People who know me know that I am obsessed with soup, and for good reason. Soup is one of the least stressful meals to cook, with very low effort on your part. It may seem like a time-consuming process, but once all the ingredients hit the pot, you can just let it simmer and go write that essay – perfect for the busy, hungry student (me) dealing with the consequences of their own procrastination. Alternatively, stir it lovingly with a big wooden spoon for two hours straight if there’s something else you really want to avoid doing.
Best of all, for amateur cooks like myself who still panic at the advances of a furious oil splatter, soup is very, very difficult to mess up. There is hardly any finesse needed in ingredient preparation – standardising the cut of your potatoes is not a priority when they all come out deliciously mushed along the sides. If your soup is — dare I say it — too flavourful, simply add some water! If it tastes like watery nothingness, let time and heat take care of it until it reduces down to not-watery deliciousness. You don’t get that kind of leeway with any other dish.
[Soup is] perfect for the busy, hungry student (me) dealing with the consequences of their own procrastination.
Quite a few Chinese dishes begin with a lovely bone broth, or, if you’ve not got the time, a bag of pre-made stock at the supermarket. Bone broth is a great way to use up leftover meat, bones and vegetable scraps; the more “interesting” bits you’ve got in there, like connective tissue, joints, or cartilage, the more silky and flavoursome the end result.
Bones and other meat scraps (as much as possible)
A few thick slices of ginger (no need to peel the skin)
Spring onion, chopped into thirds
A few glugs of Shaoxing wine / Chinese cooking wine (optional)
Salt (to taste)
Add all the ingredients into a pot and bring it to a boil. Once boiling, cover with a lid and then turn down the heat to let it simmer for as long as you want. As long as the lid is on and your heat is turned down to low, pretty much nothing bad will happen while your back is turned. (The Oxford Student is not liable for any soup related damages that may occur as a result of heeding this advice.)
One thing I would say is not to be too afraid of salt; it really does go a long way, and it makes food taste more like itself. You’ll also need more bones than you think, and a good way to accumulate them is to freeze raw leftover bones as you accumulate them over the week.
Bone broth goes great with a bowl of noodles or rice. If you’re more adventurous and have time to spare, use it as the base for what I consider one of my favourite dishes; braised Chinese cabbage in broth. Sauté some garlic and bacon in a wok on medium heat, such that the bacon cooks but the garlic does not crisp. Add your broth directly into the wok, and add some pre-boiled Chinese cabbage and shredded oyster mushrooms. Thicken the broth with cornstarch, and taste it to decide if you should season it further with salt and pepper before serving.
Another soup that I am a big fan of is ABC soup, which is quite popular back home in Singapore. I’m honestly not sure why it is named as such; apparently it is as easy to make as ABC, or it supposedly contains vitamins A, B, and C. However, I can confirm that it is both hearty and tasty with rice, noodles, by itself, or frozen in a plastic Ziploc bag for two weeks and then panic-defrosted in a tiny pot mid-essay crisis.
Garlic cloves (peeled but not minced)
A handful of dried anchovies (optional)
Water or Bone Broth (enough to cover all vegetables)
Place the pork ribs into a pot with a few slices of ginger, and add cold tap water until all the meat is covered. Put it on the stove until it boils and the meat is preliminarily cooked, then remove the ribs from the water and wipe off any scum or foam. This gets rid of all the less palatable stuff that you wouldn’t want simmering in your soup. You can either throw away the ginger slices or wash them and pop them into the main pot afterwards.
Chop all your vegetables roughly into manageable pieces. There isn’t a fixed number per vegetable that you could use, but if you wanted to go for two each, that would nicely serve your household. The onions and tomatoes will essentially have melted away by the time you’re ready to serve, so there is no need for uniformity. Potatoes and carrots should be in the realm of “bite-sized”, but if you have a full ear of corn you can just chop it in half – eating corn on the cob with your soup is a juicy delight.
Place your chopped vegetables, pork ribs, garlic cloves, whole peppercorns, dried anchovies, salt, and enough water to cover all ingredients straight into a big pot. Once this boils, put the lid on and turn the heat down to medium-low. Simmer for at least two hours, and then season further if need be. Finally, just enjoy!
I hope these recipes have inspired you somewhat to venture into the world of soups, particularly Asian ones. The ease of preparation really cannot be overemphasised, and the methodology honestly boils down (ha) to “put-things-in-a-pot-and-wait”. To be very honest, if all else fails you can just put an entire (peeled, please) onion in your soup and wait until it dissolves. (I wouldn’t recommend this, but the point is that you could. Soup is very forgiving!) Enjoy, and slurp away!