Spinach Soup with Century Eggs

We’ve come to the end of our current exploration of Century Eggs – from making them from scratch, to mixing them with other ingredients and preparing dishes with them. This is recipe number ten of ten, and what a nice way to end a series it is. This is a soup – a homestyle recipe – that is enjoyed across China as well as in East and Southeast Asia. It uses Chinese Spinach, also called Yin Choi or Yin Tsai, to flavor a delicate, egg-drop style soup that is savory, delicious and filling.

Chinese Spinach Soup with Century Eggs
Chinese Spinach Soup with Century Eggs

The soup is also very quick to make, and takes about 20 minutes from the beginning of preparation to serving. It could be a bit more time if you chose to let the wolfberries stew in the chicken broth a bit, for a sweeter soup.

The Chinese Spinach or Yin Choi (Yin Tsai) is really a form of edible amaranth that comes in a variety or shapes and colors. My favorite is the type with a purple blush up the center of the otherwise green leaf, it makes for a beautiful presentation. Alas, this form is not always available around here, so for this dish, I used one of the all-green varietals. Yin Choi is delicious, and very nutritious. It is extremely high in Vitamin A (2770 IU/100g) and is also a good source of Vitamin C, calcium, potassium, and iron. Other greens are sometimes substituted for amaranth, and it is not uncommon to see the thin, spear-like leaves of water spinach used in variations of this dish.

Goji Berries (Wolfberries)
Goji Berries (Wolfberries)

Another interesting thing about the soup is that it makes use of goji berries – also called wolfberries in English – and can thus be considered a medicinal soup as well as just a dish that is comforting and good to eat. The goji berries are high in iron, selenium, riboflavin, Vitamin C and other antioxidants, as well as a wide variety of phytochemicals such as beta-carotene. and amino acids. They also contain small amounts of atropine, an acetylcholine receptor antagonist. In plain English, this means that the atropine in goji berries binds at the receptor sites used by the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, and dilates the pupils, increases heart rate, and reduces salivation and other secretions. In much larger doses than those provided by goji berries, atropine is used as an antidote to a number of toxins, including organophosphate insecticides and some chemical nerve agents such as tabun, sarin, VX and soman.

So you have a recipe using Century Eggs that make a delicious, medicinal soup that also protects you from chemical weapons. Does it get any better than this?

Chinese Spinach Soup with Century Eggs

Ingredients
1 pound Chinese Spinach (also called yin choi or yin tsai)
3 cups chicken broth
1 cup plus 1/3 cup water
3 tablespoons wolfberries
1-2 teaspoons light soy sauce
2-3 teaspoons garlic, minced
1 century egg, quartered
1 cooked salted egg, quartered
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/3 cup water
1 teaspoon salt
1-2 teaspoons freshly ground white pepper
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon of sesame oil (or to taste)

Method
Wash spinach and drain well. Separate leaves from stalks, and cut stalks into 2-3 inch sections.

In a large saucepan, bring chicken stock and 1 cup of water to a rolling boil, and add the wolfberries. Lower heat to a low simmer and cook for 2-3 minutes. (If you desire a stronger wolfberry flavor, remove from heat and cover the pot to allow berries to stew a bit.)

Return broth to a boil and add soy sauce and garlic. Then add the spinach stalks. Cover saucepan and boil for about 2-3 minutes. Pour cornstarch and water mixture into pan a bit at a time, stirring constantly until desired thickness is achieved.

Add the leaves of the Chinese Spinach and after the leaves begin to wilt, add the sliced century and salted eggs. Boil for about 1 minute Add salt and pepper.

Turn off heat and slowly pour in the beaten egg and stirring vigorously to thread the egg as you do. Add sesame oil, and mix. Serve immediately with extra sesame oil and other condiments as desired.

