Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Szechuan Vegetable and Seaweed Soup

OK, this is not exactly a simmered soup. This soup is so easy to make that it's a laugh. It's almost plebeian. But you see, my husband loves this soup and if I am pressed for time, this is what I whip up. Fast soup. Tastes good too.

Szechuan vegetable is a pickled spicy lump of vegetable that goes well in most meat dishes. If I do not cook it in a soup, I'd slice the vegetable and cook it with chicken and tomatoes.

One important thing to note: Szechuan vegetable is salty and spicy. I don't like pre-packed ones which I can get at Giant or Tesco. Rather, I go to my neighbourhood Lip Sin market and get it from my trusty grocery woman. She tells me that her version comes in huge containers so they're tastier! But it is true. Nothing compares with her Sezchuan vegetable. I always think this vegetable is our Chinese version of Italian truffles! In fact, Szechuan 'chai' or vegetable is quite cheap!

I don't have a photo of this vegetable but you can do a search on Google if you have no idea how it looks like.

Anyway, for this 30-minute soup, all you need are:

1/2 cup of minced meat marinated with some cornflour, sesame seed oil, soya sauce and pepper for 10 minutes (set aside)
1 fairly large piece of clean seaweed (if you buy the clean seaweed, you don't need to soak it at all)
1 knob of fresh ginger, flatenned
1 bowl of sliced Szechuan vegetables (do not wash or it'll lose its lovely taste)

Bring a pot of water to boil. Add in the ginger and Szechuan vegetable. Let it simmer
for about 15 minutes. Form tiny balls with the mince meat and drop into the soup slowly. Bring the soup back to a rolling boil. Add 1 teaspoon of sugar and some pepper. Do not add salt or soya sauce until you've tasted the soup first (it could be way too salty). Taste the soup to see if it's salty enough. Add the seaweed and let it simmer for another 10 minutes. Tadaaa, your soup is ready for the table!

Now didn't I say it was such a simple soup? It gives you a good appetite because it's spicy and salty. Yum!

* You can add cubes of soft tofu if you want more protein but I think minced meat (usually I use pork) is good enough.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Chicken Congee When Appetites Wan

I know. Chicken congee or porridge is not exactly "soup" and thus, simply does not qualify as a post here. But, hear me out.

The weather in Penang can be intolerable. The heat is on. Literally. I sweat oodles and curse oodles too. The rainy season - where art thou? Sigh. While Kuching rains almost every other day, Penang is the complete opposite.

I just returned from a short trip to KL and KL is not as warm or muggy as Penang. In fact, I was caught in the rain twice for the 4 days that I was there. Maybe that's why I am feeling plain awful today.

Flu? Cold? Whatever it was, my body wasn't up for cooking. Not lunch. Not rice. Oh no. The warm weather makes one lose appetite (or perhaps I've eaten too much while in KL. I practically ate half a roasted duck... only to realise that my uric acid must have shot sky high. That's why I came home and guzzled some apple cider vinegar quickly.

Anyway, back to chicken congee. Congee is easy to digest and fast to cook, especially if you are not up to much cooking activity in the kitchen (who wants to slave over a hot stove)).It's comfort food. It's nutritious without being oily or heavy. Thus, perfect food for the young, the elderly and those feeling a bit out of sorts, like me.

You can cook this up in under an hour and all you need for 2 hearty servings of chicken congee are:

1 chicken thigh, skin removed (for once, I don't like oiliness in my food)
2 dried scallops, soaked in some water and roughly shredded
1 tablespoon of "tungchoi" (preserved vegetables), soaked and drained
1 cup of rice, washed and drained

The above ingredients go into your rice cooker. Add 4 times the water. This works out to about 4 inches of water above your rice. Close the lid and cook your congee as if you were cooking rice.

About 30 minutes later, slide the lid to the side so the bubbling recedes. Add salt, pepper, sugar and sesame oil. Stir well.

Remove the cooked chicken thigh and shred the meat into slivers. Return the shredded meat to the simmering congee (the grains of rice should be soft and mushy now). Switch off the electricity and let the congee "sit" for another 10 minutes to thicken slightly.

Scoop up and serve with soya sauce on the side.

(For soya sauce, I prefer Po Po Premium Quality Soya Sauce. Yes, it is pricier than usual soya sauce but the taste possesses much more depth! Cheap soya sauce is all salt and nothing else.)