minutes to remove the scum from the blood in the meat. Drain and discard the water that is used to blanch the pork.
  3. Add the rest of the ingredients to the pot.  Do not discard the soaking water for the scallops, add it into the pot too.  Add in 10 cups of water and boil on high for 20 minutes, then simmer for 40 mins.
  4. Add salt to taste
  5. Serve hot.

Note:  I omitted the the dried cuttlefish when I made this soup (in picture) as I didn’t have any in my pantry.


Winter Melon Soup

Happy New Year!  I had started writing this post last week but didn’t get the chance to finish it.   My kids came back for Christmas this year.  It was so wonderful to have everyone home again!  So much catching up to do,  making excursions to various places all over the city to indulge in their favorite local foods – hainanese chicken rice, satay, roti prata, xiao long bao dumplings, la mian noodles, dim sum, butter chicken with naan bread,  hokkien fried noodles, teppanyaki, laksa, kueh tutu, muah chee, ice kacang and tea tarik etc, making childhood treats that they missed and baking for Christmas.

As if that wasn’t enough to cause food coma, we took time off to celebrate Dongzhi Festival … by another round of eating! To people from Hong Kong or China, Dongzhi or the Winter Solstice Festival (冬至 which means the Arrival of Winter) is one of the most important festivals in the year.  It is almost as important as Chinese New Year which is a very big deal. Dongzhi is sort of like Thanksgiving.   Traditionally, family members would travel for miles to get together for a reunion dinner.  When we lived in Hong Kong where we have a large extended family, everybody from uncles, aunts, cousins and their children – would gather in my in-laws’ home for dinner.  Imagine a table heaving with dishes like steamed fish, giant tiger prawns, chicken with fragrant ginger and spring onion dipping sauce, roast pork with golden, crispy skin, braised mushrooms in oyster sauce and jade green pea shoots (dou miao) stir fried with garlic.    There were so many people in the tiny apartment that sometimes we had to eat in shifts!

For our own Dongzhi celebration that just passed,  I made a much simpler meal and a classic Chinese soup – Winter Melon Soup. Winter melon itself is quite mild in taste, so to make this soup flavorful, I added ingredients like dried scallops and ham. I like to use Yunnan ham (available in some Chinese groceries) and renowned for its rich flavor and the taste is truly outstanding.  If you don’t have any Yunnam ham, you may omit it or substitute it with ordinary ham.

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1 and 1/2 lbs winter melon
4 oz lean pork (cut into thick slices)
2 oz ham (cut into cubes, optional)
4 black shiitake mushrooms (soaked overnight and cut into small cubes)
2 dried scallops (soaked overnight)
2 honey dates
3 red dates
2 slices ginger
2 tsp salt
1/2 tbsp Chinese cooking wine
2 oz small shelled shrimp or crab meat (optional)

1.  Wash the dried shiitake mushrooms.  Soak them overnight, then cut into small cubes.

2.  Wash the dried scallops and soak them overnight.  Save the liquid they are soaked in. This liquid can be added to the soup.

3.  Remove and discard the skin from the winter melon.  Remove and discard the center part (soft pulp with seeds).  Then cut the rest of the winter melon into small cubes

4.  Place the pork in a pot with just enough water to cover it. Parboil the pork for a few minutes to remove the blood and scum.  Pour away the water that is used for parboiling.

5.  Put all the ingredients in the pot.  Fill the pot with 8 cups of water and boil on high for 20 minutes until it comes to a rolling boil.  Then reduce the heat and simmer for an hour. If too much liquid had evaporated during the boiling process, add in an extra cup of water and bring it to a boil again.

6.  Remove the ginger slices before serving.

Grandma’s Chicken Soup

This chicken soup will make you feel warm and fuzzy inside. As the soup simmers, a rich, mouth-watering aroma wafts through the air, teasing and testing your patience against the clock. Imagine supple chunks of chicken, flavorful red wolfberries (attractive and also nourishing to your body!), and black shiitake mushrooms in a clear golden broth.

Whenever the whole extended family gets together to celebrate festive occasions like Dragon Boat Festival or Winter Festival, my mother-in-law will prepare this soup with a whole chicken; a very big pot for 10-12 people! For the kids and I, Grandma’s Famous Chicken Soup is no ordinary soup but is synonymous with feeling of the love and warmth of family reunion. Here’s how to cook the delicious broth in a small kitchen using 3 big chicken thighs (with attached drumsticks).

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Ingredients:

3  chicken thighs with drumsticks

2 – 3 pieces dried scallops (soaked overnight)

2 pieces of dried shiitake mushrooms (soaked overnight)

1 small piece of pork, about 30 grams, cut into smaller chunks

a handful of wolfberries (washed and drained)

10 cups of water

2 stalks of spring onion

1 small piece of fresh ginger, about the size of a quarter (25 cents coin)

 salt to taste

Method:

1.  Wash and soak the dried shiitake mushrooms overnight.   Throw away the water in which you soaked the mushrooms. Cut the mushrooms into small cubes.

2.  Wash and soak the dried scallops overnight in a cup of water.   Keep the water in which the dried scallops are soaked, it can be added to the soup.

3.   Remove the chicken skin by peeling it back over the drumstick and pulling it out at the leg bone part.  Wash and put the chicken pieces aside.

4.  Cover the pork in a bit of water and parboil it for a few minutes to get rid of the blood and scum.  Throw away the water.

5.  Put the chicken pieces into the pot with the pork.  Add all the other ingredients, 10 cups of fresh water and the water in which you soaked the dried scallops.  Cook over medium high heat for half an hour or until it becomes a rolling boil.   Reduce the heat and boil for another 1 hour.

6.  If necessary, add in 1 – 2 more cups of water towards the last half hour of the cooking period if you noticed that too much water had evaporated.

Hint:

If you had forgotten to soak the dried shiitake mushrooms or the dried scallops the night before, you can soak them in hot water (separately) at least 2 hours before cooking and it would be almost as good. Enjoy! 🙂