Lotus Root Soup (莲藕汤)
Winter has come.
There’s a faded beauty about winter as a season. Much meaning can be derived from our quieter life pulse. And sometimes with that, much sadness can also surface from within.
This year, winter has come alongside with a pensive mood in me… I need to think less.
I miss the days of simple where the sun used to make a fool out of father time… staying up late like an intransigent child.
In the West, winter’s probably a season of wood fires and roasts, thick blankets and hot chocolates. While in the East, I’d imagine winter would bring forth comforting Chinese-style soups. I come from a country that does not experience winter. Still, these soups featured in my childhood. And now that I’ve migrated, they make perfect sense for winter.
I wouldn’t be surprised if this recipe has been blogged to death by many a homesick migrant, with written memories of childhood kitchens, mothers and grandmothers. All the same, I’d like to share it here because it is indeed a soup that pulls your heart back home. It’s a very comforting dish.
We call it ling ngau tong (莲藕汤) in Cantonese. Lotus root soup. And this recipe is the way my home cooks it.
These four ingredients are all you need, plus water and warmth. Pork ribs form the stock, red dates sweeten the soup, lotus root imparts a comforting earthy essence, and dried cuttlefish gives it an umami lift. For those of you who’re frightened of Chinese preserved animal products, the dried cuttlefish is an optional ingredient.
Lotus root can be such a curious ingredient. In cross section, they remind me of the empty chamber of a revolver. Coming from a pond or river dwelling plant, lotus root holds both earthy and aquatic qualities to it. Its flavour is gentle and I like its soft-crunchy, slightly filamentous texture. Some families like slicing it wide, I like to slice mine thinly.
Another thing I noticed about this vegetable, there are two texture types when you buy them. The crisp-crunchy type and the crumbly-powdery type. Visually they look identical at the Asian wet markets and I am unable to predict which type it is until I cook it. Generally, I think the more you pay for it, the more likely it will be the crunchy type which I prefer. But is there anybody who can explain why there are two types and how I can tell them apart at the markets?
NB: Someone has since suggested the answer! Read the comments section below.
Most of the time, these recipes aren’t quantified and everything is cooked by feel. You can play with proportions, but the key thing here is knowing how much water to add. I think once the ingredients start floating about, it’s too much water. The recipe below is somewhat quantified to help give an idea of proportions that will work.
Lotus Root Soup
莲藕汤 - ling ngau tong / serves 3
1 small lotus root
500g free range pork ribs
8-10 dried red dates
2 dried cuttlefish
- Parboil the pork ribs for 1min, cut into pieces
- Scrub till clean, then slice the lotus root
- Soak the cuttlefish in hot water briefly, then cut into strips
- Rinse the red dates, cut them in half, remove the stones
- Add all the ingredients into a pot, bring to a boil
- Lower the fire and simmer for 1-2 hours until the flavour is absorbed
- Season with salt and sugar according to taste
Other home recipes may add peanuts, or they may replace the cuttlefish with Chinese Yunnan ham. How does your home cook it? And for those of you who have never tasted this soup, what are the dishes that pulls your heart back towards home?
For more comforting home recipes, check out my Recipes Section.