Friday, March 24, 2006

Watercress and Pork Rib Soup

I know, I have not been updating this blog for some time now although I have been simmering soups!

The weather here in Penang has turned mild - less sunny but a total 180 degree change. It is now rainy and cloudy! Not cold but a lot cooler. It also signals the coming of the Chinese Qing Ming Festival - something like All Souls' Day. Rains are more frequent and the ground is wet and splotchy each year as I make the climb (or hike) towards my great-grandfather's grave.

So, news and weather aside, what soups have I been concocting?

A few familiar soups come to mind. But one that I love for its simplicity is watercress and pork rib soup. It's great for clearing heat in the body and sputum in the lungs. I know that watercress is used raw in salads and sandwiches in the West but for the Chinese, nothing is more comforting than a bowl of watercress soup. It's also popular in Chinese restaurants and roadside stalls. Sometimes the soup is steamed instead of simmered over a stove but whatever way it is boiled, the taste is just as good.

As it is so simple, you need only 3 main ingredients (told you Chinese/Cantonese soups are always quick and simple) - a bunch of fresh watercress, some blanched pork ribs and 5-6 dried red dates (stones removed). The reason why stones are removed from red dates is to prevent dampness. You can buy ready pitted dates from Chinese herbalists.

I tend to use up the whole watercress, from leaves to stalks. I know many people throw away the stalks - too chewy. But here's what I do... I pluck the leaves and let them soak for about 15 minutes in salted water. This removes most of the grit and slugs, if any. The stems/stalks are washed carefully under running water and kept aside.

Next, I bring a pot of water to boil. Then I put in the blanched pork ribs, dates and the stems/stalks. Bring it to a rolling boil for about 10 minutes and lower down the heat to a mere simmer. Simmer this soup for about 1.5 hours.

By then, the stems would have softened totally. Then I add in the watercress leaves and boil again for another 20 minutes. Some people like their watercress still green but I like mine soft so I let it simmer a lot more. Lastly I add 2 teaspoons of salt and 1 teaspoon sugar to taste.

That's all there is to a robust soup!
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