Welcome to Soup d’Etat, S-edition. In a post that will surely scare severely sensitive sufferers of lispiness as would a snake or salamander, we’re making shrimp-spinach soup today.
I sampled something similar on a stroll through Chinatown (yes, technically, London has one) this week, and thought to myself “why haven’t I made a shrimp dish for the soup blog?”… well, now that’s all solved. And while I’ll never claim that this soup is authentically Chinese in the least, I kind of like how I arrived at it, and it turned out to be very tasty indeed.
It tastes immediately familiar as vaguely Chinese in a couple of ways, but it also makes use of some of my favorite ingredients from the European kitchen. Global connections through food! Brand new concept I just thought of in this blog post. You’re welcome. A little online research suggests some interesting side-notes about shrimp soup in China, and certainly about spinach, so that’s kind of a nerdy bonus. Of course, my fellow blogger Mr Alkon would be the authority on whether this is all a lot of hot air, but surely he’ll forgive me any transgressions.
So, re: shrimp soup in China… I can’t even begin to describe the variety of recipes one finds. It’s not even worth trying. BUT there are some things I noticed. (1) reading about the traditional broths of Chinese cuisine is something you could spend an entire afternoon on. Most of the shrimp soup recipes I found utilized basic chicken broth, but a few used fish broth, or even the distinguished “superior broth” or “clarified broth”. The key seems to be to let the sweetness of the shrimp sit in nice contrast with the salty elements of the soup, and to always include something to boost the backbone of the umami a bit, usually veggies or mushrooms.
Re: Spinach in China… one of those great silk road histories… apparently known as “persian vegetable” (菠菜) by way of its introduction through Nepal in the 7th century, the varieties that are grown and consumed in China today is pretty impressively varied compared to the familiar Western version (which I use in this soup to prove that it’s still a viable option). These include but are not limited to: Ipomoea aquatica, (蕹菜), Amaranthus dubius, (苋菜), and Malabar spinach, (落葵).
OK, so I knew I wanted at least these two ingredients to be bedfellows in my soup, but two is an awkward number (at least I think so, which is at least one reason I’m single). What was the third leg (haha) I was looking for here? Oh right, mushrooms, duh, my favorite thing ever with everything. Those three flavors sit really beautifully together, and in soup form, have a wonderful textural combination as well. The shrimp are plump and crisp, the mushrooms pliant, and the spinach silky. Lovely. To the broth, add a whack load of garlic and ginger, and a spot of fish-sauce for extra body. Oh, and some beautifully ribbony egg, for a little bit of onctuosité… top it all off with some sesame oil and spicy chili and you’ve a meal FOR REAL.
And not to forget the point of cross-cultural kitchens from earlier earlier… egg, spinach, mushroom and shellfish are a classic output of the French kitchen… just usually in omelette or en-cocotte form! So there you have it. Clearly, if the flavors can be independently agreed upon from opposite sides of the world, it must be good.
This soup is fast and economical to make, extremely delicious, and actually surprisingly sturdy. I enjoyed every spoonful, and you hopefully will, too.
- 2.5 cups stock (chicken or vegetable)
- 1.5 cups water
- 250 g shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 200 g spinach
- 10-12 small shiitake mushrooms, dried or fresh (if dry, soaked and drained)
- 3 large cloves garlic, very finely minced
- 1 tbsp fish sauce
- 1 tbsp dry ginger
- 2 eggs, well-beaten until pale yellow
- 1-2 tsp sesame oil, to taste
- 1/2-1 tsp hot chili oil, to taste
- sauté the garlic in a very small amount of hot oil for about 30 sec until fragrant
- add the stock, water, fish sauce, ginger, and mushrooms, and bring to the boil
- reduce heat and simmer until flavors come together, and mushrooms have softened, about 5 mins
- add the shrimp, and cook for about 2 mins, then add spinach, and continue to cook another 2-3 mins until shrimp are just pink
- slowly drizzle in the egg while stirring to evenly incorporate the egg in delicate strands, and thicken the soup
- simmer for 1-2 mins longer until flavors are blended and shrimp are fully cooked.
- taste and correct for salt, then top with sesame oil/chili to taste!