The Fastest, Easiest Ways To Make A Good Chinese Soup
STORY: Pearlyn Tham
11 May 2020
A piping hot bowl of old melon soup or radish and carrot soup is always a welcome, comforting treat after a long day’s work. But Chinese soups traditionally need a lot of prep work and double boiling, something that most of us can’t afford to do on a busy work day.
Besides using store-bought soup stock cubes (not my go-to ever), these ingredients will flavour your soup quickly and deliciously:
1. Dried red dates
I always keep a big box of these – which you can buy from most Chinese medicinal shops – in my fridge. The bonus: they last a long time. In traditional Chinese medicine, red dates are reported to have health benefits such as improving blood circulation but I use them more to add sweetness and colour to my soups.
Rinse a bunch of them and soak in water for 15 minutes. Ideally, they are best used when softened but if you are in a hurry, throw them into your pot and simmer. I find that red dates give soups an appealing red-brown hue and they work best with ingredients that don’t produce much “colour”, such as radish, winter melon and bittergourd. I also like how red dates add a natural sweetness to the soup and are a good vegan alternative to pork ribs or chicken bones.
2. Dried scallops
These don’t come cheap but just one or two pieces (if you buy the bigger ones) can turn your soup from OK to OMG. Don’t soak dried scallops or they will disintegrate before you can even use them. Rinse quickly under tap water and add to your pot with the other soup ingredients. I’ve also discovered that dried scallops make a very delicious base for fried bee hoon or porridge.
3. Dried ikan bilis
Personally, I prefer fresh ikan bilis which you can buy from the wet market as they give off a more robust and, well, fresh taste. But since markets here are only open in the early mornings when most of us are heading to work, the dried variety works just as well and can be kept in the fridge for some time.
Dried ikan bilis is more ideal for vegetable or seafood soups which complement its fishy taste. Be sure to soak a handful of it in a bowl of water for 15 minutes to remove dirt and grit.
4. Garlic and ginger
Since I make soups almost every other day, these are constants in my kitchen. I’ve found that adding half a knob of ginger and a few peeled whole garlic cloves gives soups a more full-bodied quality. Ginger also provides a comforting heat on the tongue for soups that use “earthy-tasting” ingredients such as carrots and melons.
5. Dried mushrooms and carrots
Yet another vegan alternative to pork ribs and chicken bones or even fish heads, these need a longer time to simmer in order for their flavours to seep into the soup. If you have some time during the weekends or on evenings when you aren’t cooking dinner, you can simmer dried mushrooms and two to three carrots with a bit of salt and pepper, then leave it to cool before freezing and using the stock another day.