This is a traditional Chinese dessert and a popular dish among the Chinese. It can be eaten any day of the year, but does have special meaning during Chinese New Year’s (because of the red, added with glutinous rice balls filled with sweet black sesame!).
This dessert can be served hot or cold and will vary in its content depending on the chef. The basic recipes really just calls for red beans, water and sugar, but many people will also add lotus seeds, black rice, glutinous rice balls and varying other ingredients to make it more rich and wholesome. Some people also will freeze the leftover dessert and make popsicles with them (Hong Kong actually carries this as a commercial dessert in super markets!).
Soak the red beans in warm water for about 2 hours prior to cooking (this will soften them more)
Soak the tangerine peel for 20 minutes (or until soft). Using a butter knife, scrape off the dark outside skin until all the brown portions have washed off under running water (this will help reduce the bitterness of the soup)
Boil your soup water
When water boils, add everything except the glutinous rice balls
Boil on high heat for 10 minutes
Reduce to a medium boil while covered for 30 minutes (or until all the ingredients have softened to your liking)
Add glutinous rice balls and boil for another 5 minutes
Serve and enjoy!
Low in fat and a very tasty, healthy and protein rich sweet soup
It serves as a good dessert base (you can add other ingredients to customize it)
There is a good portion of fiber in the soup
Excellent source of antioxidants, magnesium, iron, potassium and zinc
This soup is slightly cooling, helps with circulation and if you want to warm it, can add a few dried dragon eyes (for taste and sweetness, so add less rock sugar)
Red beans are amazing for dispelling dampness in the body and detoxifying, so this is great if you’re feeling sluggish, heavy, or bloated
Starfish? WHAT? Yah… starfish. I knew that the Chinese used starfish in soups, but I had never actually seen where I could buy starfish, nor tried soups with starfish before. I happened to venture to Lamma Island in Hong Kong one day and ta-da(!) I found some dried starfish! What was even more special was that the lady who sold them was so warm and welcoming that she talked and walked me through the whole process and which ingredients that could potentially go into the soup.
In short, starfish soups are designed to remove internal heat, so supplemental ingredients should compliment this. Big learning from me on this soup – while it’s nice to show all the ingredients in my photos, I wouldn’t necessarily scoop any starfish for the kids to see. I actually served only the broth to the family and everyone drank it. See, this is what my Mom did to me when I was a kid and now I’m doing it to mine! My rebuttal is basically – it’s good for you! Don’t mind what’s inside!
To start, soak the dried starfish, tangerine peel and scallops in cool water for about 15 minutes. This will soften the starfish and peel so that you can remove “stuff” from them. From the tangerine peel, you can scrape off the “peel” or darker side, which is quite bitter and will make your soup bitter. You can do this with a knife. The same actually goes for the starfish. Once its softened, scrape off the bottom-side of the “scales”. These are the little bumps that you can find on the underside. Once it’s scraped, it should look clean like the photo below. Cut the starfish into pieces that actually fit into your pot!
Next, in a separate pot of boiling water, add sliced ginger (save 1 to 2 slices for the soup) and the starfish together and boil for 5 minutes. This will blanch the starfish from impurities, but also will help remove some of the “fishiness”. Some people also pan fry with ginger to remove “fishiness” – this is particularly useful on fish. Remove and set aside.
Drain the water and boil a small pot to blanch the pork shank. Another necessary step to remove the impurities, although pork shank doesn’t have as much gunk as pork bones or even pork marrow. This step does help remove some of the fat as well. You can begin to boil your soup water at this time.
You can also prepare your vegetables by chopping them up into large bite-sized pieces. For the Chinese Yam, WEAR GLOVES! If you read my post on preparation of Chinese Yam, this is called out. The skin of the Chinese Yam will make your hands very itchy if you come into contact with it, so be sure to wear gloves. When the soup water boils, throw everything in together (including the 2 pieces of ginger hanging around).
Boil on high for 30 minutes and then reduce to a medium boil for another 2 hours. This will really bring out the healing, heat-removal properties of the starfish. The ginger isn’t to counter the heat-removal, that’s why you add a tiny amount – it’s to reduce the “fishiness” of the soup. Once boiled, taste and salt as needed. Then serve and enjoy!
