Friday, January 13, 2006

Cool Down with Lotus

The weather's becoming crazily warm these days. It's to be anticipated as the run-up to Chinese New Year, which falls on 29 January this year, is often hot and dry in Penang. The sun is really high in the sky and the heat penetrates through walls, literally!

On days like these, I am reminded of my childhood where the day's menu would feature cooling soups and sometimes, porridge or congee.
One of the best (and again, easy... if it isn't easy, it won't find its way into my kitchen) soups for warm days when the appetite is waning is a bowl of lotus root soup.

Lotus root soup cures heat in the body, relieves dizziness and heatstroke. It also relieves constipation and improves appetite.

Lotus root comes from the lotus plant, from which you get the beautiful lotus flower. You can also get lotus seeds from lotus pods. The seeds have medicinal value and often the dried seeds (with the green pith removed) are used in herbal soups. The fresh seeds can also be eaten raw, and not everyone likes the taste though.

I haven't seen any fresh lotus pods in Penang though I can get it easily for RM1 per bunch in Ipoh. Here's how a fresh bunch of lotus pods look like (see below).

Anyway, the lotus root is another magic ingredient by itself. You can buy it in any wet market. Ask if it is from China. China-grown lotus roots are bigger and more robust. Locally grown ones are skinnier, according to my vegetable-seller at the Lip Sin market.

Lotus root can be made into a savoury soup or you can also turn it into a dessert (or 'sweet soup'). Just wash the root and peel off the outer skin with a potato peeler. Then slice thinly.

If you want a 'sweet soup'/ dessert, just boil the root slices with 3-4 pitted red dates in a pot of water and add rock sugar when it has simmered for about 45 minutes. It's a lovely cooling drink especially if it is chilled slightly. You can discard the lotus root slices.

For a savoury soup, just place the root slices into a pot of boiling water. Add 6-8 pitted red dates and 300 gm of blanched pork ribs. Again, as with all soups, bring to a rapid boil for 10 minutes. Then cover and simmer for 2 -3 hours. Add salt and a little soya sauce when the soup is almost done. And you'll have a wonderfully light lotus root soup to go with your rice.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Black-Eyed Beans, Dried Oyster and Pork Bone Soup

Made this soup just the other day when I managed to buy some black-eyed beans (see pic on the left) from the Lip Sin market. My Hokkien is just enough to get me by in Penang so I had to resort to asking my husband to translate for me (he's Hokkien so that's not a problem for him!). The woman we buy from said it's called "pek dao" in Hokkien.

Anyway, black-eyed peas or beans (or known as cow peas sometimes), whichever way you call it, is an easy and digestable type of bean very much suitable for the elderly and the young. It's considered neutral in terms of yin and yang (some are considered 'warming' or 'cooling' and therefore certain people with certain body constitutions might react to the food).

They are also a good source of fiber and helps to get rid of cholesterol in the body. As with all beans, they are also a good source of folate, potassium, copper, phosporous and manganese. Plus I heard that these beans help reduce blood pressure.

Well this black-eyed beans soup is very easy to make. And it serves 2 persons well for 2 meals- lunch and dinner.

Just bear in mind some simple steps when simmering this soup:

1. Remember to blanch the meat/chicken/pork in boiling water for 5 minutes before you add the meat to the soup proper. This gets rid of the scum which floats to the top of the soup and gets rid of the blood and icky stuff from the meat bones (usually pork bones have a lot of this scummy residue).

2. After blanching the meat, rinse the meat under flowing tap water for a few minutes to get rid of any bits of fats and scum.

I'm a stickler for simple soups so what you need for this soup are:
  • 1-2 cups of black-eyed beans, soaked in water for 10 minutes or so (the beans soften quickly in the soup so you don't have to worry)
  • 300 gm of pork rib bones (blanched and rinsed)
  • 1 knob of old ginger
  • 6-8 dried oysters (see pic below)

Dried oysters add a wonderful flavour to soups.

Bring a pot of water to boil (about 1.5 liters of water). Add in all four ingredients. Bring all to a rolling boil for 10 minutes (do not cover pot at this stage).

After 10 minutes, lower stove fire to the lowest. Cover pot with lid. The soup should merely "bubble" along slowly. Leave soup to "bubble" along for 2 hours.

Add 2 teaspoons of salt, a dash of pepper, 1 teaspoon brown sugar and 1 teaspoon of good quality soya sauce to taste about 10 minutes before you turn off the fire. (I never add MSG into my soups but you can if you want to.)

Serve hot.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Difference between Soups... Or Are There?

For the Cantonese, there is a firm difference between 10-minute soups and 4-hour soups.

10 minute soups are not encouraged but it makes it easy for harried homemakers to quickly boil a pot of soup for dinner.

That's why in terms of semantics Cantonese call it "kwen tong" = boil soup.

The 4-hour soups are real soups. Full of goodness because of the 4 hours of simmering the soup over a low fire. We call it "pow tong" = simmered soup.

There is a major difference between "kwen tong" and "pow tong". It's in the taste. Soup connoisseurs might turn their noses up at 10 minute soups but sometimes, when I am in a rush, I would not mind a bowl of boiled soup. Boiled soups are usually for vegetables where they do not need much boiling or they'll wilt completely. Simmered soups are usually for herbs where a longer simmering time allows the full extraction of their goodness.

And then there is "thun tong" or double-boiled soups. This is even better. Using a double boiler, soups are cooked in small quantities and their taste is also similar to "pow tong". Usually soups like these are for those with high-quality and expensive ingredients such as birds' nest and etc.

(However, I'd like to say here that I don't encourage the eating of birds' nest soup. If you think about it, it is basically the saliva of the swiftlets. Placed in that perspective, would YOU want a bowl of saliva? Ugh.) That said, I am not a big believer in abalone or sea cucumber either. They're bland and need countless hours of cooking and simmering to get them nice and soft for the cooking pot.