Friday, February 4, 2011

My Little Soup Seller

The class had been studying Ancient China for several months:   Inventions*, dynasties, trade routes, language, religion, money, food, customs, art, geography...the works.  

They carved their own abaci and did calculations on command.   They celebrated the newborn Year of the Rabbit with a Golden Dragon parade through every room in the school.  Their own classroom filled with wooden carts, paper lanterns, fortune sticks, instruments, and a Buddhist temple, complete with an improvised gong made from an upside-down mixing bowl.

The study culminated with a full recreation of a 17th century Chinese marketplace, with each child playing a role in a market stall they built and staffed for the day.  They hosted parents, staff, and all the other classes.  Some sold herbs and performed healing touch rituals.  Some would pray for you, or sell you silk. Tea and goldfish, paintings and vegetables could be had.   A musician plied the crowd, as did an acrobat and a match vendor.

My own daughter, transformed for the purposes of this re-enactment, is an orphaned rural farmer eking out a living with her brother.  They travel 10 miles by foot to the market.  She is the Soup Seller.

A few days beforehand, she was the Soup Maker:

Her:  Mom, I need to make some soup.
Me:  OK.  What kind of soup?
Her: (wrinkling up her face)  Old Chinese vegan vegetable soup.
Me:  Ugh.  Who wants a soup made out of old Chinese vegans?
Her:  Very funny.
Me:  So it's the Chinese vegetables that are old?
Her:  MOM!
Me:  Sorry.

She hands me a printout of the recipe, and we gather the supplies.   She conscientiously follows every step, doing it all herself.    Dices tomato.   Sets aside.  Asks if she can use my garlic chopper.  Grates the ginger.   Measures each ingredient.   Makes extra, so she has enough for this test batch, as well as a duplicate set for the "day of the culmination" batch.  Double checks the broth amount.   Adjusts the burners.  Simmers.  Covers.  Allows to cool.  Takes my suggestion to package up the broth and greens separately to do the final step at school.     In the morning, she lets me help her cart the crock pot to the classroom door, then shoos me away so I can't peek.

The following day, we join the other parents strolling through their former classroom, now a packed marketplace full of the sights and sounds of ancient China.  We clutch paper cups of Chinese coins, bargaining for spices and radishes and generally marveling at what our kids have created.   At last, I come to the soup stall.

Me:  One Old Chinese vegan vegetable soup, please!
Her:  Coming right up.  But you have to pay first!

It was worth every penny.

Hpak Gad Keng (Mustard Leaf Soup)
This soup is surprisingly great, just like our day at the marketplace.   It's robust, deeply flavorful, and satisfying, full of that now-celebrated "umami" taste.   And the crisp-tender mustard greens give it a freshness that is the exact opposite of what you'd expect from an Old Chinese vegan vegetable soup.

1 Tbs. vegetable oil
1/4 c. chopped onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. minced ginger
1 tomato, diced
1/8 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. Thai black bean sauce
1 Tbs. soy sauce
6 c. vegetable stock (we used "Better than Bouillon" brand.  Highly recommended!)
3 c. chopped fresh mustard greens

Heat oil over medium heat in a stock pot.  Add onions, garlic and ginger and saute until translucent, 3-4 minutes.   Add tomato and simmer until soft.    Add turmeric, black bean sauce, and soy sauce.  Saute for 2 more minutes, then add the vegetable stock.    Cover and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes.   Raise heat back to medium, and when soup is vigorously simmering, add mustard greens.  Cook for 2 minutes, until green stems are crisp-tender.  Serve immediately.

* Our thanks for the gunpowder, the matches, kites, and the fireworks.  And of course, the flamethrower.

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