Winter Soup – Chinese herbal lamb soup
It has been significantly colder after Winter Solstice. It’s officially wintertime in Hong Kong. Every year when around this time, there are more lamb or mutton in the market. Cantonese consider lamb is ‘warm’ food that isn’t suitable to have in hot weather. Even in winter, we would use something “cold” to balance, such as radish. Radish is in season in winter, very sweet and juicy. Lamb is my favourite meat in winter. I usually make lamb stew, seasoned with Chu-hou sauce or Nam-yu (read my previous recipe – Cantonese Style Lamb and Daikon Stew in Chu Hou Paste), or to make lamb or mutton soup with some winter herbs.
Being a Cantonese, I grew up having Cantonese soups. Don’t know why but most independent grown-up Cantonese will naturally know how to make soup. Elder generation consider the typical Cantonese soups are usually ‘herbal soup’, which is believed to be with high nutritional value, or even be able to cure disease. I usually make soup without many Chinese herbs. I believe seasonal vegetable and meat are good enough. However I have kept some in fridge and use them constantly for different occasions or body conditions.
Why eating lamb or mutton in winter
The concept of yin and yang is one of the pillars of Chinese food medicine, where food can have either “hot” or “cold” properties, and a balance of the two creates a harmonious and healthy dish. Chinese medicine believes that the cold hands and feet syndrome in winter is because of the poor circulation of ‘qi’ and blood in the body. Traditional Chinese pharmacist suggest it is most appropriate to have dietary supplements, such as to have more ‘warm’ or ‘hot’ food like lamb or mutton to strengthen the ‘Yang’.
Lamb is also helpful in promoting digestion. It is tenderer than beef and easy to digest. It contains high protein, low fat, and more phospholipid. Its fat and cholesterol content are relatively low compared to pork and beef.
Ingredients of Chinese herbal soup
TCM believe that a mix-and-match of different herbs, meat or vegetable can draw out greater benefits. In this soup recipe, I used Angelica sinensis(dang quai), Astragalus propinquus(huang-qi), Codonopsis pilosula(dang-shen), jujube, chen-pi and goji berry. These herbs are very common in Chinese soup for preventing cold and boosting the immune system. All together, they provide the effects of warming the body, replenishing qi and blood, appetizing and strengthening the spleen. It is very suitable for people with cold hands and feet. It also has a good effect on dizziness, irregular menstruation, and loss of appetite.
These herbs are common so they can be obtained in Asian grocery store. If you are worried, I highly suggest you to consult your local Chinese herbalist or pharmacist. Also, the soup may taste a little bitter with the herbs so that some of you might not get used to it, or you might be in doubt. Don’t worry, just skip some of them, keep the goji berries and jujube, they are harmless anyway and the lamb and radish together can already boost some of the benefits above.
Some basic tips in cooking Chinese soup
- Blanching the meat. The ingredients are cooked in hot water or cold water till at least cooked on the surface or half-cooked. When making soup, Chinese like to blanch the meat before simmering for longer time, especially meat with bones or fat, such as pork ribs, pork bones, chicken, etc. This is a ‘cleaning’ process, to boil off the dirt, blood or extra fat. With this blanching step, the soup will be clear;
- Traditionally, Chinese, especially Cantonese, would like to simmer the soup for more than 2 hours. They believed, in this way, all those good stuffs, such as nutrition, or medical effects from the ingredients, especially Chinese herbs, could be fully released, and the soup tasted much better. However, modern Cantonese realize the longer the meat is cooked, the more purine would be produced. So nowadays, we tend to cook soups within 2 hours or even in shorter time.
- Some Cantonese would only drink the soup liquid, and won’t be willing to eat the cooked ingredients. However, it’s known to all that no matter how long the soups are simmered, a larger percentage of nutrition still remain in the cooked solid ingredients, not in the soup liquid. Thus, drink the soup and finish all eatable ingredients are the best way to have Chinese soup;
- When making soup, Cantonese prefer to keep the true taste of the ingredients. So most soups are unlikely to be seasoned. A nip of salt is good enough.
Ingredients – 2-3 serving
- Lamb, or mutton, 500g
- White radish, 500g
- Carrot, 200g
- Goji berry, 10g
- Chen-pi, 5g
- Jujube, 15g
- Dang quai, 15g
- Huang-qi, 15g
- Dang-shen, 15g
- Fermented beancurd, optional
- Coriander, optional
How to do –
- Lamb, radish and carrot chopped to big cubes or chunks; herbs washed in running water;
- Blanch the lamb. In a soup pot, put the lamb and plenty of water in, bring to boil; drained and wash in running water;
3. Put all ingreidents, except goji berries, in a soup pot, with plenty of water, at least 1000ml. Bring to boil, then simmer for 1 hour in medium-low heat;
4. Put in goji berries and simmer for 10 more minutes and season the soup with a nip of salt;
5. The soup can be served with steamed rice, noodles or rice noodles. Cantonese like to dip the lamb with fermented beancurd and coriander, but light soy sauce or chili sauce are also tasty.
- 羊肉 500克（2-3人份）
- 白萝卜 500克
- 胡萝卜 200克
- 杞子 10克
- 陈皮 5克
- 红枣 15克
- 当归 15克
- 黄芪 15克
- 党参 15克
- 腐乳 选用
- 芫茜 选用