Chinese Yam with Pork Ribs soup

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Chinese yam, also known as 淮山 (“huai shan”)  or 山藥 (“shan yao”), is a root that Chinese people eat as a mild tonic food. It is supposed to be good for the spleen, lungs and kidneys. My mother-in-law extols its virtues and in recent years she has added several slices of the Chinese yam in practically every soup she makes, regardless of whether she is making corn soup, fish soup, chicken soup or melon soup. Considering that she looks so beautiful and youthful at her age (85) and that it is good for the lungs, I decided to make a version that is chuckful of the goodness of sweet fresh Chinese yam with spareribs by modifying two recipes I found online. I was amazed by the result. It was refreshing and delicious. This recipe is a keeper! 

Goji berry has been used in Chinese cuisine for thousands of years but recently it has become a super food for Westerners. It is high in vitamin C, has high levels of anti-oxidants and is great for the eyes and skin, provides immune system support and improves anxiety and sleep. In this time of the Covid-19 or Wuhan coronavirus, we can all do with a little tonic to strengthen our lungs and immune system. 

In some countries like Taiwan or Japan (where it’s called nagaimo), Chinese yam is available fresh as a strange looking hairy, humongous root. If you don’t find it in the fresh section of your grocery store, it is available in the dried sliced form in most Chinese groceries.  If you are using the dried version, do remember to rinse it before cooking. Fresh Chinese yam is better for this recipe as it is sweeter.  When cooked in soup, its texture and taste is like potatoes. The fresh yam can also be sliced thinly and stir fried (that’s going to be another blog post in the future).  

About 6 -8 inches long fresh Chinese yam 山藥 “shan yao” (peeled, washed and sliced)
Spare ribs or lean pork (cut into pieces)
6 Red dates
3 dried figs
Handful of goji berries (also known as wolfberries)
2 slices of ginger
1 tbsp Shaoxing wine or Chinese rice wine
water
Salt to taste

  1. Parboil the spareribs in small amount of water that just covers the spareribs for 2-3 mins. Discard the water that is used to parboil the spareribs.
  2. Rinse the spareribs in fresh water to remove the brown foamy bits.
  3. Fill the pot with fresh water, put in the spareribs, shan yao, dates, figs, goji berries and ginger.
  4. Boil on high for 15 mins, then lower heat to continue boiling for 45 mins. Add in the wine and salt to taste towards the end of cooking time.
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Left to right: Goji berries, dried figs, red dates

Loofah soup

soup with clams
Loofah with Clams soup

You had probably used a loofah sponge in your life, in the shower perhaps, but did you know it comes from the loofah gourd which is an edible vegetable? It doesn’t taste like much on its own but in Taiwan where it is called “shi gua” 絲瓜 , it is commonly found in the local markets and it is often made into delicious soups, like Loofah with Clams soup or Loofah with Carrots and Vermicelli soup.  It is perfect for the hot summer weather as it is nourishing and replenishes fluids; and with the addition of vermicelli, it can be a meal in itself. Enjoy!

Recipe for the Loofah with Carrots and Vermicelli Soup:

1 small piece of lean pork
1 loofah
2 carrots
3 dried scallops
3 dried figs
4 dried red dates
vermicelli

Method:

  1. Rinse the dried scallops, then leave it to soak in a cup of hot water for 1 hour. Remember to keep the soaking water to add to the soup.
  2. Cut the lean pork into thin slices.
  3. Peel and cut the loofah and carrots into small chunks.
  4. Rinse the dried figs and red dates.
  5. Put all the above ingredients into a pot. Add 6 – 8 cups of water.
  6. Boil on high heat for 10 mins, then lower the heat to boil for another 50 mins.
  7.  Add vermicelli and salt to taste.

Loofah with Clams soup:   Omit the carrots, instead you add fresh clams to the pot towards the last 10 mins of the cooking process; and garnish with cut spring onions and thinly sliced ginger before serving.

Loofah with Shrimp soup: Fresh shrimp in shell may be used instead of clams.

 

Savory Tofu Soup 鹹豆漿

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Savory Tofu Soup is a traditional breakfast which a lot of people in China and Taiwan grew up eating. Most people know of soy milk as a drink but when soy milk is heated up with vinegar, it curdles into chunks of soft delicious tofu swimming in a salty, vinegary broth (tastes kind of like a hot and sour soup).

It is often eaten with scallion pancakes, Chinese egg pancakes (Dan Bing) and crusty buns filled with pork, vegetables or sweet egg cream (Shao Bing).

