Chinese Soup – Watercress and Red Dates

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A fun fact about watercress (西洋菜). It is an ancient green which was a staple in the diet of Roman soldiers. Watercress is a cruciferous vegetable, a member of the family of kale, broccoli, arugula and Brussels sprouts.

In a Chinese household like ours, this vegetable is not used as a garnish, a filling for sandwiches nor in salads. Instead, our cook at home instructed us to drink up this soup for its cooling effect – a balance of our bodies’ yin and yang. Amongst the soups she cooked, this soup appealed to most of us so she didn’t have to use her powers of persuasion.

Health benefits of watercress? Here’s what is reported on http://www.naturalnews.com

“Watercress is considered an anti-aging food, as good as or even better than many herbs used for that purpose. It contains a lot of lutein, which helps improve or maintain eye health. Watercress is very high in naturally occurring iodine. So high that it is not advised for anyone with hyperthyroidism.

The high iodine content gives watercress a nutritional breakaway value from other cruciferous vegetables. Cruciferous veggies all have cancer preventative nutrients. They are all high in phytonutrient compounds containing different sulphur molecules. Some of those sulphur nutrients assist the liver in its phase two detoxification process”.

These qualities attest to its popularity. Ask for this soup at our local food courts and hawker centres or casual Chinese restaurants in Asian cities or Chinatown.

Some comments about Ingredients

Pork Bones.  The butcher will crack and chop the pig’s leg and back bones into smaller sections. Blanch sections in a pot of boiling water for about 5 mins to get a clearer stock. Click here for Homemade Pork Stock.

Long stemmed watercress (西洋菜). If these are not available in the market, buy short stemmed ones which are readily available at both wet and super-markets. A deeper flavoured broth is obtained from long stemmed ones. Watercress doesn’t keep well so cook them within 2 days of purchase.

Red Dates (红枣/紅棗). Also known as jujube. Grown in many areas in the world.  Both China and Korea produce a sweetened tea syrup containing jujube fruit in glass jars, and canned jujube tea or jujube tea in the form of teabags. For convenience, buy seeded red dates which are un-sulphured. Rinse before use.

Goji berries (宁夏枸杞). Lycium barbarum and also called wolfberries. The majority of commercially produced wolfberries come from Ningxia Hui and Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Regions of China. Other regions in China and the US and Canada also cultivate goji berries. Buy un-sulphured berries. Rinse before use.

Preparation of Ingredients

The photo above illustrates how to prepare long stemmed watercress. I throw away the root sections although there are some cooks who run their fingers along the stem to remove the roots. Wash well. You will end up with one lot of the stems and another lot of leaves to cook the soup.

Wash watercress leaves and stems well in a colander. Don’t forget to remove leaves or stems that have wilted.

These long stems will be boiled with the blanched pork bones for about an hour  and a half.

Cooking the Soup

STEP 1. After the pork bones have been blanched, bvring a large stock pot with 1.3 litres of water to rolling boil. Add blanched pork bones and the cleaned long stems of your water cress. Cover and bring pot and contents to boil over high heat, then reduce to a low quick simmer. Cook for at least an hour and a half. Remove limp long stems.

You  might have to add in a cup of hot water if your stock pot doesn’t seal tight enough to prevent much water evaporation.

ALTERNATIVE COOKING METHODS

(a) using a pressure cooker. Once the pressure cooker starts to hiss and the pressure indicator rises to its highest level, the pressure has been built up. Lower your heat. Set your timer for 40 mins. Cool and open the cover. Remove limp stems.

(b) using a thermal pot. Place the blanched pork bones and cleaned long stems with water into the internal stainless steel pot. Bring to boil over high heat. Continue cooking for about 15 to 20 mins, covered. Lift this pot into its host pot. Cover. Set timer for 2 hours. Remove limp long stems.

At this stage, you can stop here. Cool the stock and bones for cooking nearer serving time. The next stage of cooking takes about 15 to 20 mins or so. Hence, this allows you to cook when it is closer to serving time.

STEP  2.  Bring the prepared stock and bones to a rolling boil. Add rinsed red dates. Boil for about 5 mins. Add the rinsed goji berries and cleaned water cress leaves. Boil for another 5 mins or so.

STEP 3. Season with some sea salt, light soy sauce and dash of pepper. Serve with steamed rice and other dishes.

RECIPE

Serves 4 to 6 persons

Ingredients

  • 600g fresh long stemmed Chinese watercress
  • 300g fresh pork leg bones
  • 6 red dates
  • 1 tbsp chinese wolfberries/goji berries
  • 1 Tsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp light soy sauce
  • dashes of ground white pepper
  • About 1.3 to 1.5 litres of water

METHOD

Preparation of Ingredients.

  1. Wash Pork leg bones, remove small bits of bone fragaments if any. Blanch for 5 mins in a pot of boiling water.
  2. Wash and pluck the watercress as shonw in photo. Separate the long stems from he leave sections.

Cooking the Soup (on stop top)

  1. After the pork bones have been blanched, bvring a large stock pot with 1.3 litres of water to rolling boil. Add blanched pork bones and the cleaned long stems of your water cress. Cover and bring pot and contents to boil over high heat, then reduce to a low quick simmer. Cook for at least an hour and a half. Remove limp long stems.You  might have to add in a cup of hot water if your stock pot doesn’t seal tight enough to prevent much water evaporation.
  2. Bring the prepared stock and bones to a rolling boil. Add rinsed red dates. Boil for about 5 mins. Add the rinsed goji berries and cleaned water cress leaves. Boil for another 5 mins or so.
  3. Season with some sea salt, light soy sauce and dash of pepper. Serve with steamed rice and other dishes.

Alternative methods of cooking this soup has also been described above.

SERVING SUGGESTIONS

Quick meal. This soup is a good accompaniment for One Dish Meals like

1. Chinese Fried Rice Click here;

2. Yellow Fried Noodles Click here;

Full course meal. This soup goes well with other dishes when you are serving more people at home or as your pot luck contribution.

Seafood dishes

1. Dry Assam Seafood. Click here

2. Fried Fish with Fermented Black Bean Sauce. Click here.

3. Stuffed You Tiao (Baked).  Click here.

4. Prawns in Tomato Sauce. Click here.

Asian Meat dishes

1. Chicken Breasts with ketchup. Click here.

2. Paper-wrapped Chicken (Baked). Click here.

3. Pari Pari Style Chicken Wings. Click here.

Asian Vegetable Dishes

1. Broccoli and Meat/Tofu Stir Fry. Click here.

2. Spinach in Broth with 3 types of eggs. Click here.

3. Pork, Spinach and Egg Stir Fry. Click here.

4. Shanghai Cabbage with Oyster Sauce & Garlic. Click here.

5. Ladies Fingers with Dried Prawn Sambal (spicy). Click here.

6. Kai Lan and Sweet Potato Lemak (spicy). Click here.

7. Bitter Gourd Lemak (spicy). Click here.

8. Ridge Gourd and Bean Threads. Click here.

Desserts

Besides seasonal fruits and ice cream, some cold desserts which can be prepared ahead would be most suited to our hot tropical climate.

1. Almond Jelly + Longans Click here.

2. Coconut Jelly with Can Lychees. Click here.

3. Sago Pudding. Click here.

4. Ginger Poached Pears. Click here.

5. Caramel Custard. Click here.

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