I am not a great cook by any standards but my dabbling in the kitchen seems to turn out edible, good-enough dishes for the family. Limited repertoire which I hope to expand in time. Most of my dabbling is based on memories of how mom used to cook plus my own improvisation when memory fails. Truth be told, I was more adventurous with whipping up dishes when I was studying and living in the US, since I was the guinea pig. With the family, I am more careful and less adventurous. My younger sister is always appreciative of what I cook, mom less so because, I guess, I will never measure up to her exact standards. I think perhaps subconsciously, she is somewhat resentful that she is aging and can no longer cook and take care of the family the way she used to. Anyway, I try not to take her criticism to heart. At least, between the 4 of us, maid included, 75% of the family like my cooking. Good enough for me.
I will talk about soup because I love soup. Some days, I am content with just a bowl of good soup, with second helpings of course. I find it tough to cook soup for one person though. So, sometimes I buy soup from The Soup Spoon, mainly their Tokyo chicken stew (my absolute favorite), velvety mushroom strogganoff, or Boston clam chowder. Or, use Campbell’s instant powdered soup satchels for super simple, no-fuss, soup.
When I do cook a pot of soup for the family, I will separate a good helping for myself. So far, I can only do 2 types of soup – chicken or pork base. If chicken base, I will use breast meat with bones, but skin removed to reduce the oil. From the wet market, it costs S$3.20 and I usually have it chopped into 4 pieces. Chicken base soup, our Indonesian maid can eat. Pork base, I use $5 worth of pork ribs (龙骨). So far, I have successfully whipped up watercress soup, corn and carrot soup, winter melon soup, and salted vegetable soup, pork or chicken base. Lotus roots and peanuts soup, I use only pork ribs as the base. I am thinking of cooking salted vegetable duck soup but have yet to figure out where to buy fresh raw duck since the chicken stalls at the wet markets I go to do not sell duck. I have not tried cooking fish base soup either, wondering what fish would make good soup base without the bones to endanger us. I know I can use ikan bilis but I don’t really find it very appetizing.
To cook soup, I always blanch the meat (pork or chicken) first before cooking it to make the soup base. After about 20 mins of boiling and another 20 mins of simmering, or however long for the water to have the pork or chicken taste, I will add the said vegetables and cook/simmer for another 30 to 45 mins. Corn and carrot needs to be cooked longer than watercress or winter melon. For lotus roots and peanuts soup, I first soak the peanuts for about an hour prior to cooking because mom does not like them too hard. For added taste, I usually add red dates (soaked and sliced) and dried scallops, and cook for another 15 mins. My sister loves fish balls, so I boil them separately and add when the soup is done. Best not to cook the fishballs again. I rarely add salt to my soup – the ingredients provide enough taste.
Recently, I tried my hands at bak kut teh. First try, mom said I used the wrong cut of pork ribs, even though I told the butcher specifically that I need the meat for making bak kut teh. If you cannot trust the butcher, who can you trust, right? Then mom has a particular soup base I HAVE to use, so luckily, I found it. Of course, I didn’t know I shouldn’t skin the garlic but use them as is, so the soup had a lot of disintegrated garlic pieces floating in them when the soup is done. So, I learned. Second try, I bought 软 骨 instead and used garlic cloves with skin, washed, before dropping into the soup. Better result. I also added black dried mushrooms, soaked an hour prior to soften them and cut into halves.
I will continue my research into what other soup I can make for the family. Simple to cook and nutritious soup is the order of the day. Do share if you have proven recipes.