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Shao Bing

There is a famous market stall in Taipei, called FuHang (阜杭豆漿) in HuaShan Market, across the road from Shandao Temple that sells freshly made soy milk as well as this savory tofu soup and traditional buns made fresh on the premises.   They have an open kitchen where you can watch them knead the dough and bake the buns in huge earthen jars …. it’s great fun to watch the kitchen workers make the Shao Bing while you are in line, inching towards the cashier. It is such a popular place that there are always lines running outside the stall, down the stairs to the first floor, and sometimes snaking around the outside of the building!  The queue starts from the minute the stall opens at 5:30 am to around noon when they sell out.

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Baking Shao Bin at FuHang

The savory tofu soup is actually quite simple to make it yourself at home. The ingredients can be bought ahead of time.  If you live in western countries, you can find ready-made scallion pancakes and Chinese fried dough crullers at the freezer section of most Asian supermarkets. Whether homemade or ready-made, scallion pancakes go really well with this tofu soup, and you are sure to impress your family with this traditional Chinese Sunday breakfast!

 

Ingredients:

Unsweetened soy milk
Chinese black vinegar
Salt
Pepper
Sesame oil
preserved vegetables 榨菜
a few stalks of spring onions, chopped
Chinese fried dough crullers 油条, toasted and cut into slices
chili oil (optional)
dried shrimp or dried Sakura shrimp (optional, may be omitted for a vegetarian option)

Method:

  1. Heat the soy milk in a saucepan.
  2. In a small bowl, mix together a few teaspoons vinegar, salt, pepper to taste, a drizzle of sesame oil, a few teaspoons picked vegetables, chili oil and dried shrimp, according to your own taste.
  3. Pour the mixture into the hot soy milk and let stand for a minute, without stirring.
  4.  Ladle out the tofu soup into a serving bowl.
  5. Garnish with chopped spring onions and Chinese fried dough crullers. Serve hot.
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Freshly made fried dough crullers at FuHang

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.


Borsch Soup

 

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Borsch is classic Ukranian soup which my family enjoys. It is perfect for a cold weather day, especially great for surviving this year’s deadly polar vortex in the U.S.  It uses a lot of vegetables and it’s wonderfully satisfying.   Every time I make Borsch I think of my father who used to take the family to Troika, a Russian restaurant in Singapore, when I was a child.  In Hong Kong, it is a staple winter soup and it is called 羅宋湯  (“lor sung tong”) in Cantonese. In the Chinese version, there are no beets and sour cream is omitted.  For a vegatarian option, this soup can be made without any meat.  This is a really easy recipe – no skills required!

1/2 can sliced beets
2 carrots
1 onion
1 potato
1/2 head of cabbage
3 Tbsp tomato paste
2 tomatoes
180 g beef stew meat or oxtail
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
pepper
chopped dill
sour cream

Method:

  1. Peel carrots and potato. wash then cut into chunks.
  2. Wash the cabbage, tomatoes and onion, then cut into chunks.
  3.  Cut the beef stew meat into bite-sized pieces.
  4. Put all the ingredients into a huge soup pot. Add 10-12 cups of water and boil on high for 20 mins, then simmer for another 40 mins.
  5. Add sugar (if it’s too sour), salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Serve hot with dill and a dollop of sour cream

Creamy Chanterelle Mushroom soup

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Today I forced myself to stay at home and get my tax return done (sigh… it’s that time of the year), so it’s the perfect excuse to make a comforting bowl of mushroom soup to go with toasted garlic bread.

This recipe works well with any kind of mushrooms.  I had some bits of chanterelle mushroom stems which I had saved from another recipe (they were too tough to be used in a stir fry) and I added a handful of morel mushrooms to make this soup.

1/2 cup of chanterelle mushroom stems – soaked
a handful of dried morel mushrooms – soaked
1 cup low sodium chicken broth or homemade chicken broth
1/2 cup milk
1 clove garlic – peeled and crushed
2 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp flour

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Dried chanterelle
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Dried morel

Method:

1. Put the mushroom stems in a blender with a bit of water to make a puree.
2. Place the mushroom puree in a medium saucepan.
3. Add chicken stock and milk.  Bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and set aside.
4. Melt 2 Tbsp butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Stir fry the garlic quickly for a few minutes until it is almost brown.
5. Add in the sliced morel mushrooms and stir fry for 5 minutes.
6. In a small bowl, make a slurry by adding a few tablespoons of the soup to the flour, stirring well to prevent any lumps.
7. Combine well the slurry with the morel mushrooms.
8. Stir the morel mushroom mixture into the soup and simmer for about 20 minutes.
9. Add salt and pepper to taste.
10. Serve immediately.

Note: In a pinch, open a can of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup, and simmer with the mushroom puree and sliced morel mushrooms.  The chanterelle and morel mushrooms really jazz up canned soup! 🙂

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.