Comfort for the Soul

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Soup has often been praised for it’s comforting and soothing qualities. Chefs (and cooks) that I have known over the years have often commented how for all the fancy techniques like sous-vide or your foams and emulsions, soup is the one dish that will retain a special place in people’s hearts.  It could be due to the sheer simplicity of it – meat and/or vegetables are cooked with stock/water for a length of time and you can have a whole meal in one dish.  Plus the earlier comforting and soothing qualities which soup is unrivalled (in culinary terms)

How many times have you hankered after soup – especially when you’re ill?  In times like that, even the much-maligned tinned soups can be a the source of great comfort for the patient.  I have a friend who will only have Heinz’s tomato soup when he’s feeling ill and I kind of see where he’s coming from; It’s a familiar taste of something not too bland but with a hint of piquancy, there’s nothing lumpy which requires any substantial jaw-action and it’s quite thick, almost as if you can feel it slowly coating your innards with its tender warmth as you drink it. However, it had to be Cream of Tomato flavour as all the other varieties would be too rich for his palette, especially when ill. Thinking about it now, I certainly wouldn’t be able to cope with the rich creaminess of say, cream of Chicken soup if I were ill.

Soups have always been important to my family – My mother prides herself on her soups and often tells us how she’s woken up early especially or however many hours it’s taken of gentle simmering to make the soup. She’s also equally proud of not only the high quality of ingredients she uses (a lot of the dried goods are sent over from Hong Kong), but also the wide variety of ingredients she uses. In fact, she often likes to say that given the amount of ingredients and hours that’s been put into making the soup, it *MUST* taste good!

Chinese soups are quite different to Westernised soups – Think more like a broth. Also, don’t think that the soups I’m talking about are like the egg drop or soup for wontons that you may get in your local Chinese takeaway. I’m talking about Chinese herb soups where meat is cooked in water with some (rehydrated) Chinese dried herbs and by herbs, I’m not talking about herbs like dried tarragon or thyme – I mean herbs like wolfberries or dried lily bulbs. All the ingredients combined mean there are some actual medicinal qualities to the soups we have at home, thus truly making them truly something to eat when you’re not feeling well.

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I can’t quite remember exactly when it was that I started liking Chinese soups so much – I guess I’ve always liked soup as a child and I remember one of my sisters and I (mock) fighting over who got to eat the dried longan meat. To this day, my Mother puts in extra knowing that I will eat as many as I can get away with. When I was still in my teens, I kept having soup the day after it was made. I think it started off that I would let everyone else have some soup first and only when they were done would I have some – A very Chinese trait, but it was also because I come from a large family. However, I soon began to notice that the flavours had a chance to develop and mature a bit more thus making it even more tasty, so I made a decision that I would only drink soup the day AFTER it was made – much to my parent’s amusement. In fact, I would get teased slightly for proclaiming that “Soup tastes better the day after.” What they didn’t realise that from a selfless act of letting everyone have some first, I discovered that I would actually benefit the most from the arrangement. However, you do run the risk that there wouldn’t be any left as everyone else would finish the pot before I could get to it, but I guess that’s a risk you take.

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Another thing I’ve liked to do since I was a child would be that soup could be used as a complete meal; To this day, I like putting some cold cooked rice into a bowl and ladle over some hot soup. The cold rice tempers the soup a little and the grains of rice plump up a little as they absorb the broth slightly. Similar to having noodles in broth, this was a good way to get children to eat rice (and drink soup) as the rice would also soften in the hot soup. Again, we go back to the soft comfort-food side of soup.

These days, I rarely have the patience to wait overnight before trying the soup because I know that each mouthful will make you feel like you’re drinking some precious elixir – Yes, it really is *that* good. That first mouthful instantly soothes your whole being – Not just physically but mentally too. You can’t help but sigh almost contentedly, knowing that right then, you’re drinking a liquid nectar that is homemade Chinese soup and it’s filling you with warmth as you feel all the herbs working on you like a being wrapped in a warm blanket, you can feel almost every minute it’s taken for the soup to transform from meat, Chinese dried herbs and water to such a delicious concoction. Truly, is there any other food that can soothe your soul as well as soup does?

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