BVC Eats: COMFORT FOOD! Chinese Lamb Soup

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

cooking oil

4 cups dried black Chinese mushrooms

1/3 lb fresh ginger root

3 1-quart cartons chicken or beef stock, or a mixture

soy sauce

dried Chinese red dates

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.

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About Brenda Clough

Brenda W. Clough spent much of her childhood overseas, courtesy of the U.S. government. Her first fantasy novel, The Crystal Crown, was published by DAW in 1984. She has also written The Dragon of Mishbil (1985), The Realm Beneath (1986), and The Name of the Sun (1988). Her children’s novel, An Impossumble Summer (1992), is set in her own house in Virginia, where she lives in a cottage at the edge of a forest. Her novel How Like a God, available from BVC, was published by Tor Books in 1997, and a sequel, Doors of Death and Life, was published in May 2000. Her latest novels from Book View Cafe include Revise the World (2009) and Speak to Our Desires.
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6 Responses to BVC Eats: COMFORT FOOD! Chinese Lamb Soup

  1. By ‘red dates’, do you mean ‘jujubes’? (The advantage of Australia is we’re close to Asia and the disadvantage is that this means three types of red dates. And everyone wanting the same greens as I do whenever I go in, so they’ve always just sold out.)

  2. Yes, I think that’s right. Unfortunately I can only find them on line. If I could see and touch them in the store I could immediately tell you the right kind. My sister-in-law’s mom is actually growing them on a tree in her garden in Sacramento, so they’re not all that rare in a mild climate.

  3. Brenda, which brand soy sauce do you use? Are there differences between brands, or are some better than others?

  4. I always use Kikkoman, which is readily available in this country. You can also get it in low sodium format. The various darker soy sauces you usually only get in Asian groceries.

    • I see so many different brands in the larger grocery stores, and I always wonder if there’s a difference. The current brand I’m using is Lee Kum Kee Low Sodium, but I honestly can’t tell if it’s better/different.

      • I’m a bad person to ask about this, because I can’t read Chinese. The details of the labels are opaque to me. I buy Kikkoman because my mother and grandmother buy it. I identify the right ingredients by going to an Asian grocery and staring dumbly at the packets and cans, waiting for ancient instinct or distant memory to guide me.

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