Friday, February 5, 2010

Westlake Beef Soup: Getting Back to My Roots

Growing up, I really hated soups. Other than your everyday can of Progresso Calm Chower, soup was out of the question.

Now being much older, there's nothing like a great bowl of warm soup to get you through a rainy California day.

I've been trying to get in touch with my Chinese cooking culture and I've been trying to cook with new ingredients that I love to eat, but are deathly afraid of cooking. I guess it's not so much about cooking it that scares me, its more about how to prep it, and what to cook it with that has me scrambling from asile to asile with a cart full of new ingredients and ideas through the Asian Markets.

Bamboo shoots, with sliced beef, and what we in Chinese call "drumstick mushrooms"

Steamed fish with soy sauce, green onions, and ginger

Stir fry crab with green onion and ginger

Chinese roast pork

Different ways of cooking tofu

These have all been tested in my kitchen these past few months.

But what does this all have to do with the title, "Westlake Beef Soup"? Don't worry, I'm about to tell you.

I forgot to mention, that although I hated soup when I was younger, there was a culinary discover that I stumbled upon at the age of 10. Westlake Beef Soup. I guess it was my love for cilantro that got me hooked!

Everytime we went out to eat at a Chinese restaurant, that's what I wanted.

During my visit back home to San Francisco after my second year of college, my uncle who had just come from Hong Kong was staying with us for a few months. He is a great cook; he can recreate virtually anything you eat in a Chinese restaurant at home. So ofcouse, when he heard about my love for the soup, he replied, "It's so much cheaper if you just make it at home!"

WHAT?! I...ME?...I can make this at home? For some reason it never really occured to me that I could recreate this childhood memory on my own stovetop with extremely affordable ingredients. And it was fast! TEACH ME!

My uncle, who seemed to find cooking very theraputic and cooked for us everynight of his stay, joking laughed at me and said, "You need to learn how to cook something so easy?"

Why, yes...yes I do!

This isn't the exact recipe he taught me, this is a slight variation--but I promise it's very tastey.

Again, I must remind you that I'm a master at "eyeballing" so these are rough measurements.

Here goes:

2 boxes of good quality organic beef broth

1/4 pound lean ground beef (I buy the little packages of lean ground beef from Trader Joe's and I usually 1/2-3/4 of that package, if that gives you a better idea of measurements)

1 inch chunk of fresh ginger root (smacked with your knife to release some of the juices)

1 1/2 tablespoons of fresh ground ginger root finely shreded with you knife

1/2 block of soft or medium firm tofu (don't used silken, because it will break up when you stir the soup)

1/4 cup of frozen peas

2 eggs (beaten)

2-3 tablespoons of soy sauce

1 tablespoon of sesame oil

1/2 tablespoon of sugar

2 1/2-3 tablespoon cornstarch

1 large handful of chopped cilantro (roughly 1/8 cup)

salt (to taste)

ground white pepper (to taste)

In a small bowl mix ground beef, sesame oil, soy sauce, sugar, a pinch of salt, 1 tablespoon of cornstarch, and shreaded ginger together. Let sit/ marinate as you prep the other ingredients.

In a large pot, add 1 inch piece of ginger and broth and bring to a boil.

Once your broth comes to a boil, add the marinated ground beef bit by bit (the goal is to get pea sized minced beef in the soup)

Let it come back to a boil.

Make a "slurry" with the remaining cornstarch and and a tablespoon of cold water and stir into the soup.

Add the tofu and peas, and let it come back up to a boil.

Add salt and ground white pepper to taste.

Remove from heat and gently pour in beaten eggs in a slow and steady stream making concentric circles in the pot. Cover for 5 mins.

Remove the cover and add cilantro before serving. Stir gently too mix in the cilantro.

Makes roughly 5-6 large servings.

So it turns out that Westlate Beef Soup IS really easy to wonder my uncle scoffed at me! I had always been timid about trying to recreate Chinese food that I've eaten in restaurants, but now...not so much!


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