Monday, January 4, 2010

Pea Shoot Soup

The last time I truly celebrated the western New Year in the manner traditionally associated with it--excessive drinking, wild partying, and lascivious lusting--was in a universe far, far away in both space and time. I was single then, with a liver that could rope-a-dope all night long. Living overseas, I didn't drive, and even better, 95% of the drivers didn't drink. Now, New Year's Eve is a night I almost dread. I fear the both the exuberance of young drunks rutting in clubs and their driving on the road. I find most of my friends are the same. We hunker in our homes now, share a nice dinner and perhaps some champagne with friends or family, and almost weep when we listen to Dick Clark trying to count down the last seconds of the receding year.

I do, however, celebrate Lunar New Year. For the last ten years I have invited family over to celebrate with a multi-course meal. It is kind of like Thanksgiving, but without the football, and with more food. It started out relatively small, with only eight or nine guests, but has grown as more relatives have moved to the area. I think there will be sixteen people this year, but that includes our godson, who is not yet one year old. In addition to the challenge of seating sixteen people in our dining area, there is the greater challenge of cooking for this many people. As I do all the cooking, I need to select a variety of dishes--with some that can be made ahead of time and served cold, others that can simmer on the stove, some that will be grilled, and still others that have to be fried at the last moment. Although there are several dishes that are always requested and reappear year after year, I try to vary the menu from one year to the next. One year I cooked only Vietnamese dishes, and other years I have done only Chinese. This year I will most likely do a few of each. (One of the benefits of being a Gwei Lo (Cantonese for ghost), Bule (Indonesian for albino--whitey), or Liên Xô (Vietnamese for Russian--that's what Vietnamese usually thought I was when I lived in Vietnam in 1994), is that I don't have to adhere to tradition. I can cook what I feel like, although my wife makes sure that the meal ends with fish.)

In the next couple of weeks running up to the New Year, which falls on February 14th this year, I will be posting some of the recipes I will be serving or am thinking of serving for the dinner. Because the cooking on the day itself is so hectic, I thought it makes more sense to present the dishes beforehand. Some of the dishes may not actually make it to the dinner menu, but most probably will. Any suggestions about dishes that I should include would be appreciated, but I don't know if they'll make it onto the menu either.

I usually don't serve soup, simply because of the logistics. I don't really have the tureens for serving that much soup. Also, we are sitting around rectangular tables rather than round ones, so serving is difficult. However, if the pea shoots are still available at the farmer's market, I may try to serve this soup this year. It's quite easy to prepare and can be finished just before serving.

Pea Shoot Soup

1 pound pea shoots, sorted and washed
4 to 6 ounces skinless, boneless chicken breast (shrimp or scallops could be substituted)
1 egg white
2 to 3 tsp cornflour
6 cups chicken stock
2 roma tomatoes, peeled, quartered, all seeds and pulp removed
salt and white pepper to taste
a few drops of sesame oil (optional)

Cut chicken into cubes and place in a food processor. Pulse until finely chopped. Add egg white, cornstarch, and a pinch of salt and process to a smooth paste.

Place teaspoons of the paste between leaves of the pea shoots. Bring stock to a full simmer. Add the pea shoots and cook for five minutes. Season to taste with salt and white pepper. Place the soup in a tureen. Arrange the quarters of tomatoes like flower petals on top of the soup. Sprinkle with a few drops of sesame oil if you wish. Serve.
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