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Soups: Sweet and Savory

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Soups and Congees

Spring Volume: 2017 Issue: 24(1) pages: 8 to 10

Many tales inform about Chinese royals with or without soups. One we remember is about Emperor Qianlong who ruled from 1736 to 1796, and a famous savory soup made with tofu, a carp head, and broad bean sauce. It launched what became a famous restaurant with just these simple ingredients. When word got out about this fish head and tofu soup, its Hangzhou eatery became famous. Other soups were not as famous as this one made with vegetable stock. There was Rib Tea Soup popular in Singapore, Turtle Soup loved in Taiwan, Congee and Pearl Meat Broth appreciated in Southern China, Floating Cloud and Oxtail Soup adored in Beijing, and Scallop Soup eaten often in China’s north.

Soups are important dishes at every main Chinese meal and at many Chinese snack meals. Most were consumed at the end of a meal, some just sitting on the table there to be eaten whenever a diner wants them. Some eat soup several times during one meal to wash down other ingredients. The location of Chinese soups at many meals is changing. It is moving to the beginning of a meal and not at the end as they used to be.

Some Chinese eat more than one soup at a single meal as do the people from the Fujian Province. They can enjoy two or three at every meal. Feel free to try many soups below and those listed in the index of this magazine or found in many Chinese cookbooks. Feel free to try more than one at any given meal.

Tofu Vegetable Soup
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1 onion, peeled and sliced from root to top
½ cup broccoli, thinly sliced
½ cup cauliflower, thinly sliced
1 cup drained canned straw mushrooms, each cut in half
½ cup drained winter bamboo shoots, thinly sliced
1 Tablespoon dried wood ear fungi, soaked in warm water, then coarsely chopped
2 Tablespoon thin soy sauce
8 cups vegetable stock
1/4 pound firm tofu, sliced

1. Heat a wok or a large pot and then heat the oil and stir-fry the onion for three minutes until soft and beginning to caramelize. Next add the broccoli and the cauliflower and stir-fry them for two minutes.
2. Now add the straw mushrooms and the wood ear fungi and continue to stir-fry for two more minutes.
3. Now pour in the soy sauce and the soup stock and bring this to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for five minutes.
4. Lastly, add the tofu and simmer on low for five minutes, then pour the soup into pre-heated individual soup bowls or a large soup tureen.
Fish Head and Tofu Soup
1 carp head, cleaned and scaled, the gills removed
3 Tablespoons broad-bean sauce
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
½ pound firm tofu, thinly sliced
2 Tablespoons Shao Xing wine
2 Tablespoons thin soy sauce
1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
2 Tablespoons minced bamboo shoots
4 Tablespoons soaked Chinese black mushrooms, stems
discarded, caps minced
2 slices fresh ginger, peeled and minced
2 garlic shoots, thinly slivered
1 Tablespoon lard

1. Flatten the fish head with the side of a cleaver and brush it with the broad bean sauce.
2. Pre-heat a wok or large fry pan, then add the oil, and fry the fish head on both sides one to two minutes each.
3. Now add the tofu and stir gently for another minute or two.
4. Carefully stir in the wine, soy sauce, and sugar, stir for one minute, then add six cups of water and bring to the boil.
5. Next add the bamboo shoots, mushrooms, and ginger and bring almost to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for fifteen minutes.
6. Lastly, add the garlic shoots and the lard and stir for one minute, then serve.
Rice Noodle Soup
½ pound dried rice noodle sticks (called mei fun)
1/4 pound shelled medium shrimp, veins removed and discarded, each cut in three or four pieces
2 eggs, well beaten, and made into an omelette, cut it into slivers and set it aside
4 to 6 peeled and minced shallots
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
8 cups vegetable or fish stock
2 tablespoons thin soy sauce

1. Simmer dried rice sticks for four minutes, then drain and rinse them in cold water.
2. Heat a wok, add the oil and fry them stirring for half a minute.
3. Next, in a large pot, bring the stock to the boil, add the rice noodles and the soy sauce, and the egg slivers, stir and serve in individual soup bowls.
Pork Rib Tea Soup
2 Pounds pork spare ribs, cut into individual boned pieces, in one- to two-inch lengths
6 cloves peeled garlic cloves, each one smashed
1-inch piece tung kwai (optional)
3 sticks Chinese cinnamon
6 star anise
1 Tablespoon each, white and back peppercorns
1 teaspoon coarse salt
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon dark soy sauce
2 Tablespoons dried shallot flakes
1 small chili pepper, seeds discarded, and slivered
1 Chinese cruller, thinly sliced on the diagonal

