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Soups are for Slurping

Posted by Craig Lennox on 7. Apr 2009

As the weather in Beijing doesn't seem to know whether to heat up or stay cold, I've been living on soup for the past couple of weeks.

Soups come in all kinds, and I like nothing better than a thick broth that is full of flavour and waiting to have some crusty bread dunked into it.

I'm not a huge fan of the many soups that are served at Chinese meals: although they're rich in flavours and nutrients, I find them watery and not very attractive: They look more like old dishwater than a mouthwatering bowl of soup.

Many have argued that my idea of a soup is more of a stew, but I still consider them to be soups: they're liquid, filled with hearty meats and vegetables, and perfect to enjoy anytime!

Soups should be bursting with flavors and nutrients, and they should fill -- as well as warm -- you up. Like salads, they can be very experimental, allowing the cook to add practically anything they like to the mix and create a unique dish to enjoy.

Perhaps that's another reason I like them.

No matter what the recipe is, I start all soups by forming a rich smoky flavor. The best way I do that is to use a knob of butter in a hot pan to fry up some smoky bacon (or smoky tofu for the veggies out there).

Add some chopped garlic and onion and wait until the onions have gone limp and caramel brown. This will create the perfect start for your soup, and the mellowness of the smoked flavoring will just make your pot of soup that much more enjoyable.

After you have your buttery, smoky onions, meat/tofu and onions at the bottom of your pan, you can then add stock or water and the other ingredients to your soup.

The following are a couple of my favorite soup recipes, and are easily adaptable: Just add or omit any of the ingredients that you don't like and think of this as one fun experiment that will allow you to create your own soup.

Vegetable Soup

This soup is fantastic and really easy to make. You can change the vegetables that you use as the seasons shift, and you can also experiment by adding extra chili, garlic or ginger to heat things up a little.

Here's what you're going to need:

  • 1 zucchini/courgette, chopped
  • 3-4 large carrots, chopped
  • 1 cup uncooked white or brown rice
  • 1 400g tin of tomatoes chopped (undrained)
  • 1/2 small cauliflower, chopped
  • 1/2 cup diced onions (I prefer the sweetness of red onions for this)
  • 1-2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 1.5 liters of chicken broth (I prefer chicken bullion; water can also be substituted)
  • 1-2 tsp oregano (fried stuff easily picked up at Jenny Lou's)
  • salt and pepper

If you decide to make the smokey base, keep the pan warm and add the garlic and onion. Throw the cauliflower, carrot and courgette into the pan and heat through.

Pour in the broth, the rice and the tin of tomatoes.

Bring everything to a boil and then let simmer on a low heat for about 30-40 minutes, or until the rice is soaked through. (Brown rice can take longer to soften; I usually soak it for a few hours before using it to reduce the cooking time.)

Season with salt and pepper as your taste requires, and then enjoy with a door stop of crusty bread for dunking.

Mixed Beans Soup

Ingredients:

  • 400g tin, kidney beans
  • 400g tin, black beans
  • 400g tin, pinto beans
  • 400g tin, lima beans
  • 1 cup smoked cooked ham or tofu, chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup carrot, chopped
  • 1/3 cup celery, chopped
  • 1/2 cup onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 400g tin of chopped tomatoes, plus 2 or 3 fresh tomatoes, also chopped
  • 1 liter of chicken/vegetable stock or water
  • 2 Tablespoons oregano, fresh or dried
  • 2 Tablespoons basil, fresh or chopped
  • 1 chili pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • juice from one lemon
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest

Warning: There are some beans in this dish, and you may not be able to get all of the above beans easily (or cheaply) Beijing. Both Carrefour and Jenny Lou's sell tins of various beans for about 12 RMB/can.

You can also buy many dried beans in both supermarkets and wet markets. Select as many kinds of beans as you like. I normally use four different types, but you can use as many or as little as you like.

In total, aim for about 1,600g of beans -- so mix it up and have some fun!

Regarding herbs, if you can get them fresh, that's great. If not, the dried varieties are just as good. Fresh herbs are readily available in Jenny Lou's, although ridiculously expensive.

I bought plants from Laitai Flower Market, and I grow my own in my kitchen. Each plant cost between 10-20 RMB.

Let's get started:

Drain and rinse your beans. Place them in a large bowl with the ham/tofu. In a large stockpot, heat oil, add carrots, celery and onions and cook for five minutes or so.

Add garlic and chili along with the stock/water, beans and tomatoes. Stir thoroughly and season with salt and pepper.

Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to low. Add herbs and let simmer for about 15-20 minutes.

Just before serving, add the lemon juice and zest, stir and enjoy with chunky bread.

About the chef:

Scottish-born Craig Lennox lives and works in Beijing, a city that he has called home for five years. He uses the Internet, cookbooks, the suggestions of friends and his own imagination when he's in the kitchen. "Cooking relaxes me," he said, "and I think that sitting down to share a nice meal with friends is the best way to spend free time."

"Once I realized how easy it can be, I kind of got hooked," he said on cooking his favorite dishes from home. "After going to various restaurants and paying high prices for mediocre foods, I decided to give it a go at home on my own."

Lennox launched a cooking blog after his friends encouraged him do so. "I hope that you'll try these recipes and enjoy them as much as I have," he said. "Remember, it's all supposed to be fun!"

Take a shot at these recipes yourself, and send Craig your pics, tips and ideas on how you improved, changed and tinkered with his dishes to make them your own.

NEXT WEEK: Dips and dippers




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