I first came across Hawaiian oxtail soup…well…via unconventional means. I saw our hero, the Solitary Gourmet, tucking into this apparently common Hawaiian dish in Japan. There are many cultural links between Hawaii and Japan and it makes sense that one can find the former’s dishes in the latter country. Hawaiian cuisine is a bit difficult to find in London and what’s available is all just a little bit more dressed up from what I can see is available on the original islands. No loco moco, no Spam musubi, no plate lunches. And certainly no oxtail soup, which apparently is commonly found throughout the state.

Hawaiian Oxtail Soup

Luckily, it’s an easy soup to make – essentially you dump everything into a pot and play a long game. There’s a tiny bit of fiddlier preparation with the oxtail where you parboil and trim the fat and I’m definitely going to do this with oxtails in future recipes too as it makes things all clearer and less fatty. Oh, and most importantly, it’s delicious – the oxtails were falling off the bone and the soy and ginger were perfect with it. It’s perfect for a cold day.

Hawaiian Oxtail Soup

Hawaiian Oxtail Soup
Adapted from Simply Recipes.
serves 4.

1 kg oxtail
1 piece dried orange peel
2 star anise
2 inch piece of ginger, thinly sliced
A half cup of shelled and peeled raw peanuts
Fresh mustard greens – a good sized bunch
Salt to taste

To serve
Coriander, chopped
Spring onions, sliced
Grated raw ginger and soy sauce
White rice

Place all the oxtail into a large pot and cover with boiling water. Set over high heat and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and let cook for 20 minutes. Drain the oxtail, rinsing them under cold water – do ensure you get all the tiny bits of bone off. Trim the oxtail of fat and then place them back into the now empty pot.

To the cleaned oxtail, add the dried orange peel, star anise, and ginger. Cover with water and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat and let simmer, half covered, for an hour. Add the peanuts and some salt and continue cooking until the oxtails are very tender – this will be about 2-2.5 hours longer. Adjust the salt to taste. Cut the bunch of mustard greens into large pieces and add them to the soup. Let them cook for 10 minutes and the soup is ready.

In the meantime, prepare the stuff to serve with the soup. Chop up lots of coriander. Thinly slice lots of spring onions. Cook some white rice. Grate some ginger.

When the oxtail is ready, ladle some into a bowl and top with the coriander and spring onions. Serve the rice in another bowl. In a dipping bowl, place some grated ginger and top with light soy sauce (adjust to your taste). To eat, pick out the meat from the oxtails and dip into the soy/ginger mix. The rice can be eaten alongside or dumped into the remaining soup to be eaten like a congee. Enjoy!

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Tamarind and Thyme: The Soup Era. We’ve been making and drinking quite a lot of soup. This recipe was suggested by my food-loving French colleague and apparently it’s quite the classic in France. I’m a big fan of both courgettes and La Vache Qui Rit (that’s Laughing Cow here in the UK) and it sounded right up my street. And it was! It was very comforting and ridiculously easy to make.

My courgettes are all gone now – I’ve just ripped up the plants – but I’ve noticed lots still in the shops that would be perfect for this.

Courgette and Le Vache Qui Rit Soup

Courgette and La Vache Qui Rit Soup
serves 4.

About 800g of courgettes
800ml water
1 tsp vegetable bouillon
4 triangles of Laughing Cow cheese
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

This one’s easy! If you feel the courgette skin is too bitter, peel some of it off; I left mine and my soup turned out fine. Cut up your courgettes into small chunks and dump them into a pot. Cover with 800ml water and the bouillon and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the courgettes are tender.

Add the cheese and stir through until incorporated. Whizz the soup with a blender until smooth and then salt and pepper to taste. Keep hot until ready to serve.

Is it an Indian summer now? It’s certainly sunnier and warmer than I would have expected it to be, seeing how cold and wet September entered. But thanks to the cold at night and a general unwillingness to turn on the central heating any more than we already are (we’re in a bit of denial that summer’s over), I’ve been making a lot of soup. I mean, look, second soup recipe in a row!

This Turkish red lentil soup, mercimek çorbasi, is currently one of our favourites, it being super easy to put together in very little time. While it’s simmering away (and an extra 10-15 minutes doesn’t hurt), you can go off and do something else. And the flavour! By itself the soup is fine but it’s when you add the lemon and mint that things pick up. And the chilli butter! If you’re looking to keep preparation all down to only one pot, dusting the top of the soup with a little Turkish dried chilli flakes (pul biber) is delicious too.

Turkish Red Lentil Soup

Turkish Red Lentil Soup
serves 2 as a light meal or 4 as a starter.