1. Make a packet in cheesecloth of the tung kwai, cinnamon, star anise, and peppercorns tied tightly.
2. Boil this with the spare ribs in three quarts of water for one hour, remove, scum and then add the salt, sugar, soy sauce, and half the shallot flakes and half the chili pepper slivers, and simmer for another hour, then add the cruller slices and the rest of the chili peppers.
3. Serve in individual soup bowls and sprinkle the rest of the shallot flakes and chili pepper slivers on the top of each bowl; and serve.
Turtle, Pork, and Kidney Soup
1 small turtle, removed from its shell, and thinly sliced, the shell set aside
2 Tablespoons goji berries
1 pork heart, veins removed, then minced
1 pork kidney, veins removed, then chopped coarsely

1. Bring eight cups water to the boil, add the turtle shell, reduce the heat, and simmer for fifteen minutes, then remove and discard the shell or show it off in a soup tureen.
2. Add turtle meat, goji berries, and the cut-up heart and kidney meats. Simmer for four or five minutes then ladle everything into the pre-heated soup tureen; and serve.
Two-Way Scallops in Soup
1 dry scallop, soaked for one hour until soft, then shredded
8 cups chicken broth
2 fresh sea scallops, slivered, then blanched for one minute
5 Chinese black mushrooms, soaked for an hour stems removed and discarded, the caps slivered
2 Tablespoons slivered smoked ham
2 Tablespoons canned drained bamboo shoots shredded
1 Tablespoon dark soy sauce
½ teaspoon salt
2 egg yolks
2 teaspoons cornstarch mixed with 1 Tablespoon cold water

1. Simmer shredded dry scallop pieces in the chicken broth for half an hour.
2. Add fresh sea scallop pieces, the mushroom slivers, ham, bamboo shoots, soy sauce, and salt and simmer another five minutes, then add the cornstarch mixture mixed with the egg yolks, stir, and serve.
Floating Cloud Soup
½ lamb brain. Membrane removed and discarded
4 Chinese black mushrooms soaked in two cups of warm water, remove and discard their stems, then sliver them
1 tablespoon Shao Xing wine
1 teaspoon coarse salt
2 scallions, finely slivered on an angle
1/8 teaspoon ground back pepper
1 Tablespoon goji berries

1. Cut brain into one-inch pieces, and add them and two cups of mushroom or plain water to a large pot, and bring to the boil.
2. Then simmer for five minutes, then toss in the scallion slivers. Serve in preheated soups bowls.
Seaweed and Water Chestnut Soup
2 seven-inch sheets of nori (seaweed sheets) broken into small pieces
6 cups chicken stock
½ pound firm tofu, slivered
1/4 pound ground pork
½ teaspoon salt 10 water chestnuts. Peeled and slivered
2 egg yolks or 1 whole egg, beaten well

1. Put nori pieces, stock, tofu, salt, and water chestnut pieces into a large pot, bring to below the boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and stir often for ten minutes.
2. Now raise the heat, stir in the egg, then tun off the heat source.
3. Next serve in pre-heated soup bowls.
Oxtail Soup With Peanuts
1 oxtail, cut into one-inch pieces
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup vegetable oil
1 onion, peeled and cut into wedges top to root
½ cup Chinese celery, cut into thin angle pieces
½ cup Chinese parley, minced
3 Tablespoons roasted peanuts, shells and paper skins removed and discarded, and chopped coarsely
2 raw wonton skins, finely slivered
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
3 shallots, peeled and slivered
6 cups chicken or vegetable stock

1. Toss oxtail pieces with the cornstarch, and set aside for ten minutes, then deep fry in the oil for five minutes, then drain and discard the oil or save for another use.
2. Heat wok, add the oil, and stir-fry the onion for three minutes, then add the celery, parsley, and the peanuts, and sir well.
3. Next, add the wonton slivers, salt, pepper, the shallots, and the stock. Simmer for five minutes, then serve in a tureen or individual soup bowls.

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