Variations: There are many variations of this dish. One of the most popular is a spinach in sauce that can be achieved by reducing the chicken broth and water by half and adjusting the seasonings accordingly (reduce soy, reduce pepper). One can also omit the garlic and add a couple of teaspoons of sugar to emphasize the goji berries in a less savory broth. The dish can also be made suitable for vegetarians (assuming they eat eggs) if a strong vegetable broth is substituted for the chicken broth.

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I really like this recipe. It is as comforting and homey as an egg-flower soup can be with the added flavor of the amaranth, goji berries, and of course, the Century Eggs. In truth, the Century Eggs provide something of a foil to the rest of the soup with mouthful blasts of lightly sour, pungent flavor within the delicate broth. It is indeed good to the last, but the white pepper has a tendency to aggregate at the bottom, so be careful of those last couple of spoon fulls – they might pack a wallop of spice.

Deep Fried and Steamed Pidan
Deep Fried and Steamed Pidan

There are many other ways to prepare pidan or Century Eggs, but the ones presented here are my favorites. They can be coated with fish, shrimp or squid paste and deep fried. My favorite form of this recipe is found most frequently in Thailand where they flavor the fish paste around the eggs with lots of Thai Basil. There are also a whole family of steamed Century Eggs recipes – usually coupling the pidan with salted eggs or occasionally with tea eggs or the intriguing soy-soaked iron eggs in a ground of regular chicken or duck eggs.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this exploration of Century Eggs, and that you try (and like) some of the recipes presented. If you were familiar with and like Century Eggs, I hope that these recipes give you some great ways to enjoy the eggs. If you were unfamiliar with the eggs to start, I hope also that the recipes and discussion gives you some perspective when viewing all of those “most horrible food ever,” videos out there on the internet of young men proving their bravery by eating a Century Egg. They really aren’t any worse than a bit of strong cheese, and when prepared correctly, their flavor brings a delicious savoriness to a wide variety of dishes. Its been an interesting journey for me, and as always, I am grateful for having the opportunity to share it with you. (All words and photos by Laura Kelley.)

Kimchi Chigae

I love kimchi.  I have several jars of kimchi in my refrigerator at all times.  Kimchi of Napa cabbages and Korean radish, cucumber kimchi, and now, thanks to food and travel writer Michael Y. Park – kimchi from North Korea as well.

You see, Michael recently returned from a trip to North Korea with a handwritten recipe for North Korean kimchi in hand. He sent it to a few people, and in September, we are going to have a North-South Kimchi Tasteoff in New York.

To clear space in the refrigerator for incoming batches of North Korean kimchi, I had to part with some older ones.  A couple of these had gone sour, so I decided to make, a big pot of the delicious kimchi soup – kimchi chigae – out of them.  My husband was away on business for a few days, so soup was also a great way to cook once and eat several times during his absence.

Kimchi Chigae with Gim
Kimchi Chigae with Gim

Well-made kimchi is usually a balance between sweet, salty, sour, spicy and hot flavors. (See my basic recipe with information about variants – here)  Fermentation is temperature controlled and after no more than a day or so at room temperature, the kimchi is placed in a cool or refrigerated spot.  There are also special kimchi refrigerators that can be used to assist in the fermentation, with the correct temperature for the type of kimchi set by pushing a few buttons or turning a dial.

When a batch of kimchi has been allowed to ferment too long, either because it was kept warm for too long before refrigeration, or simply because it has been in the refrigerator too long, it goes sour.  Some Koreans call this sour kimchi, “crazy kimchi” and won’t eat it.  Being a practical people, the Koreans came up with a wonderful solution to this.  Namely, they make a delicious and nutritious soup out of the sour batches – kimchi chigae.

Another thing about this soup, like many Korean soups, is that it is on the table in a little more than a half-an-hour from start to finish. My recipe is a little more elaborate than the bare-bones traditional recipe, but I think it is worth it. The added ingredients give it a depth of flavor and savoriness not found in the more simple recipes. I hope you like it!

