This is a simple soup of winter melon and pork meatballs. The author mentioned that she came across this simple meal at the tranquil old lanes of central Chengdu, where a woman was eating her supper of this lovely soup of meatballs and winter melon, with a bowl of rice.
You can use any vegetable you like, such as bean sprouts, choy sum, cabbage or tomatoes. But take note that if the vegetable you choose takes a few minutes to become tender, cook it before you add the meatballs. If it cooks almost instantly, then add them in when the meatballs are just about ready.
According to the author "If you want to make this into a one-dish meal, like the lady in the old lanes, use your chopsticks to pluck out the meatballs and vegetables and them with your rice, then drink the soup from your empty rice bowl."
We had this soup as part of a meal with rice, along with some other main dish and a stir-fry veggie.
Soup With Vegetables And Meatballs
(adapted from Every Grain Of Rice, by Fuchsia Dunlop)
for the meatballs :
1 dried shiitake mushroom
a small piece of ginger
100gm minced pork with a little fat
1/2 egg, beaten
1 tbsp finely chopped spring onion greens
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp potato flour
ground white pepper
for the soup :
1.5 litres stock
500gm winter melon, or other vegetable of your choice (the exact quantity is not critical)
2 tbsp finely sliced spring onion greens
Soak the dried mushroom for 30 minutes in hot water from the kettle. Crush the ginger, then put it in a glass with cold water to cover.
When the mushroom is soft, chop it finely. Place the pork in a bowl, and add 1 tbsp of the ginger-soaking water and all the other meatball ingredients, seasoning with salt and pepper. Mix vigorously, stirring in one direction (this is supposed to give the meat a better texture). You will end up with a nice soft meatball mixture.
Bring the stocks to a boil over a high flame. Peel the winter melon, then cut away and discard the soft, seedy section in the centre. cut the rest of the melon into 1/2-1cm slices. Add the winter melon (or any other prepared vegetable) and simmer until tender. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer, then add the meatballs. The Chinese way is to take a small handful of paste in your left hand (if you are right-handed), make a fist, then gently squeeze the paste up through the hole made by your thumb and index finger. Use the other hand to scoop off walnut-sized balls of paste, and drop them into the soup. If you prefer, you can use a couple of teaspoons to mould the meatballs.
Simmer gently for about five minutes until the meatballs have risen to the surface and are cooked through. (if using tomatoes or greens that cook quickly, add them at this stage and let them heat through).
Turn the soup into a warmed serving bowl and scatter with spring onion greens.
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