Soak in cool water, the dried starfish, dried scallops and dried tangerine peel for 15 minutes 2. Begin to prepare the corn by quartering it and the Chinese Yam, by peeling and cutting 1-inch long pieces (be sure to wear gloves) 3. Using a sharp knife edge, scrape off the top-side (darker side) of the tangerine peel in running water (to remove more of the bitterness) 4. Using a sharp knife edge, scrape off the underside of the starfish until all the little rivets are gone 5. Cut the starfish into suitable sized pieces for your soup 6. Thinly Slice your fresh ginger 7. In a separate pot, boil enough water to cover the starfish and once it’s boiling, throw in the ginger (saving 1-2 pieces for the soup) and blanch the starfish on high heat for 5 minutes 8. Remove the starfish and set aside 9. In the same pot, boil enough water to cover your pork shank and blanch that on high heat for 5 minutes 10. Remove the pork shank and set aside 11. Boil your soup water 12. Once the water boils, add all the ingredients together (including the remaining ginger). Boil on high heat for 30 minutes and reduce to a medium heat for 2 hours. 13. Taste and salt as necessary 14. Serve and enjoy!
My herbalist recommended I make this soup given the recent change of temperature and humidity. She actually only provides the “dried goodies” – see below – in terms of herbs. She will tell you that you additionally need a pork shank and chayotes to complete the soup. This soup is targeted to help reduce wetness in the body and aid with the dampness that comes with Spring in Hong Kong. It’s slightly sweet to taste, and surprisingly, my children drank it all!
Start boiling your soup water and immediately (while the water is still cold) throw in all the dried herbs (figs, honey dates, apricot kernals, lily bulbs, lotus seeds) 2. In a separate pot, blanch the pork shank for 5 minutes, drain and set aside 3. Once the water boils, add in cubed chayotes (with the skin on so it won’t completely disintegrate in the soup) and pork shank 4. Boil on high for 30 minutes 5. Reduce to a medium boil for another 1.5 hours (or put it in a thermal pot) 6. Salt to salt 7. Serve and enjoy!
It’s almost Spring time! Can’t you feel the warm sun on your face? Can’t you feel gentle wind without that bitter, cold bite?
Spring is a unique season – well, there are only 4 – so that’s pretty unique already. What makes Spring so different is one key thing (especially in Asia) – humidity. You can’t run from it – especially if you happen to live on an island in Asia or even South East Asia. And like all seasons in the Chinese circle of life, there are soups that are targeted for this season to help:
reduce moisture in your body
tone & strengthen Qi & blood
relieve heaviness in the head and body
For me, being a western-raised Chinese, the key is removing dampness (all the others aren’t as tangible to me). I can feel it in my blankets, in my bedsheets, on the walls and especially on my skin. To remove the “feeling” of dampness in my home, the humidifier is the next great thing after sliced bread in the Spring. I have 2 of these machines that run around the clock in my house to make sure that both my bedsheets and walls don’t start molding on me – it happens – especially given that I live facing a harbor. Spring is a great prelude to Summer, so I’m neither a hater nor a lover. So how do you deal with the dampness that affects the body? Drink soups – in great quantities.
Over the past 8 years living in Hong Kong, there are the same key soups that my meat, veggie and herbal vendors all tell me to make. Even the old ladies that I knock elbows with at the market tell me the same thing, and of course, my own mother. So it’s not coincidence that through generations of knowledge and teaching, the Chinese have narrowed down their soup recommendations for various personal and environment conditions.
There are always KEY ingredients associated with the Spring and you can mix and match the various vegetables and additives as needed for this season. You can also use a combination of pork, chicken and fish with the proposed “Spring” ingredients for variety.
Some Spring ingredients:
old cucumber – with its diuretic effect, it helps you urinate and release the moisture in your body.
adzuki beans – another natural diuretic, this ingredient can dispel both excess body moisture and heat. It also helps strengthen the spleen.
black eye beans – similar to adzuki beans in dispelling excess moisture from the body.
lentils – helps to also dispel moisture from the body and a great source of protein.
barley, job’s tears – another natural diuretic and used to promote urination and has mildly cooling properties.
This is a variation on a restaurant-styled spinach soup I had at a Chinese restaurant. In their version, the spinach was less dense and more coarse and it was called a “gung” in Cantonese – meaning a thick stew type of soup. I wanted something lighter, healthier for the kids and lighter on the corn starch, so kind of made this up. It turned out to be delicious and the water chestnuts added a refreshing and crunchy texture that I loved! For the vegetarian version, use vegetable broth instead.