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Savoring Soup

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Soups and Congees

Summer Volume: 2009 Issue: 16(2) page(s): 28, 29 and 30

The first recorded Chinese soup, we believe, was one set down by Qu Yuan, a Chinese poet. He was born in 339 BCE during the Warring States period (476 - 221 BCE). The soup he wrote about was a pheasant soup made with jobs tears, plums, salt, and of course, a wild pheasant.

Boiling anything was a basic technique back then. In an early excavation, bamboo slips found discuss twenty-four cauldrons in three categories: nine Grand Soups, seven White Soups, and eight Vegetable-meat Soups. That pheasant soup probably belongs in the Grand Soup category. Later, the Chinese made soups from chicken, duck, venison, pig, mutton, and other meats, and from vegetables and fish and seafood, too.

Today, the Chinese eat every soup, thick or thin. They eat tripe soup, bone soup, Buddha's Soup, hot soups, cold soups, even soups served at room temperature. Many of them began their lives when hearing their mom savoring Mother's Brew.

That first sound of soup is this so-called 'brew' served to their new mother. Basically, it is a chicken soup considered strengthening, heating, invigorating, pain killing, and blood-cleansing. Based upon chicken, often a black one, it includes fresh ginger to dispel wind, pork and other bones cooked with vinegar to strengthen bones and it is heating. It often included peanuts, dried jujubes, rice wine or whiskey, dried lily buds, and cloud or wood ear fungi, all helping a new mother recover from childbirth. Today, many new Chinese mothers are served this soup by their own mothers or fathers who advise them to stay in bed or at least in the house, and consume Mother's Brew daily for thirty days.

In ancient China, keng or soupy-stews were made with meat, vegetables, and lots of liquid. The word keng meant anything from a thin broth to a thick stew. It and a grain dish are what everyone, prince to pauper, ate at meals, if they could afford time and ingredients to prepare them.

Some were grand soups, some mixed soups, all cooked in one pot or cauldron. Sometimes, the broth or liquid was removed and served separately, the remaining items eaten with chopsticks. These mixed soups were called keng, and we know about them as their pots were found at excavation sites. Sometimes their contents were listed on bamboo slips found there, too.

The da keng or first group of Grand Soups included ox head, mutton, dog flesh, suckling pig, pig, pheasant, duck, chicken, and venison with fish. The bai keng or white ones included soups thickened with rice or some type of grain. T.H. Huang, in Science and Civilization in China (Volume VI:5, ©2000), said these included beef, venison with salted fish and bamboo shoots, venison with taro, venison with small bean, chicken and gourd, fresh sturgeon, and crucian carp with lotus root and salted fish. The mixed meat and vegetable group included three with celery and dog flesh, goose, or carp, three with turnips and beef or beef and pork, and two soups with greens with dog flesh or greens with beef.

In later years, the Chinese made soups braising them or pot-roasting their ingredients. These foods are listed in the Li Qi, and in later tomes. Today, soup is still an important part of their main meal, often served at the end of a meal to, as they say, fill the cracks. For the Chinese, soup can be a whole meal, an ending to one, a break in a multi-course meal, or a soup or soups consumed one or more times in the meal. It can be eaten from the bowl, the solids consumed using chopsticks, the liquid with a porcelain soup spoon. Soups are also served at banquets in patterned and pretty bowls with matching soup spoons.

Soups can be herbal tonics and bitter decoctions believed to heal the body. They can be hot, warm, cold, or any combination thereof, though most often they are hot, and functionally hot in the hot-cold dichotomy. One such is a Crocodile Meat Soup with Lean pork. Another is a Sweet Walnut Soup with Wu Wei Zi, an herb. Cool and Cold soups might be made with Tortoise Shell and Job's Tears, a barley-type grain, or be a Sour Plum Soup with Turnip and Burdock. There are also neutral soups, such as Sweet Sesame Soup with Egg, or Red Date Sweet Soup with Pine Nuts.

While soups can be hot, warm or cold, temperature-wise, tonic soups are intended to complement body disposition so that a person with a cold disposition would want to consume soups and other foods believed warm or hot–not temperature-wise, and visa versa.

