Asian broths make the most perfect comfort food, especially the morning or lunchtime after a heavy night. The depth of flavour of the broth, combined with the fresh ingredients added at the end, makes them truly re-energising. They're also quick to make, especially if you use dashi (dried bonito flakes) or kombu (kelp) as a base for the soup. It's funny that we sometimes go to extreme lengths to make a broth, when a piece of seaweed or dried fish can make stock that tastes equally as good.
Some broths, such as the Vietnamese pho, require long, slow cooking, but this week I have concentrated on giving you recipes for quick and easy Asian soups that you can knock up in an instant.
Scallop and seaweed broth
Don't throw away the scallop skirts surrounding the nut of meat once you have cleaned them, as they are great used to flavour a broth like this, or even deep-fried afterwards. If you're not a dab hand with a knife then ask your fishmonger to clean your scallops for you and reserve the skirts.
You can buy seaweed in Asian supermarkets, as well as seaweed salad mixes which are ideal for garnishing soups like this. Dashi is a soup or stock base that is made from dried kombu or kelp and dried bonito flakes and can bought in instant form; or you can simmer bonito flakes and kombu in water until the stock reaches the correct strength.
4 medium scallops, cleaned, with the roe and skirt reserved
1.5ltrs dashi (instant or fresh)
Sea salt and freshly ground white pepper
10g mixed seaweed for salad
4 spring onions, trimmed and finely shredded on the angle
Put the scallop skirts in a saucepan with the dashi, bring to the boil and simmer for 30 minutes, then remove from the heat and strain through a fine meshed sieve into a clean saucepan.
Add the dry seaweed salad mix to the strained soup and leave for 5-10 minutes. To serve, bring the soup to the boil, adding the spring onions and the roe, then cut each scallop into 4 thin slices and place in the bottom of 4 warmed soup bowls and pour the soup over.
Chicken and black fungus broth
I always keep a selection of Asian mushrooms in my larder, as it's so handy to be able to dig them out and soak them for soups such as this one. You can also buy most of the Asian mushrooms fresh these days; but remember that the good thing about the dried variety is you can use the soaking liquor in the broth when making soups.
For the broth
2 free-range chicken legs
1.5ltrs chicken stock
1 medium onion, peeled and roughly chopped
2 sticks of celery, washed and roughly chopped
40-50g root ginger, roughly chopped
8 cloves of garlic, peeled
4tbsp light soy sauce
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
The stalks from the coriander
30-40g dried weight of black fungus, soaked overnight in cold water
6 spring onions, trimmed and finely chopped
A handful of coriander leaves, torn
Put the chicken legs into a saucepan with all of the other broth ingredients and the liquor from the soaked mushrooms, bring to the boil, then simmer gently for an hour and strain through a fine meshed sieve, reserving the chicken legs and discarding the other bits. To serve, shred the black fungus, skim the stock of any fat and if necessary, add the mushrooms and simmer for 5-10 minutes.
Remove the meat from the chicken legs and cut into even-sized chunks. Put the chicken, spring onions, black fungus and coriander into warmed soup bowls and pour over the hot stock.
Prawn and chive soup
This is one of those simple soups you often see in high-end Chinese restaurants. It's important to use good quality sea-water prawns, as the shells enhance the broth – I use fresh Red Sea prawns from Waitrose. And those thick Chinese chives with the flowers attached make an excellent garnish.
1.5ltrs fish stock
A piece of root ginger weighing about 30-40g, scraped and chopped
6 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
The shells from the prawns (see below)
12 medium fresh Red Sea prawns, peeled and shells reserved
2 egg whites
8-10 Chinese chives, finely chopped
Put the fish stock in a pan with the ginger, garlic, onion and prawn shells, bring to the boil and simmer very gently for about 30 minutes then strain through a fine-meshed sieve into a clean pan and return to a low simmer. To serve, cool about half a cup of the stock a little and lightly whisk with the egg whites. Cut the prawns in half and simmer gently in the stock for 2-3 minutes until just cooked, then add the chives. Mix in the egg-white mix, and stir for a minute, then remove from the heat and serve.