Friday, March 24, 2006

Buddha Fruit Sweet Soup


This is one of my favourite sweet soups! It is very much a dessert that can be taken hot or cold.

Clockwise from right: Buddha Fruit, dried lotus seeds, dried red dates and dried longan.

The Buddha Fruit or Lo Han Gua (actually I think it should be called Lo Han Fruit instead of Buddha Fruit) is a fruit from China that helps to reduce coughing. It supposedly aids longevity. You can read more about this amazing fruit by going to http://www.itmonline.org/arts/luohanguo.htm

It is usually dark brown and very light. Its sizes range from as small as a golf ball to as big as a tennis ball, any Chinese medicine hall or herbalist would have this available. It's not too expensive either, about RM1 per fruit.

To use it, just wash it and light crack it open. I use one medium size fruit for one pot of water (about 1.5 liters of water).

Besides the Buddha Fruit, I use a handful each of dried longan, dried red dates and dried lotus seeds.

The red dates are already pitted so it saves me time (yes, I am rather lazy!) in the kitchen. Just rinse the red dates and let them dry. Dried longan is also washed and left to dry.

Now for the dried lotus seeds. Soak them in some water. When they soften, use a sharp knife to split the seeds into two. Using the sharp edge of the knife, remove the green pith in the centre of the seed. This pith is bitter so I don't like accidentally biting into some bitter stuff when I am chewing the lotus seeds. What I do know is that the green pith is very cooling. You can discard the pith and just use the lotus seeds.

All you need to do now is put all these 4 ingredients into a pot of water and bring to boil. Once it has come to a boil, add some rock sugar and let it simmer for an hour or so. After that you can serve it warm. If you want it cold or chilled, do not add ice cubes! Just cool it in the fridge and you'll have a refreshing dessert.

Since taste is a personal preference, I often boil this dessert without rock sugar. I take it warm so just before serving, I mix it with honey. Honey is more nutritious anyway and is great for the complexion. And by doing it this way, I can please everyone in the family - some might want it sweeter, hence I just add more honey.

Of course, if you intend to chill it in the fridge, please add honey into the warm dessert before you do so.

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!