Laura’s Kimchi Chigae Recipe
2-3 tablespoons sesame oil
1/3 pound pork bellies sliced
1 medium-large onion, sliced
2 tablespoons sugar
1 small bunch spring onions (5-6 onions)
3 cups sour kimchi
5-6 cloves garlic, sliced
Water to cover meat and vegetables
1 tablespoon gochugaru
2 tablespoons gochuchang
2 teaspoons doenchang
1-2 teaspoons coarse sea salt, or to taste
A teaspoon of dashi (optional)
½ pack tofu, sliced

Dry roasted sesame seeds for garnish
Roasted seaweed slices (gim) for garnish (optional)

Slice the pork bellies into bite-size pieces. In a large sauce pan, heat the sesame oil and sauté the pork over high heat until it becomes opaque and starts to color. When done, remove from pan and set aside. In remaining oil, add the sliced onion and stir briefly but well. Add half of the sugar and stir again. Reduce the heat to low, cover and let onion begin to caramelize. Stir or shake only once or twice for 15-20 minutes. When the onion is soft and beginning to color, add the green onions and stir well.

Chop kimchi well so that diners will not have to struggle with large pieces. Add kimchi and any juice to the onions in the pot and stir well. Let kimchi and onions heat for a few minutes over medium heat stirring occasionally. Add cooked pork and sliced garlic and stir again. When meat and vegetables are warm, add enough water to cover and stir again. If making soup, add more water than if making a thicker stew. Cover and heat over medium-to high heat.

Add gochugaru, gochuchang and doenchang and stir well, taking care to break up the paste and stir into the soup. (One way to do this is to ladle a bit of soup into a small bowl and whisk or stir the pastes into the soup. When fully dissolved, return the soup to the bowl and stir well.)  Add salt, remaining sugar, and if using, a bit of dashi and stir again. Reduce heat, cover and let cook at a low-to-medium simmer for 20 minutes. When time has elapsed, taste the soup and if necessary adjust the flavors.

Slice tofu into bite-size pieces and add to the soup. Cover and let cook another 5-8 minutes. When done, let sit uncovered for 5 minutes before serving. Serve with rice, if desired.

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I hope you make and enjoy this soup.  I know I will as I continue to develop the recipe for North Korean kimchi. The first batch was very good, but I think it was had too much gochugaru and salt.  I’ll be making another batch with less of everything, except the fish, and perhaps try a few white- or water-kimchi varieties as well.

Michael will be writing about the North-South Kimchi Tasteoff at some point, and may give me permission to write about the recipe development at a later date.  Until then, if you would like to read more about his food adventures in North Korea, he wrote an excellent piece for Epicurious about his trip. (Words and development of traditional recipe for Kimchi Chigae by Laura Kelley; Photo of Kimchi Chigae by Laura Kelley.)

The Silk Road in the News #4: Ancient Soup from 400 BCE

Chinese Archaeologist Examines 2,400 Year-Old Soup Cauldron

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Imagine the world around 400 BCE. The Phonecians in Carthage were the dominant power in North Africa; Socrates had just been condemed to death; in Mesoamerica, the Olmec civilization entered a period of terminal decline; and a Chinese nobleman was laid to rest in his tomb in Xian with enough ancient soup and wine to see him through to the afterlife.

After 2,400 years the couldron or ting containing the soup has been opened and it was found to contain an oxidized liquid and a few stock bones. 2,400 year-old soup. I cannot help to wonder what it was made of. but I won’t have to wonder long, because tests are being done to determine the ingredients inside the pot. In the larger, unopened vessel in the photograph, a substance thought to be wine was also found.

I’m betting its a thin, salty, beef-based broth with a souring agent like vinegar to dissolve the calcium from the bones. Perhaps some daikon and mushroom or cabbage could have adorned the broth and Sichuan pepper or star anise was added for flavor along with a bit of ginger or garlic. Only time will tell what food/medicine this man brought with him to the grave. (Words by Laura Kelley, Photo borrowed from the internet alternatively seen with AFP and Xinhua credits.)