1 tbsp olive oil
1 small or 1/2 large onion, finely diced
1 carrot, finely diced
1 cup of split red lentils, washed
5 cups of water/vegetable stock
1 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 tsp ground cumin
salt

1 tbsp butter
dried Turkish chilli pepper flakes
fresh mint, chiffonade
lemon wedges

Heat a medium sized saucepan over medium heat and add the olive oil and onion. Cook until soft and translucent. Add the carrot and stir for another minute. Add the lentils, water/stock, tomato paste and cumin and stir through. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover and let simmer until the lentils and carrots are soft – this is usually 20-30 minutes. Blend the soup (I use a handheld blender) until smooth. Salt to taste and dilute too if it’s looking too thick. Keep hot.

In a small pan, melt the butter and add about a tsp of dried chilli flakes. Keep over a low-medium heat until the butter turns a beautiful reddish colour.

Serve the soup in bowls, drizzled with a little of the chilli butter and topped with fresh mint and serve with lemon wedges.

When I found fresh corn cobs at my supermarket recently, I jumped with joy. I love corn! I had a revelatory moment as a child when I first tasted corn kernels smothered in butter – I’m pretty sure I downed that dish, the sweet nubs of corn swimming in butter. Butter. OK, so maybe I fell in love with the butter.

But what I’m trying to say very poorly is that corn and dairy tend to go well together brilliantly. And what better way to join them together in holy matrimony than in a soup – in particular, corn chowder. Creamy, creamy corn chowder. This made for a brilliant dinner one cold September night.

Corn Chowder

Corn Chowder
Serves 2-3 as a light meal.

1 tbsp olive oil
A small onion, finely chopped
A small handful of chopped bacon or lardons (obviously, leave this out if you want the soup to be vegetarian-friendly)
Corn kernels cut from 3 fresh ears of corn
1 large starchy potato, peeled and diced
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
A sprig of fresh thyme
About 150 ml single cream
1-2 spring onions, finely sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat a medium size pot over medium heat and add the olive oil and the chopped onion. Fry until translucent. Add the bacon and fry until cooked. Add the corn, potato, stock and thyme and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and let simmer for about 10-15 minutes until the potato is soft. Fish out the thyme.

Add the single cream and bring back to a simmer. If you’re looking for a slightly smoother texture, go ahead and blend some of the soup; I stuck in a stick blender and gave it a bit of a whiz to give it just a little thickness and body but still with lumps. Add the sliced spring onions and stir through until wilted. Season to taste with salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper.

Serve hot with lots of hot bread on the side.

Winter time means soup time! It’s certainly chilly here in London and my frosty lawn is testament to that but I still find myself living vicariously through the east coast of North America and their snowmageddon (I miss the snow – c’mon, London, just one little dusting…). While I continue on in hope that snowflakes will come sometime this year, I’m making lots of soup in my kitchen.

This sweet potato soup was inspired by something very similar we had for lunch a while ago in Bistroy Les Papilles in Paris. It’s very simple too, with the main ingredients being just an onion and the sweet potatoes, of course. And I served it poured over a few ingredients placed at the bottom of the soup bowl. The only addition that is mandatory is the Greek yoghurt/creme fraiche – its tang is required to cut through the sweetness of the tubers. The rest is a bonus!

Greek Yoghurt, Croutons, Chorizo, Parsley

Sweet Potato Soup

Leftovers were even better – this bowl below was thinned a bit more and topped with just a few toasted seeds, a little black pepper and a blob of Greek yoghurt. And now I need to make more!

Leftover Sweet Potato Soup

Sweet Potato Soup
serves 4.

olive oil
1 small onion
1 clove garlic
6 small or 2 large sweet potatoes
a little bit of vegetable or chicken bouillon
salt and white pepper

To serve:
Greek yoghurt or creme fraiche (not optional!)
Parsley (optional)
Chorizo (optional)
Croutons (optional)
Toasted seeds (optional)

Peel and chop the sweet potatoes and set aside.

Heat a little olive oil over medium heat in a large saucepan. Peel and chop the onion and cook in the pan until golden brown. Chop the garlic roughly and add it to the pan to colour a little. Add the sweet potatoes, the bouillon (I just chucked in a teaspoon of whatever I had) and add water to cover everything. Raise the heat to a boil, then reduce it and let it all simmer away until everything is soft.

Puree the soup using a hand blender or in a normal blender or if you don’t have that, mashing it all up works too. Or just leave it chunky – no one’s going to check! If it’s too thick, add water and ensure that it’s all heated through. Salt and pepper to taste.

To serve, chop up some eating chorizo, make your croutons and chop your parsley. Either (a) place a quenelle of Greek yoghurt at the bottom of your soup bowl, scatter with the toppings and then ladle the soup in at the table, or (b) ladle the soup into the bowls, add a blob of yoghurt and scatter over the toppings. Serve.

