The outside air smelled of firework the other morning when we were on the way to school. The air was crisp, cold and familiar. Though it didn’t take me long to recognise the combination of the cold air and the smell of exploded firework was part of my special childhood memory. I told my daughter who stood right next to me that it was how Chinese New year smelled like in Macau. We talked about we should try to spend Chinese New Year there in the near future, but it seemed far too long for me to wait, so I closed my eyes, breathed deep and hard as if doing so would bring me back to Macau immediately.
We have entered the new Lunar Year, perhaps that’s why the smell of firework seemed so signifiant that morning. Sadly I don’t celebrate it as much as I did when I was still living in Macau with my family. But having said that, I still like to cook one or two dishes that I miss most from home to soothe my homesickness.
My mother used to make meatball congee when we were little, the flavourful springy meatballs submerged into soft pillowy rice porridge. Sometimes served with ‘Century egg’ (preserved duck eggs) and other times with pickled radish. For me it is ultimate comfort food in any day, so is noodle soup (I do have a soft spot for noodle soup, as many of you who follow my blog know). Therefore I thought a handmade meatball noodle soup will be the perfect recipe for this week – a combination of the essence from two of my favourite dishes.
This recipe seems to have a lot of ingredients and steps, but most of the ingredients are pantry items which means you most probably have already. The meatballs do take a bit of time to make, but trust me it is worthwhile. For the vegetables, you can use any seasonal leafy greens such as kale, Pak Choi, Swiss Chards, spinach or even broccoli whichever one you prefer. All you need to do differently is to blanch the vegetable of your choice in the soup before you cook the noodles. Once you are familiar with making the soup base, you can top it with almost anything you like, leftover roasted meat, grilled tofu, sardines (I have a recipe here), sautéed mushroom, edamame, poached egg, and so on.
Shiitake Meatball Noodle Soup with Courgette Ribbons
serves 4 generously
For the meatball: (makes about 24)
- 5 dried Shiitake Mushrooms
- 500g minced pork
- A small bunch of fresh coriander (leaves picked for serving), stems only, finely chopped
- 2 tbsp. good quality oyster sauce
- 1 tbsp. Tamari (or regular soy sauce)
- 1 tbsp. Mirin
- 1 scant tsp. caster sugar
- 2 tsp. sesame oil
- 1 tbsp. cornstarch
- A pinch of salt
- A pinch of freshly ground black pepper
For the Soup:
- 1 piece of thumb-size ginger, peeled and sliced
- 1 spring onion, cut into 3 pieces
- 1L good quality beef or chicken stock
- 200ml Dashi stock (or more beef / chicken stock)
- 1 tbsp. oyster sauce
- 1 tbsp. tamari (or regular soy sauce)
- 2 tbsp. fish sauce
For the noodle bowl:
- 200g dried rice noodles
- 1 courgette, ribboned with a vegetable peeler
- 2 large handfuls of mungbean sprouts
- 2 spring onion, chopped
- The reserved coriander leaves
In a small bowl, rehydrate the Shiitake mushrooms in just-boiled water, covered and let it stand for at least 30 minutes. Remove and squeeze out excess water (back to the bowl) from the mushrooms. Remove the stems and finely chopped the mushrooms. Do not discard the water or the stems, keep them for the soup.
To make meatballs: In a large mixing bowl, combine minced pork, chopped mushrooms, coriander stems, and the rest of the seasoning. Mix well first with a spoon or fork. Then use your hand to ‘knead’ the mixture and then scoop it up (in one piece) with one hand and ‘throw’ it hard back inside the bowl. Repeat this procedure for about 3-4 minutes (a good workout for your arm), this step ensures the meatballs are springy to the bite and won’t fall apart when cooking.
Shape the mixture into balls, each ball is slightly bigger than the size of a cherry tomato. Leave them in the fridge for 30 minutes to firm up.
Prepare the rice noodles according to packet instructions and set aside.
Warm a tablespoon of vegetable oil in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan (I use a wok) until hot. Carefully lower the meatballs to the hot pan (you might need to do it in batch), lower the heat and fry and turn the meatballs until they are brown (but not burnt) all over and almost cooked through. Remove them from the pan and keep them warm.
Transfer most of the oil from the pan to a little jar (for later use and do not clean the pan as the brown bits on the bottom help flavour the soup) and turn the heat up again.
Add the spring onion and ginger slices in the pan and deglaze the pan with the mushroom water (with the reserved stems). Then pour in the stock and dashi (if used). Once boiled, add the remaining seasoning and have a little taste. Adjust if needed.
Just before serving, remove the ginger slices, spring onions and mushrooms stems from the soup base with a slotted spoon, then add the meatballs in the soup and simmer for about 3 minutes to finished off cooking through, which will also add in more flavour to the soup. Add the noodles and cook for a minute more (it is all it takes to warm up the noodles).
To assemble the noodle bowl: Prepare 4 large warm bowls and divide the noodles first and then meatballs equally on each bowl. Then place the courgette ribbons, mung bean sprouts, chopped spring onions and coriander leaves to the bowls. At last, ladle the hot soup over the everything on the bowl and serve immediately.