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Souper Soup

by M. Leung

Soups and Congees

Summer Volume: 2000 Issue: 7(2) page(s): 9 and 10

The fundamentals for all tasty and healthy food are fresh ingredients and Souper Soup. In cooking meat or vegetables, a good Chinese chef always uses Souper Soup instead of water. Souper Soup brings out both the flavor and aroma of the different ingredients in a dish. Since there are meat-eaters and vegetarians, there are two versions of Souper Soup. First I am going to present the meat-eater’s versions; then the vegetarian version.

Meat-eaters Souper Soup: Its ingredients include one pound of pork bones, half pound of ham bones, one pound of roast pork bones, the bones of one chicken, and four pieces of dried abalone. Put all the ingredients in a big pot and cover the ingredients with water and bring to the boil. Let this boil for ten minutes, then turn off the heat. Next throw out the water and soak all the ingredients in cold water for a little while. This process is known in Chinese as: Crossing a cold river.

Next, take four dried scallops, clean them then soak them in water for about four hours until they are soft. Add the softened scallops with the water they soaked in, two whole washed scallions without their roots, a big piece of ginger, four grains of black peppercorns, and twenty cups of water to the solid ingredients that have crossed the cold river. Put everything into a big clean pot and bring this to the boil. Then lower the heat and let this simmer for two hours, skimming the soup as it is being cooked. After the soup is cooked, drain it into a container and save it.

Second Soup for meat-eaters: The ingredients in the pot of Meat-eaters Souper Soup can be reused by adding ten cups of water to them. Bring this to the boil, then simmer for about an hour. This yields what we call a Second Soup.

Both Souper Soup and Second Soup can be used instead of water, but Souper Soup is often used to make Shark’s Fin Soup, Snake Stew, Bird’s Nest Soup, or sauces for any dish; or it is used to cure abalone.

I have to confess though, I did leave out an important ingredient on purpose. That is dried iguana. First of all, dried iguana is hard to come by in North America. Secondly, to the novice in Chinese cuisine, dried iguana might be a little difficult to stomach. To those who are connoisseurs of Souper Soup, if you try my version and found it to be missing some 'je ne sais quoi' then believe me, it is the dried iguana that you are missing.

Vegetarian Souper Soup: Vegetarian dishes really need a souper soup to add taste to the otherwise bland vegetables. To make it, take one pound of dried soybeans and soak them for two hours. Clean and soak two ounces of dried straw mushrooms until they are soft. Next, clean and shell six ounces of fresh chestnuts and clean two ounces of jujubes and remove their pits. You will also need one pound of cleaned soybean sprouts that have been rinsed and dried and one pound stems of dried shiitake mushrooms that were cleaned and soaked until soft.

Bring two gallons of water in a large pot to the boil and add all of the above vegetarian ingredients. Bring the water back to the boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer this for three hours. Remove the solid ingredients and discard them and save this Vegetarian Souper Soup for use.

Here is a recipe that you can make with either variety of Souper Soup. It uses the bamboo mushrooms that were the focus of an article in an earlier issue of Flavor and Fortune, specifically in Volume 6(4) on pages 25 and 30. Before sharing this recipe, let me share a little more about these items that I grew up knowing as bamboo parasites. Actually, bamboo parasite is really a misnomer for these net-like tubes that puff up when soaked.

These bamboo mushrooms are a fungi that when first discovered, grew among bamboo plants; that is why people thought them parasites of the bamboo plant; hence the name. Formerly, they were only harvested in the wild. When people tried to grow them, they discovered that they were not parasites but that the bamboo growth provides ideal conditions for them to survive. Now they are farmed, but somehow the name stuck. It was believed that no one would buy these items without a name. They have had many names since they were found and dubbed bamboo parasites. They have been called bamboo fungi, bamboo pith, and most recently called bamboo mushrooms.

There is a difference between the farmed ones and those harvested in the wild. The wild ones are much thicker and have a different texture; they are more expensive than their newer farmed brethren. Farmed ones used to cost two dollars a pound while the wild ones fetched five times that amount.

When dried, there is a problem and that is that they all look the same. They do become different when rehydrated. I have never seen a fresh bamboo parasite, but from the dehydrated ones, I think that they must resemble hydras. Some are dried in the sun, these are brownish in color; and some are dried in an oven. These are white. However, once exposed to air, eventually all of them turn brown. The tastes are slightly different, try both and decide which you prefer. But now, back to my use of them and Souper Soup.

Take a pound of medium-thick or thin fresh asparagus and get rid of the woody parts; clean them, blanch them, and set them aside. Take about two ounces of what I call bamboo parasites and soak them in cold water; they will puff and become net-like tubes. Change the water after rinsing them and allow them to soak in clean cold water for about an hour. Squeeze out the water and stuff an asparagus into each of the bamboo mushrooms. Take two cups of Souper Soup, bring it to the boil, put in a very deep skillet. Add the asparagus stuffed mushrooms and allow them to simmer until tender. Remove from the pan and put them on a serving platter. Next take a teaspoon of waterchestnut powder and mix this with two tablespoons of cold water. If there is more than a half cup of liquid left in the pan, reduce it until there is just this volume left. Add the waterchestnut mixture and cook until clear, then add a dash of white pepper and a few drops of sesame oil, pour this over the asparagus dish and serve.