I spent a day at the Scandinavian Christmas fair late last month with Jeanne from Cooksister (the same as featured here last year and Jeanne wrote about our visit this year) and one of the many delicious things we tasted was a Norwegian fish ball soup, all hot and creamy and just the thing for the cold day. Once I got home, the memory of that soup stayed with me and I knew I had to recreate it!

Norwegian Fish Soup

It turns out fish soup is incredibly quick to put together and perfect for a cold winter’s night. As salmon was on offer at our supermarket, I only used that but you could mix and match with a number of fishes; prawns would be good too. It’s wonderfully creamy and filling and I only wonder why I’d not made it before. There are similar soups served in Sweden and Finland and I now hope to investigate the differences between them all.

Norwegian Fish Soup
serves 4.

2 large carrots
1 large leek
1 tbsp olive oil
4 cups fish stock (I used a bouillon cube)
1 large potato
500g salmon fillets
100-150ml double cream
fresh dill
salt and white pepper
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce

Peel and cut the carrots into chunks. Clean the leeks (slice them lengthwise), trim anything too tough and slice into 1cm half circles. Heat a pot over medium heat, add the olive oil and cook the carrots for a few minutes. Add the leeks and continue cooking until the leeks start to soften. Pour in the fish stock and bring to a boil. Peel the potato and cut into small chunks. Lower the heat, add the potato and let the whole thing simmer until the vegetables are soft.

Meanwhile, cut the salmon fillets into large chunks – not too small or they’ll just fall apart in the soup later. Add the salmon chunks into the soup when the vegetables are soft. Stir gently. When the fish is cooked through, pour in the double cream and continue to simmer it all together for a few minutes (don’t bring it to a boil). Salt and pepper the soup to taste and stir through the Worcestershire sauce. Finally, add as much dill as you wish and serve with lots of crusty bread and perhaps a salad on the side.

By some sheer coincidence, I reckon, two of Hong Kong’s best known wonton noodle shops are located across from each other on Wellington Street in Central. On one side, Mak’s Noodles; on the other, Tsim Chai Kee. It was late breakfast time one weekday, perhaps almost brunch, when we decided to try both of them. I hear both places fill up at lunchtime with all the financial workers in the area so it’s probably best to go either early or late.

We started at Mak’s. Two bowls of wonton noodle soup were ordered (about 25HKD each) – regular egg noodles for me and flat rice noodles for M. Lots has been said already about the size of the portions at Mak’s but even after reading about it all, it was still a bit gobsmacking to have a tiny bowl served to you. You know those Chinese soup bowls that are usually set at each place at a Chinese restaurant? Yeah, that size.

Wonton Mee

Wonton Hor Fun

Four little wontons sat at the bottom of the bowl, under the little pile of noodles. The standard size for a wonton in Hong Kong seems to be of ping pong size but these were significantly smaller. Still, they were tasty with their prawn filling. The noodles were excellent with a great bouncy texture and the soup was very flavourful.

At Mak's Noodle

It was a great bowl but the size of the portion and the price of that portion is a bit hard to stomach. I reckon I could put away at least 3-4 bowls comfortably which definitely doesn’t make this a budget noodle shop. Of course, if this was in London, it would almost be a bargain for the quality evident in the bowl. They’re also famous for their dry noodles topped with shrimp roe but we didn’t have another chance to try those.

Mak’s Noodle
G/F, 77 Wellington Street
Central
Hong Kong

With lots of space still in our tummies, we crossed the road and entered straight into Tsim Chai Kee. The inside was surprisingly modern and all dark wood and a great contrast to the old-fashioned look of Mak’s. The menu is shorter than that of Mak’s with only 3 kinds of toppings available: wontons, sliced beef and fishballs. Prices were lower (about 20HKD for one topping and 23HKD for two toppings) and portions were bigger.

M chose the wonton noodle soup this time and yes, it was a generous portion. Again, excellent noodles but I thought there was more of a lye flavour in the soup which must have leached out from the noodles. Still, I would happily down a whole bowl of these noodles with their ping pong sized wontons.

Wonton Mee

I went for two toppings: wontons and fishballs. The bigger wontons made for a meatier mouthful though in hindsight, I quite like the daintiness of Mak’s wontons. The huge, bouncy, homemade fishballs were excellent – they were made of dace and studded with dried orange peel, not something I’d had in a fishball before. The noodles were just as good as in Mak’s.

Fishballs and Wonton Mee

Oh, I can’t pick a straight out winner. Both were great but for value for your buck (and it’s all about good value here), Tsim Chai Kee is better. When I go back one day, it’ll be all three toppings in a bowl for me (yeah, then I’ll cross the road and have a plateful of dry noodles with shrimp roe)!

Tsim Chai Kee Noodle
Shop B, G/F Jade Centre
98 Wellington Street
Central
Hong Kong