Lisa’s Letters Home: A Soup for Grandma
My grandmother was Japanese-Canadian, which meant that our holiday dinner table had an unusual hybrid of things like roast turkey and sushi rolls. Although she was a tiny woman who didn’t eat very much, she always made a huge amount of food for any family gathering. If you didn’t leave with a trunk full of leftovers, there was something seriously wrong. She’d carefully tuck the food between layers of plastic wrap, packed in Red Rose tea boxes.
Everything that grandma made had garlic in it. One of my all-time favourite foods is her chicken noodle soup filled with egg noodles and, of course, freshly grated garlic, ginger, and a splash of shoyu (soy sauce). My grandpa always had his with a fried egg on top. Garlic-laden soup in a deep bowl with chopsticks on the side will always be one of my ultimate comfort foods and a cure-all.
We have a roast chicken nearly every week and the bones always go straight into the freezer for stock making purposes later on. I’ve recently discovered the joy of pressure cooker stock – magnificent, rich stock in an hour. When I’m very organised (which is about twice a year if I’ve had enough coffee beforehand), I make a big batch of stock and put it in freezer bags.
I’ve been trying to come up with quick dinner ideas that don’t involve ready meals (especially since yet another horse meat scandal has cropped up), and trying to keep our food as healthy as possible to make up for 3 weeks of non-stop eating and wine over Christmas. Inspired by grandma and my love of Asian food, I made a soup filled with vegetables and rice noodles, topped with a grilled duck breast. Somehow rice noodles seem less stodgy to me and more delicate than egg noodles, and go well with the duck. They are also incredibly quick, which is always a bonus.
I suppose this is just a tarted up version of chicken noodle soup, really. You could use grilled chicken in place of the duck and a bag of prepared stir fry vegetables would save even more time. I’m just a bit picky about the vegetables I want in my soup, so I add my own. With duck, I love earthy, dark leafy green vegetables. I use both dark and light soy sauce because they have quite different flavours (“light” refers to the type rather than low calorie.) If you only have dark, just use two teaspoons of that.
Grilled Duck and Rice Noodle Soup
(Serves 2, or 1 greedy person like me.)
1 boneless duck breast
Chinese 5 spice powder
Salt and pepper
Rice noodles (I use a vermicelli type of noodle that you soak in freshly boiled water for 5 minutes)
2 1/2 cups of chicken stock
1 tsp of fresh ginger, grated
1 garlic clove, grated
1 chilli, finely diced (optional)
Pak choi (Bok Choy), chopped
Fresh spinach, chopped
Mushrooms, finely sliced
Spring onions/green onions, finely sliced
2 tsp dark soy sauce
1 tsp light soy sauce
Fresh coriander/cilantro, chopped
Wedges of lime
First, grill the duck. Preheat the oven to 200 C/ 400 F. Score the skin with a sharp knife, cutting partway through (but not all the way to the flesh), season well, and sprinkle a little 5 spice powder on both sides. Place the duck in a cold frying pan and turn the heat on medium-high. Cook until the fat renders down (you may need to drain it a few times) and the skin starts to go brown and crispy, then flip over and cook for another 3-4 minutes or so. Put the duck into the oven for about 7 minutes, depending on how thick the breasts are and how pink you like the middle. Let it rest while you make your soup.
Cook your rice noodles according to the directions on the packet, and leave them to one side.
Heat the stock in a saucepan until it comes to a boil, reduce the heat to a low simmer and add the garlic and ginger (and chilli pepper if you’re using it.) Let it simmer for about 5 minutes, then add the vegetables except for the beansprouts. Let the soup simmer for another 3-4 minutes. Remove from the heat, then add the soy sauce, beansprouts, and coriander. The soup shouldn’t need any salt because of the soy sauce, but season to taste if necessary.
Slice the duck into thin slices. In a deep bowl, add the noodles and pour over the hot soup. Put the slices of duck on top and squeeze some lime juice over it. I was never as good as my grandparents were with chopsticks, so I eat my soup with both chopsticks and a spoon.
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