Pork and mustard greens (aka Wendy soup)
Wendy soup (or canh cải chua) is one of the simplest, most delicious soups you can make in winter. It’s pretty much nothing more than cải chua (fermented mustard greens), and soup-cut pork ribs. The bones make a flavourful stock, the pickles balance the richness, and the meat is fall-off-the-bone tender. As you can tell from the name, Wendy grew up eating it, and introduced it to the Normandie house. It’s in pretty heavy rotation, when the days get short. In this version, we take advantage of something that’s usually a negative — unripe, green tomatoes are common in winter, and are perfect in this soup. Otherwise, daikon is more traditional.
Because it’s so simple, you can tweak this soup quite a lot. There’s already a few extensive person-to-person variations within the Normandie kitchen (Brad didn’t realise how much he’d personalised the recipe, until he watched Wendy make it again.) You can mess around with the seasoning, or with the vegetable component — Eliseo, for instance, likes potato.
You should be able to find the short-cut ribs at almost any carniceria, or Asian butcher — just tell them to cut the baby back ribs for soup. They should be less than 2 inches (maybe 5cm) long, and each rib should be separate, so you can pick them up with a spoon, or chopsticks. Think of those Cantonese-American honey-garlic spareribs.
The mustard greens are available at almost any Asian market. If you really can’t find them, you might be able to use strong sauerkraut. It has a very different taste, but it still gives you a meaty, tangy winter soup.
– 5 lbs (2 kilos) pork baby ribs or ribs, soup cut.
– 1 large onion
– 3 packages (900g) of cải chua
– 2tsp (10ml) whole black peppercorns
– 1 cube of chicken bouillon
– 1 tbsp fish sauce
– 3 inches (7cm) piece of ginger
– 2 lbs (1kg) daikon
– 2lbs (1kg) green tomatoes (about 6 large ones)
Peel the onion, and cut it in half. Cut the ginger (if using) into slices — or leave it whole but crush it a bit, with the flat of a knife, or a pestle. You can blanch the ribs, if you like a cleaner looking broth. (If Brad is making this recipe, he browns the meat first instead, in a little oil).
Put the onion, ginger, pork, and the pepper, into a pot. Put in enough water to cover. Add the fish sauce, or the chicken cube, if using. Turn the heat to high. When the water starts to boil, reduce to a simmer, and cover. Cook for at least an hour, as long as two, until the meat is becoming tender, and starting to pull easily off the bone. If you are using ribs, instead of baby back ribs, theyhave more fat on them, and you might want to skim off some of the fat on the top of the soup, as it rises.
Meanwhile, slice the mustard greens into thin strips (saving the juice, if you want the soup to be a little more sour). If using green tomatoes, cut each tomato into 8 wedges. If using daikon, peel the daikon. Cut it down the middle. Cut these pieces into half-circles about 3/4 inch (1.5cm) thick.
Add the mustard and the daikon (if using) to the soup, along with the mustard juice (if using). Taste for salt now (the mustard greens are pretty salty), and add more if you need to. Let the soup cook for another 5-10 minutes. If using green tomatoes, add them right at the end, turn off the heat, then serve.