Soup is an important part of a meal to Chinese. Many of them, especially to the Cantonese, believed that having a bowl of good soup every day can help to improve one’s health. During meal time, soup is usually served first as starter. It is thought that the nutrition in soup will be best absorbed by body in empty stomach. Also, the soup which is usually served warm will wake your digestive system up and prepare it for more “complicated” food in time to come.
Soup making is an art. A lot of people will probably thought that soup being the simplest “dish” to prepare only required boiling the ingredients prepared. Actually not true. A lot of people can cook, but they might not make good soup. My mum is one of such person. Visa versa, there are people out there who make good soup, but cannot cook. There are details which one needs to pay attention to in order to make a pot of good soup. As long as the details are noted properly, I am sure everyone can make nutritious and enriching Chinese soup at home!
So, here is the first recipe of my favourite soup - Huai Shan and Winter Melon Soup - 淮山冬瓜枸杞汤.
To note: For this soup, you can omit the meat to make it vegetarian version. Feel free to adjust the portion according to your family size or the size of the pot. Soup-making unlike baking does not required exact measurement (unless you are making medicated soup), thus do not tear your hair out on the portion size.
Meat* 肉类– about 300g
Fresh Huai Shan 新鲜淮山– One stick
Winter Melon 冬瓜– One sliced disc
Carrots 红萝卜– Two
Red Dates 红枣–about 8 to 12, Slice them open, leave the pit in
Dried Longan 龙眼干– 4 to 5 pcs
Dried Wolfberies 枸杞子- a handful
Water – Usually half a pot or a decent-sized bowl of water for each person plus an extra bowl of water for the pot**
Salt to taste
For this recipe, I used Pig soup bones. I only got that at home. Usually, I would prefer to use lean meat, so that the soup will appear clearer. My mum prefered to use spare ribs, but I thought it was too expensive. In any case, lean meat and spare ribs should be cut up in large chunks.
This process is not meant to cook the meat, but to force out excess fats, blood water and impurities in the meat itself. As you can see in the picture below, the brown coloured foam-like subtances are the impurities. If you did not do this extra step, the impurities would cloud up your soup giving it a unpleasant after-taste and the soup will tend to be too oily.
There are several varieties of winter melon. Some are smaller who are sold whole. Some can grow up to 10 to 20 kgs which are usually cut up in "disc" for sale. Remove the seeds and skin. Cut them into large chunks. Winter melon is thought to be good for cooling the body down and regulates blood sugar.
For those who do not know what is Huai Shan. Da daa~ It is a kind of root vegetable with many medicinal propertises like lowering blood sugar and pressure etc. Read here for more details. They are usually sold in vacuum pack like the above, or packed in wood dust. Either of them are good to use, but my mum said that wood dust packed are fresher. I suggest to use one stem for the soup.
Ok, Huai Shan is a bit strange. It produced a slippery sap when skin are peeled off. When comes in contact with water, it get even more slippery. If you left it under running water, it might just disappear into water. I usually peel them with dry hand. Then grab tightly under hand, give it a quick rinse. On a clean cutting board, cut them into chunks.
Here are the dried chinese herbs. They should be given a quick rinse to rid of any dust and dirt. Red dates has to be cut into half, but there is no need to remove the pits.
Noticed how the vegetables are cut up in large chunks? For boiling soup, they cannot be too small a size, otherwise they would just disappear.
Boil water in soup pot.
Hours later, you will noticed that colour of the soup become richer, almost to a beautiful golden colour. As you are about to serve, add in salt to taste. I do not like to season the soup from start as you might over doing it. Sometimes properly simmered soup does not required additional seasoning. Some more particular Chinese would only drink the soup and not eat the ingredients as they thought that the nutrients are all release in the soup.