Thursday, 23 April 2009

Cantonese watercress soup 西洋菜汤

In an earlier post, I have written about the special place in my Cantonese culinary heart for slow-cooked soup, or lo foh tong (老火湯). This watercress soup (西洋菜汤) was one of the earliest soups I made when I found, much to my delight, that I could buy watercress easily from the supermarket. It took me a while to figure out that they were the same watercress that my mother used for soups, because they looked nothing like the bunches of long stalks and delicate leaves that I remember.

As watercress are mainly used in salads in the UK (they impart a delicious peppery flavour to a leafy salad mix), only the little leaves and tender stalks attached were sold. Rather than being sold with the other vegetables, they also tend to be found in the packaged salad section. The watercress that I have found here in Vancouver seems more conventional, stalks and all (less waste!).

Watercress soup 西洋菜汤

This photo was taken very early in the cooking process. As you can see, the watercress was still looking very pretty and green. After a few hours of simmering, the delicate vegetable turned brown and limp. Not to worry. Although it looks rather unattractive, all the goodness of the watercress has gone into the soup, which does pack a lot of flavour.

Ingredients (serve 4-6):

150g lean pork
2-3 small pieces of dried cuttlefish or dried octupus (optional)
150g watercress, washed and drained
2 dried honey dates (蜜枣)
6 dried red dates (红枣)
1.5 litres water
2 tbsp Chinese wolfberry/goji berry (枸杞子) (optional)
Salt to taste

1. Place the pork in a large bowl or pot and pour boiling water over it. Let sit for a few minutes. Rinse with clean water. This step removes excess fat, any strange 'porky' flavour and makes for a clearer and cleaner tasting soup.
2. Place the pork, dried cuttlefish/octupus (if using), watercress, honey dates, red dates and boiling water in a large pot. Bring back to the boil and then turn the heat right down to a low simmer. The soup will be ready in about 2 hours, but I like to cook mine long and slow for at least 3-4 hours.
3. If using Chinese wolfberry/goji berry, add them during the final hour of cooking. Cooking goji berry for too long imparts a slightly sour taste to the soup which some people do not like. If you do not mind, just add them to all other ingredients at the beginning.
4. About 5-10 minutes before serving, season to taste with some salt.

Note: The dried cuttlefish/octupus are optional but they are the star ingredient of many Cantonese slow cooked soups as they add a lot of depth and flavour. If you can get hold of any (usually at medical halls or dried goods stores in Chinatown), all well and good. But if you can't buy any or don't fancy the idea of those ingredients, you can safely skip them and still end up with very tasty and nutritious soup.


VeggieGirl said...

Gorgeous soup!! I must try watercrest.

mycookinghut said...

Ahhh... so it's the watercress that we can use to make this soup! My mom likes to make this soup and always encourage all her children to drink enough..
If I were to buy those packages watercress, I need at least 2 packets, no?

Christelle said...

Humm, this soup smells really healthy! I love that it uses goji berries :)

Ninette said...

Sounds very healthy and restorative!

noobcook said...

I luv watercress soup and your soup must be very sweet with all these ingredients and honey red date :D

Liska said...

Your blog is beautiful. Everything looks so tasty. I love small portions of food when you may taste everything you wish.

Nilmandra said...

Veggiegirl: Watercress soup is often made in a creamy style in Western cooking. This clear Cantonese broth is a nice change :)

My cooking hut: I think the watercress salad packs in supermarkets tend to be around 90-100g? I think 1 pack would be enough for 2 people. I used to buy just 1 pack back in the UK for just me and my husband.

Christelle: I love goji berry. Tastes great, nourishing and great for the eyes too!

Ninette: Thanks! The Cantonese are very serious about the restorative and medicinal properties of soups ;)

Noobcook: It is my mum's recipe and she always insist on the honey date for sweetness. It is also not as 'heaty' as red dates.

Liska: Thanks for the kind comment, and I hope you enjoy trying out some of the recipes :)

tigerfish said...

I love watercress soup too! Lovely!

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