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A nourishing, lung-moistening soup
(Recipe from my mom)
Dear reader, I hope you’re well! I’m typing this newsletter from Daylesford in Australia, where I live. If you read my last email, we had plans to spend April in Singapore, but unfortunately we realised that we will not be able to travel till our Australian PR is approved… We’re disappointed but there’s nothing we can do about it except to cross our fingers for a visit in December instead.
It is mid-autumn in Daylesford right now, and the air is turning colder and dryer by the day. I think this Singaporean body is still coming to terms with seasonal variations - for a week now, my skin has been breaking out and my throat has been itchy. And the first thing I immediately think of is - what can I cook to make myself feel better?
That’s one thing I’m really grateful for - having been brought up with an understanding of food being medicine. In Asia, I don’t think we ever talk about it; it is more a concept that is lived out. I remember meeting someone in Australia who teaches macrobiotics for a living, and when she told me what it means, I was like - Oh! That’s the way I ate at home when I was growing up! We just never gave it a name.
When I was younger, my mother or my grandmother would make different types of soups and herbal drinks depending on the weather or our bodily needs, and we would be urged to drink more than a bowlful of soup at every meal. Food was not just sustenance, but a way to truly nourish ourselves from the inside out.
My mom recommended that I make an apple soup - great for nourishing the lung 润肺, she said. Her recipe requires a few medicinal ingredients which can be hard to find where I live, but I was feeling so desperate for some nourishment that we drove out to the next town’s Asian grocer to get them. Here’s how you make the soup:
First, rub 3 apples with a handful of salt, then add enough water to cover. Allow the apples to soak in the salted water for a couple of minutes, then drain. Chinese cooks can be very particular about cleanliness and purity of flavour. (Fun fact: my paternal grandmother always soaks her apples in salted water before offering them to us, so I’ve never had an unsalted apple at her place hahaha.)
In the meantime, assemble your medicinal ingredients. You’ll need two types of apricot kernels (my mom calls them almonds) - you’ll want 1 tbsp of southern apricot kernels and 1 tbsp of northern apricot kernels. My mom says you can use 2 tbsp of the same apricot kernels if you can only find one type.
You’ll also need 2 honey dates. Rinse briefly in water and drain. You can substitute red dates if you cannot find these.
Now, cut the apples into 8 wedges each, removing the core. Keep the peel on because it is packed with nutrients. Don’t chuck the salted water just yet!
Cut up 800g chicken into large chunks. I generally like buying a whole chicken, use the backbone and wings for soup, and save the meaty breasts and thighs for another meal. Swish the chicken chunks about in the salted water to clean them, then drain in a colander.
Set a wide-bottomed pot on high heat and add the drained chicken in a single layer. Leave the chicken to cook (do not touch!) until it is browned on one side.
Flip and sear the other side. This renders the fat from the chicken (so it is frying in its own fat) and the browning produces a really rich-tasting soup in very little time. This is my mom’s little trick and it has really transformed the way I prepare soups.
When both sides of the chicken have browned, salt the chicken and add enough water to juuuuuust cover everything.
Now add the other ingredients and bring to a boil. Taste and adjust the seasoning with more salt if desired. Cover and cook on medium heat (a vigorous simmer) for 20 minutes. In this time, I cook rice and prepare my sides.
By the time your rice is cooked (about 20 minutes) and your sides are done, the apples would be tender and the soup would have turned slightly milky.
The soup is on the sweeter side because of the apples and honey dates, but it is balanced by the slight bitterness of the apricot kernels. Everything from the chicken to the apples and kernels are to be eaten, in addition to you drinking the soup. Hope this will nourish and soothe those of you who might be feeling imbalanced too! 💆🏻♀️