by Brenda W. Clough
This is one of those word-of-mouth recipes that has no measurements, and the ingredients take some finding. My brother’s wife’s mother told it to her, and my sister-in-law makes it frequently, but she lives in San Francisco, where Asian groceries abound. When I tasted it I instantly recognized it, one of the soups that you feed the kids on a cold day. I demanded the recipe, and this is the result.
2 pounds lamb neck or other cheap cut of lamb, in chunks
4 cups dried black Chinese mushrooms
1/3 lb fresh ginger root
3 1-quart cartons chicken or beef stock, or a mixture
1 package tofu skins, or beancurd sticks, or bean threads
OK, I heard that sound. It was you, falling off the cooking sled. Not to worry, here’s a picture. Tofu skins are essentially noodles made out of soy. You know of wheat noodles, buckwheat noodles, rice noodles, right? So these are soy. They come in these big packets at Asian grocery stores — look for them in the noodle aisle under any of those names. Pick them up when you buy that large packet of dried Chinese mushrooms, the red dates, and while you’re there buy the ginger as well — a good fresh ginger root is best. It should be a huge chunk, bigger than your hand, the more the merrier. If you can’t find the dates then omit them, but in Chinese lore they’re supposed to have great nutritive benefits.
Begin by putting all the mushrooms into a large microwaveable container. I use a 4-cup pyrex cup, which should be filled full of mushroom. Run water into it, and then heat it in the microwave. Soak the mushrooms in the warm water until they’re soft and squishy. Then stem them and cut them in half if they’re large or thick.
Coat the bottom of a soup kettle with cooking oil, and brown the lamb. If the pieces are very large cut them in half, but it’ll all stew down and it’s not very important. Season with a sprinkle of soy sauce.
While the meat is browning, peel all the ginger and slice it. When the meat is done add all the ginger, all the mushrooms, and the stock. Add all the mushroom soaking juice, but pour it out slowly — there’ll be sediment at the bottom of the bowl which doesn’t need to go into the pot. Simmer for a couple hours.
Soak a cupful of the dates in water to soften them, and add them after the first hour. Then open the packet of tofu skins. They’ll be quite brittle and thin. Break them up in your hands into eatable size, maybe 2 inches long. Put all the pieces into a big bowl and soak them to soften. About 15 minutes before serving, drain the water off of the tofu skins and add them all to the pot. Stir to get them all mixed in, cook for 15 more minutes, and serve. Remind the diners that the lamb may have bones in it, and the dates may have seeds.