Watercress Soup (西洋菜汤)
Persimmon, Pomelo, Custard Apple, Mango
Here’s the reason why I love doing my groceries at Little Saigon Market in Footscray. There, I can buy my favourite tropical fruits… and cheaply! Bananas, apples, melons and oranges at regular markets do not excite me, so I’m really glad we got this Vietnamese market in Melbourne.
A persimmon in Coles or Safeway usually costs $2 a fruit, at Little Saigon it has been sold at $2.99/kg. And have you tried pomelos and custard apples? Pomelos are like large grapefruits, only gentler, less bitter-tangy and more segmented with easily separable pulp. Gorgeous. And a good, ripe custard apple can be a wonderful dessert just on its own. Just halve it, and eat its sweet-fragrant contents with a spoon.
Snow Pea Sprouts, Watercress
This market also has all the Asian vegetables that I can dream of, including many that (even today) I still can’t recognise. But the two pictured above are some of my favourites, they sell it only on certain days depending on availability. Snow pea sprouts (Cantonese: dou miao) stir fries well with garlic, while watercress makes a wonderful soup. And for those of you who are looking for fresh pandan (screwpine) leaves for Nyonya dessert-making, you can find it here.
But let’s go into the actual recipe for watercress soup. Chinese watercress has an earthy-yet-aquatic quality that I really enjoy. The soup gives off a clean vegetable-y flavour with a good hit of wholesome, healthy greens. You don’t really need to create an actual stock when making this soup because the vegetable imparts a wonderful enough flavour. This soup is a good, cleansing support dish to many Chinese meals such as Claypot Rice and Roast Duck. And of course, it’s great for winter.
I’m not too clear about the origins of this semi-aquatic vegetable. But it’s called 西洋菜 (Western Vegetable) in Chinese, suggesting it’s a Western vegetable that has been introduced to the East. Having said that, I don’t see this vegetable featuring in many Western dishes.
There’s one important technique that you’ll need to know when making watercress soup. The water needs to be boiling vigorously when you’re adding the vegetable. If you don’t do that, the soup will be bitter.
The picture above shows two different ‘styles’ that people prefer when consuming this soup. Some of us like the watercress to be ‘fresh’ and bright green, while others prefer the muted flavour of softened watercress after prolonged cooking. I prefer the former, but when cooking that, you’ll need to know when to stop cooking. If boiled for too short a time, the freshly cooked watercress will taste unacceptably bitter.
For once, this recipe isn’t quantified and I’ll let your intuition guide you. It’s actually mum’s home recipe. I think the amount of water you need depends on how much watercress you bought. In terms of proportion, I’d use enough water to ‘float’ the watercress after it’s been boiled for awhile. And remember, a big bunch of watercress will shrink quite a fair bit after it’s been boiled in the soup.
Adjust the quantity of red dates used according to how much soup is being made. And if you prefer a bit of ‘body’ in the soup, then you’re welcome to create a stock first by boiling and then straining pork bones.
Watercress Soup (西洋菜汤)
Fill a pot with some Water, add & leave to simmer for 30-45mins till pork is tender:
A whole piece of Pork
6-10 Dried Red Dates (halved & stones removed)
Remove Pork & leave to cool before slicing into bite size pieces & return to soup.
You may also want to skim the scum off the soup surface at this point.
When about to serve, bring to a vigorous boil and add:
Watercress (discard the root portion)
Cook at medium boil until the watercress is cooked to your preference.
Keep tasting the watercress to know when to stop.
Season soup according to taste with :
Salt & Sugar
For more comforting home recipes, check out my Recipes Section.