Friday, May 30, 2008

"Ubiquitous" Chinese Soup -- With Greens and Chicken Meatballs

Since returning home from China, I’ve been busy trying to replicate some of the “taste memories” I made on my trip. In some cases I’m just happy replicating them. In other cases I wanted to play with them to make them more “mine.”

Since I was on a lot of tours, many of my meals were predetermined menus at local restaurants. I had been worried that these meals could be bland, uninteresting and down right not tasty and “wasted” food opportunities. Almost always, I had nothing to worry about. The food was plentiful, varied, somewhat tied to local food specialties and very tasty. A few dishes I had put in front of me from place to place and I’m not sure if they were that pervasive in the parts of China I was visiting, just popular dishes or something that the guides and travel agents identified as “western” friendly.

One of the most ubiquitous of these dishes was a kind of egg drop soup with greens or cabbage and sometimes tomatoes or wood ear mushrooms. A big steaming bowlful seemed to await me no matter where we stopped. I always took a small ladleful to give it a taste and it usually was fine, even exceptional if the greens were fresh and the chicken broth tasty. I never wanted more because I didn’t want to fill up on what I saw as an uninspired soup, and I certainly never thought I would take the time to create my own version until I imagined a soup combining fragrant chicken stock, fresh greens and a Chinese “meatball” dish I had tried. The end result was a light and bright-tasting soup that was also filling. I would happily slurp and fill up on this version of the soup. It was popular with my dinner guests too, some of which went back for thirds.

Chinese Greens and Chicken Meatball Soup
Serves 6-8 as part of a multi-course Chinese meal
Serves 4 as a main course

While you could certainly serve this as a first course, it is hardy enough to stand alone as a main course or as part of a multi-dish Chinese style meal. The key is good chicken stock. If you are making your own, add a little garlic and a few slices of ginger to the stock as it simmers to add a more Asian taste. If you are use a good quality commercial stock, heat it first with some garlic and ginger slices and allow it to simmer until the flavors are infused, strain the stock and discard the solids. Do not try to make this soup with water or bullion cubes.

Poaching the chicken meatballs in the soup results in very tender and light meatballs. The egg whites in the meatball mix will give the soup an “egg drop” look.
Feel free to substitute other greens for the spinach.

Chicken Meatballs

1 lb of boneless, skinless chicken thighs OR 1 lb ground chicken (not white meat)
2 egg whites
1 tsp finely minced ginger
1 Tbsp finely minced green onion
1 Tbsp Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
Vegetable oil

Soup

8 cups of Asian-style chicken stock (see note above)
8-10 ounces of chopped, fresh spinach
4 ounces of fresh or reconstituted dried shitake mushroom caps, cleaned and sliced into thin strips
3 Tbsp chopped Sichuan (Szechuan) preserved cabbage or vegetable (found in cans or bottles at Asian grocers and specialty food stores), optional. There are many types based on different vegetables and greens, but any of them will work here. It adds some seasoning to the dish and a bit more greens. If you skip it, you might need to add a bit more salt and want to use the larger quantity of spinach.
1 Tbsp Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
Salt to taste (if needed)

Optional serving suggestions: Sesame Oil, Chile Paste, Soy Sauce

Make the chicken meatballs. If using boneless thighs, mince chicken fine (or grind in a food processor) and mix well in a large bowl with egg whites, ginger, green onion and wine. If using ground chicken, mix well with other meatball ingredients. Oil hands and spray or oil a baking sheet. Form 1 to 11/2 inch meatballs, handling gently but compacting into a ball. The mixture will be loose and a little gloppy. Place shaped meatballs on oiled tray. Set aside.

In a large pot, heat stock. When it begins to simmer, carefully place each meatball in the stock. (Note: If the meatballs have lost some of their shape, gently reform before plopping in the hot broth.) Add in mushroom strips. When the meatballs have all floated up to the top of the pot, add in spinach, the optional preserved cabbage and rice wine. Stir gently to minimize breaking apart the meatballs. Simmer until meatballs are cooked through and spinach is tender. Taste and add salt if necessary.

Serve, passing optional condiments for diners to add to their own portions if so desired.

Here is a picture of a meatball-less version of the “ubiquitous” soup I had in Shanghai. Unfortunately, I spaced out when I made this version. I hope to make the dish again soon and I'll put a nice, mouthwatering photo of this stupendous soup right up at the top.

This photo does give me an idea, though. You could add in 2 chopped, seeded tomatoes when you add in the spinach for a bit more color. You could also garnish each serving with some chopped green onion.

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Watching your weight? I estimate that this soup has 6 points figuring 4 servings or 4 points based on 6 servings.

1 comment:

Christine said...

I made this soup, its healthy and awesome!! Thanks!