Some soups are intended to disrupt symptoms in times of illness, a cold condition warranting a hot–by-nature–soup. Neutral ones can be consumed no matter the disposition or the health condition. Here are some for you to enjoy.
Nourishing Sesame Egg Soup
1/4 cup long grain rice
5 Tablespoons black sesame seeds
1 cup water chestnut powder
1 cup granulated sugar
1 egg, beaten until light yellow in color
2 chicken or duck egg yolks, each cut in halves
1. Soak rice in one cup water overnight.
2. Mix black sesame seeds with the rice and water and blend until thick and the seeds are ground fine.
3. Put the items from the blender into a pot and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat, mix in the water chestnut powder and four cups of warm water, and simmer to thicken.
4. Add sugar, and the beaten egg, bring to the boil. Put soup into four soup bowls, put half a yolk into the center of each one, and serve.
Madame Song's Fine Fish Soup
1/8 pound any fresh fish, slivered
1 Tablespoon frozen peas
4 cups chicken stock
1 Tablespoon red vinegar
dash sesame oil
1 Chinese dried black mushroom, soaked, stem discarded, and slivered
1 Tablespoon smoked ham, slivered
1 egg white or half beaten egg, fried and thinly slivered
3 Tablespoons silken tofu, slivered (optional)
1 one-inch cube canned bamboo shoot, slivered (optional)
1 slice (about a tablespoon) carrot or a water chestnut, slivered (optional)
1 Tablespoon cornstarch mixed with an equal amount of cold water
1. In a strainer, blanch the slivers of fish for half minute in boiling water, then drain and set them aside.
2. Blanch the frozen peas in the same boiling water for half minute, drain and set them aside.
3. Heat the chicken stock to just below the boiling point, then add the vinegar and sesame oil followed by the slivers of mushroom, ham, and egg (and the optional tofu, bamboo shoot, and carrot slivers).
4. Bring the soup to just below the boil, then serve.
Pork Bone Beauty Broth
6 cups leftover bones from roast pork (or bones from roast chicken, or any mixed bones from any roasts)
1 cup shrimp shells (optional)
1 cup short grain rice
1 piece fresh ginger, sliced, then smashed
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 medium-size potato, peeled, boiled and mashed
4 shallots, peeled and minced finely
2 Tablespoons minced smoked or fresh ham
1/4 cup shredded lettuce, spinach, or other small soft greens, per serving
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil per serving
1 teaspoon roasted peanuts, pine nuts, almonds, or hazel nuts per serving
1/2 Tablespoon frozen peas, at room temperature, per serving
1.Bring bones and optional shrimp shells and ten to twelve cups water to the boil, reduce heat and simmer for two to four hours. Remove bones and discard them, and strain the remaining liquid and discard any solids. This can be chilled, it will form a gelatin. Cubes can be removed from the refrigerator as needed.
2. Using half the liquid from the bones, add rice, ginger, salt, the mashed potato, shallots, and ham and simmer for one hour or more until the rice breaks up and no whole grains are visible.
3. Put one serving of lettuce in each Chinese soup bowl. Bring the stock to the boil and pour it over the greens filling the bowl. Top with sesame oil, peanuts or other nuts, and peas, and serve
Buddha's Rice Soup
2 cups red beans, soaked for twelve or more hours
2 cups white beans, soaked for twelve or more hours
2 bowls cooked glutinous rice
1 bowl long cooked grain rice
6 cups peeled chestnuts, soaked for two or more hours
1 pound Chinese yams, peeled and chopped fine
2 cups Chinese red dates
2 cups lotus seed candy
1 cup vegetable oil (optional)
1 banana, sliced thin lengthwise (optional)
1. Boil red beans and the white beans separately, each for three hours. Cool, drain and remove them, and discard their skins.
2. In a large pot, put in cooked red and white beans, the cooked glutinous and the cooked long grain rice, the chestnuts, chopped yams, red dates, and the lotus seed candy.
3. Put in enough boiling water to cover this mixture by five or six inches, cover the pot, and simmer for four or five hours. Then serve with any garnish on top of each bowl.
Optional garnish: Heat oil in a deep pot, and fry two or three slices of the banana at a time, then drain them thoroughly. Stand one up on an angle, straw-like to garnish each bowl.
Pork with Star Fruit
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
6 ounces pork loin, minced
2 star fruit, one sliced to make stars, the other diced
1 Tablespoon Chinese rice wine
1 Tablespoon thin soy sauce
1 Tablespoon oyster sauce
4 to 6 cups chicken broth 2 Tablespoons cornstarch mixed with an equal amount of cold water
1. Heat wok or large fry pan, add oil, and in half minute, add garlic and stir-fry for half minute.
2. Add pork and stir-fry until brown and crisp, about two minutes, then add diced star fruit and stir-fry another minute.
3. Add rice wine, soy sauce, oyster sauce, and the chicken broth, and when hot, add cornstarch mixture and sliced star fruit and stir until thickened, then serve.
Note: This recipe can also be made with beef, or half beef and half pork; though it is not commonly made that way.

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