Every time I serve it, people marvel at it. There is something very pleasing to the eye with the green asparagus peeping through the eyes of its exterior net. I hope you enjoy this very vegetarian, very delicious, but simple vegetarian dish and as you do, I wish you Bon Appetit!

For the non-vegetarians among you, here are three dishes that use Souper Soup as an ingredient. They are not written in the usual style and are a direct lift from my family recipe file. My family refers to the second and third recipes with the term 'swallow’s nest,' you may be more familiar with the term 'bird’s nest;' these words are interchangeable.
M. Leung was born in Shanghai, China and educated in Hong Kong. In 1966, she came to Boston for Graduate school, obtained an Master's Degree in Library Science from Simmons College then a doctorate in education from SUNY Buffalo. She has taught at Amherst Central High School since 1975 and been editor for the teachers’ union newsletter for seven years.
Snake Stew
3 to 5 snakes
1 roast duck
1 chicken, freshly killed preferred
4 dried scallops, cleaned and soaked in one cup of water until soft
8 medium-size dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked until soft, stems discarded, and cut into thin slivers, reserving the mushroom water
3 pounds fresh bamboo shoots
1 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
dash of white pepper
2 Tablespoons corn oil
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 stalk freesh coriander, cut into one-inch lengths
2 scallions, washed, slivered lengthwise, then cut into one-inch lengths
2 Tablespoons water chestnut flour
3 lemon leaves, rinsed and cut into thin slivers
3 big fresh white or yellow chrysanthemums (see note below), washed and petals pulled out
5 or more soft tortilla chips, sliced and fried for one minute in two tablespoons corn oil
1. Skin the snake, then separate snake meat and bones and put the bones into a cheesecloth bag.
2. Bone the duck and separate the meat, bones, and skin. Discard all fat.
3. Skin the chicken. Leave meat on the bones, and discard all visible fat and skin; then cut into four large pieces if it does not fit into the soup pot.
4. Put the chicken, duck bones, and snake bones into a pot of cold water and boil for ten minutes. Discard the water and soak the rest of the ingredients in cold water for ten minutes, then discard this water. This is the 'Crossing the cold river' process spoken of in the Souper Soup article in this issue.
5. Add three quarts of cold water to the chicken mixture, the dried scallops and their water, and the mushroom water. Bring all of this to the boil then simmer for two hours.
6. Remove chicken and bones, discard the bones or use again another time and separate the chicken meat aside.
6. Prepare the bamboo shoots by peeling them and removing all fibrous material, especially the ends. Boil a quart of water and add the salt and the bamboo shoots and boil this for ten minutes. Drain and rinse under cold running water. The shoots should be ivory. If any part is yellow, taste and if bitter, discard that part. Cut the cooked shoots into slivers and set aside. You will only have about one pound of good quality crispy shoot slivers.
7. Shred duck meat, scallops, and chicken meat and mix with soy sauce. Add cornstarch and white pepper and mix well. Also shred snake meat, but set that aside separately.
8. Heat wok and add the corn oil and garlic and cook only half a minute until the garlic starts to turn brown. Add snake meat and toss for a few seconds then add the other meat mixture and stir-fry one minute before adding the cilantro and scallions slivers.
9. Add the reserved Souper Soup made in this recipe one ladle at a time until there are equal amounts of meat and soup. Reserve the rest for another use.
10. Mix the waterchestnut flour with half cup of cold water and stir well before adding it slowly to the wok. Stir until it thickens. Serve in one large bowl or in individual bowls for each diner.
11. Mix lemon leaves, chrysanthemum petals and tortilla crisps and each diner can add some to own to their bowl of stew.
Serves 8 to 10
Note: I use the ones called 'crabs legs' in Chinese.
Swallow's Nest in Souper Soup
2 ounces dried swallow’s nest (another term for bird’s nest)
1 ounce Yunnan ham (you can substitute with Smithfield ham), finely shredded
8 cups Souper Soup
1. Soak swallow’s nest in clear water for at least two hours. Discard any feathers and other debris and discard the water. Then rinse the nest half dozen times.
2. Add two cups of the Souper Soup to the nest and steam over boiling water for one hour. Be sure to check the steamer periodically to see if there is an adequate amount of water in it; if not, add more. When done, discard all of the Souper Soup liquid and mix the ham shreds with the swallow nest pieces and put them into a soup tureen.
3. Bring the rest of the Souper Soup to the boil, pour over the nest and ham mixture and serve.
Serves 6 to 8.
Sweet Swallow's Nest
2 ounces swallow's nest (this is another term for bird's nest)
1 ounce rock candy
1. Prepare the nests soaking them in clear water for two hours. Discard and feathers and otehr debris and discard the water. Then rinse the nest half dozen times.
2. Dissolve the rock candy in four cups of very hot water in a large bowl that fits into your steamer, then add cleaned nests and steam for one hour over boiling water. Remove and serve.
Serves four.

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