Have you ever heard of Asian Wedding Soup? Neither have I. I did a quick Google search on it and didn’t find anything either. Actually, I just made the name up because this soup was intended to be an Asian counterpart to traditional Italian wedding soup, which is also a misnomer as that dish has nothing to do with weddings either. But, it works for me and I’ll tell you why.
Italian wedding soup is a a traditional Neapolitan soup containing greens, little meatballs and pasta suspended in a clear broth. It gets its name from the harmonious “marriage” of flavors of the ingredients in it. My Asian Wedding Soup works much the same way. It also contains greens, little meatballs and pasta suspended in a clear broth. And, the flavors all marry very well together. Except that instead of spinach or escarole, this soup contains baby bok choy and Napa cabbage. Instead of pastina, it has rice noodles. And, while both soups contain little meatballs, the Asian version is made with pork and minced shrimp, and is flavored with garlic, ginger, scallions, soy and fish sauce. Even the broth is different, permeated with hints of coriander, ginger, clove and star anise. So, while the basic components of both soups are the same, they differ greatly in execution. The broth is based on the Vietnamese Phở Gà. It’s like a pho fusion or a confused pho, depending on how you look at it. Either way, I thought the dish was a big hit.
Of course, it is always preferable to use homemade chicken broth, but canned broth works very well in this soup. And, unless you happen to have a stash of the homemade stuff in your freezer, canned will save you loads of time, making this soup a great choice for a weeknight meal.
As tasty as the broth for this soup is, for me, the real stars of the show are the meatballs. I wanted them to be very light and almost fluffy, like the filling of a good dumpling. To achieve the texture I was looking for, I started with some finely ground pork mixed with shrimp that I minced up in the food processor. I added all of the typical seasonings and an egg to hold it together. But, my secret weapon for making these meatballs practically float away is silken tofu. I always use it in my dumpling fillings, so I thought it would work well here as well. Mixing in a little silken tofu softens the meatballs and gives them a slightly creamy quality. Plus, the tofu has no real flavor of its own, so it soaks up all the other ones, enhancing them.
In addition to the greens, meatballs and noodles, I also added a mix of shiitake, oyster and enoki mushrooms to my soup, as well as some snowpeas and scallions. I garnished it with fresh bean sprouts, cilantro, red chili slices and lime wedges. Sadly, Thai basil was nowhere to be found around here, so I had to do without. It was a lovely, fragrant soup with loud pops of flavor. The meatballs turned out exactly the way I’d hoped they would. They were perfect! My little fusion experiment was a great success!
Asian Wedding Soup
For the meatballs:
1 pound ground pork
1/2 pound shrimp, peeled, cleaned and minced in the food processor
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced
2 teaspoons palm sugar or brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup silken tofu
1-2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon fish sauce
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 cup scallions, finely minced
2/3 cup panko crumbs
For the soup:
1 whole onion, unpeeled and cut in half
2-inch chunk of ginger, unpeeled
3 quarts chicken broth, homemade or canned
2 tablespoons whole coriander seeds
4 whole cloves
3 whole star anise
Small handful cilantro stems
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 heads baby bok choy, rinsed and sliced into thin strips
2 cups Napa cabbage, rinsed and sliced into thin strips
2 cups shitake or oyster mushrooms, cleaned and thinly sliced
3-4 scallions, rinsed and thinly sliced
1 pound fresh or dried rice noodles, prepared according to package directions
Fresh bean sprouts
Sliced red chili peppers
To make the meatballs, mix all ingredients together in a large bowl. Freeze about 15 minutes. Form into small balls, about 1-inch in diameter. Makes about 30 meatballs.
To make the soup: If you have a gas stove, cook the onion and ginger over the open flame until it is charred. If you have an electric stove, place the ginger and onion on a small baking sheet under your broiler, and broil them for about 10-15 minutes, turning a few times, until charred and softened. Remove from oven and cool. When cooled, peel the charred skin off the onion and scrape the skin off the ginger. Slice the ginger into thick slices. Set aside.
Place coriander seeds, cloves, star anise and cilantro stems into a square of cheesecloth and tie into a pouch with some kitchen twine.
Pour the broth into a large stock pot. Add onion, ginger and cheesecloth pouch. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Stir in sugar and fish sauce. Gently add the meatballs to the pot, one by one. Do not stir or you might break up the meatballs. Cover and and continue to simmer for about 15-20 minutes, until meatballs are cooked through.
Remove the onion, ginger and cheesecloth pouch and discard. Gently mix in bok choy, cabbage and mushrooms, cover and simmer another 5 minutes. Toss in the scallions and remove from heat.
Divide the rice noodles into soup bowls and ladle some soup and meatballs into each. Top with accompaniments of your choice.