KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 18 – The nights are getting colder. Many evenings, it rains. We long to be wrapped up in a thick blanket, to cuddle with our faithful bolster. We want to be warm and to be comforted.

A big bowl of hot soup would achieve that too. Now wouldn't that be lovely right now?

Recently I have been thinking of the sea. Of Nai Harn Beach where I had a bouilabaise instead of the tom yam talay you’d expect in Thailand, more Provençal than Phuket, chockful of squid and prawns and fish.

I remember the chupe de centollas I had in Chile, a hearty stew made from shredded king crab meat. The creamy, funky ramen broth in Sapporo laced with niboshi (dried baby sardines).

The pinnacle of Chinese cuisine in the form of a chicken soup simmered for half a day in Taipei, redolent of the best ingredients – free-range hens, premium scallops and dry-cured jīnhuá huǒtuǐ.

In every memory, the sweet, briny scent of the sea. From squid to scallops, the sea calls out to me. Mare in Italian, talay in Thai. The sea, the sea.

I want to recreate that flavour, that colour and cacophony in a bowl, but on my own terms.

This is what I came up with.

Brimful of fish and scallops, squid and shrimp, this soup is perfect comfort food for rainy days. A soulful bowl of seafood goodness.

The addition of tomatoes and pickled mustard greens or hum choy (literally “salted vegetables” in Cantonese) add a gentle acidity to the simmered stock; a sourness that is part fresh and part fermented.

It’s the taste of home cooking at its simplest, with the best ingredients and the best intentions. A bowl full of love, to be shared with family or to be savoured alone until you’re reunited with your loved ones.

Above all, it’s a bowl that will beat away any rainy day blues and fill you with the warmth of summer sunshine that will return.

A SIMPLE SEAFOOD SOUP

With enough seafood, you can get away with simply using water for your stock liquid. However, if you happen to have some ready stock at hand, such as a homemade shiong tong (“superior stock” in Cantonese) prepared earlier and frozen for occasions such as these, do use them.

Besides fish, the assortment of seafood may include squid, scallops and shrimp.
Besides fish, the assortment of seafood may include squid, scallops and shrimp.

Besides fish, which forms the base of the stock, the assortment of seafood may include squid, scallops and shrimp. Whatever you fancy; frozen works just as well here as fresh, and might be more convenient.

Get rid of any fishy smells with some green onion and ginger.
Get rid of any fishy smells with some green onion and ginger.

If you’re concerned about any fishy smells, get rid of them by adding some green onion and ginger. These aromatics also perfume the final soup and make it taste more balanced.

Pickled mustard greens or 'hum choy' (literally “salted vegetables” in Cantonese).
Pickled mustard greens or 'hum choy' (literally “salted vegetables” in Cantonese).

Don’t forget to rinse your pickled mustard greens or hum choy properly before using else the soup might end up far too salty.

When in season, ripe tomatoes are full of flavour.
When in season, ripe tomatoes are full of flavour.

When in season, ripe tomatoes are full of flavour. If you find the tomatoes you have a tad bland or watery, however, one trick is to squeeze as much liquids from them as possible before adding them to the soup. Half a teaspoon of tomato paste might help you obtain the desired acidity here.

Slice a tube of Japanese tofu into thick coins like these.
Slice a tube of Japanese tofu into thick coins like these.

Typically I would use blocks of soft white tofu in soups like these. However, using Japanese tofu (which gets its golden hue from the addition of eggs), can mix things up a little. Slice a tube of Japanese tofu into thick coins and add them in towards the end of the cooking time to avoid them crumbling.

Ingredients

200g pickled mustard greens (hum choy)

3 litres superior stock (or water)

500g fish of choice, sliced

2 ripe tomatoes, sliced

1-2 stalks green onion, sliced into sticks

4-5 slices ginger

100g squid, sliced

4-6 whole scallops

6-8 whole shrimp, shelled and deveined

1 tube of Japanese tofu, sliced

Salt and white pepper to taste

Cilantro leaves, for garnishing

Method

Rinse the pickled mustard greens (hum choy) ahead of time to ensure they are not too salty. You may also soak them in water for an hour before draining and rinsing. Slice the rinsed vegetables coarsely.

Add the stock (or water), sliced fish, pickled mustard greens, sliced tomatoes, green onions, ginger to a large pot or pan. Bring to a boil over high heat. Once it has reached a boil, reduce to a simmer.

A soulful bowl of seafood goodness.
A soulful bowl of seafood goodness.

Allow the soup to simmer for about 30 minutes. Towards the end of the cooking time, say five minutes before turning the heat off, add the squid, scallops, shrimp and Japanese tofu. You don’t want to add these too early to avoid overcooking them.

You may want to serve from your pot or pan directly at the table.
You may want to serve from your pot or pan directly at the table.

Taste and season with salt and white pepper accordingly. Ladle into smaller bowls; you may want to serve from your pot or pan directly at the table. Garnish with cilantro leaves and serve immediately while still hot.

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