KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 31 — Some days are rougher than others. This year, it feels as though entire weeks, months and seasons have been rough on everyone.
We all need some cheering up; our much drained spirits need lifting. Some quiet time in the kitchen, poring over a thick cookbook, assembling the ingredients we need for some comfort food. A few hours of boiling and simmering, stewing and roasting, the sort of workout that will fill our bellies when completed.
Who has the energy though?
So don’t berate yourself as lazy when you seek something similarly comforting but accomplished with the minimum of fuss. Certainly not hours of labour in the kitchen, not after a full day’s work.
It’s not sloth, it’s swiftly supercharging your soul.
Speaking of soul, that’s what this is — truly a bowl of “soul soup” made with mushrooms, siu bak choy and the perhaps unusual addition of fried shallots. A wholesome bowl of goodness that will leave you wanting more.
And easily made with simple ingredients, that’s the very best part.
Simple ingredients don’t have to be slouches in the nutritional department, however. Take the king oyster mushroom (Pleurotus eryngii), for example.
Larger than most commercial mushrooms, this makes them truly versatile as you can use them in a multitude of ways depending on how you prepare them.
Sliced thinly and they are perfect for grilling over charcoal, their “meaty” heft ensuring they don’t break down easily over the high flames. Brush some teriyaki sauce on them as you flip each wedge over and they’d be ready to go.
Such a robust texture goes well with soups, of course. Here you’d want to cut them chunkier so there’s more of a bite but even then there’s no fears of them dissolving into the soup unlike, say, the golden needles of enoki mushrooms.
Don’t be misled by their pale white colour though; these mushrooms are full of fibre and vitamins so your soul soup will offer your weary body a blast of much needed nutrition.
We get our requisite dose of green from some siu bak choy, the crunchy stems offering texture whilst the leaves, when added later so they barely wilt, gives the soup a burst of colour.
If that’s what is obvious on the surface, this soul soup gets much of its depth of flavour from the use of various aromatics — garlic, white onions, red onions — as its aromatics base.
The highlight here is the use of freshly fried shallots as both part of the aromatics as well as a garnish when the soup is served. What an easy way to heighten the savouriness of the soup, ensuring it truly rejuvenates one, body and soul.
SOUL SOUP: MUSHROOMS, SIU BAK CHOY & FRIED SHALLOTS
Shallots and garlic, onions both big and small, white and red, act as a base of aromatics for the soup. The stock still matters, however. Besides the chicken stock suggested here, a vegetable stock would work well too.
What matters is that you have the stock prepared ahead of time, if homemade, or ready-made purchased from the supermarket. If the latter, be careful with seasoning towards the end of the cooking process as many ready-made stocks already contain salt.
What if you don’t have king oyster mushrooms or can’t find any at the supermarket? Other mushrooms would work too, since they all impart a delicious savour to any dish.
Excellent substitutes include shitake (which translates as “oak fungus” in Japanese), with their subtle woodsy aroma, and maitake, also known as “Hen of the Wood” thanks to their earthy, almost gamey flavour.
The siu bak choy ought to be easily found at any pasar or supermarket. Therefore locating some should be easy. They also keep for longer than other leafy greens so it’s not a bad idea to have them as a staple in your vegetable chiller.
But the fried shallots? Oh, they are a must. Nothing tastes or smells quite like a batch of freshly fried sliced shallots. They will make or break this “soul soup”, believe you me. Definitely worth the effort to make some at home rather than buying stale, ready-made versions at the store.
Neutral cooking oil
10-12 shallots, thinly sliced
2½ litres chicken stock (if homemade, include any shredded meat from the carcass)
½ big/white onion, thinly sliced
3 small red onions, thinly sliced
6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
3-4 king oyster mushrooms, sliced into large chunks
4-6 siu bak choy, stems and leaves separated
1 egg, beaten (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large pot, use enough neutral cooking oil to fry the shallots. Fry gently over medium-low heat until golden brown. Remove half of the fried shallots from the pot and drain on paper towels. Set aside.
Add the prepared chicken stock to the remaining fried shallots and shallot oil in the pot. If using homemade stock, you might want to extract any cooked meat from the carcass and shred before adding to the pot.
Next, add the sliced big onion, small red onions and garlic. The rest of these aromatics don’t have to be fried; they will softened in the stock as it is heated.
Bring to a boil. While the stock is coming to a boil, you can slice the king oyster mushrooms into large chunks if you haven’t already. Once the stock is at a boil, add the mushrooms and wait for it to return to a boil again. Once that happens, reduce to a simmer.
After simmering for 10 minutes, add the siu bak choy stems. Allow to simmer for another 10 minutes before adding the siu bak choy leaves. You may also add a beaten egg at this point, if so desired.
Stir and turn off the heat after a minute. Taste the soup and season with salt and pepper accordingly.
Ladle the soup into large bowls. Garnish with the remaining fried shallots set aside earlier and serve immediately.
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