Thursday, 22 November 2012

Double-boiled Pear and Almond Dessert Soup



YES IT'S OVER

My friend's mantra for getting through his dissertation were the two 'C's- chocolate and cigarettes. Since I don't smoke, he recommended I eat more chocolate. Maybe it's one cube of chocolate, or one late night too many, but I'm having a bit of a cough and a sore throat now. Rather than turning to the local GP, I've self-administered myself rather tasty prescriptions of lemon-honey water and pear-and-almond soup.

Growing up in asia means food has always been the first form of medicine I turn to. Back in summer, I drink barley water like it's going out of fashion (to be honest, it already is old-fashioned) but in autumn, the howling winds and crisp dry air means that the focus is on getting foods that moisten, and the ingredients in this traditional concoction all have moistening, yin qualities, and in addition, specifically target the lungs and the skin. Funnily, this concotion takes the form of dessert, or tong sui as we generally call these sweet soups. The Chinese approach to desserts is far-removed from the English or American concept of an indulgently sweet/fatty treat; it's a rather guilt-free way to satisfy your sweet tooth, or if you like to go one step further in the mental assurance thing, it's a health supplement/ medicine that actually tastes good.
The sort of 'almonds' used here are not like the 'western' almonds that we are more familiar with. I think they come from apricot kernels, or at least the kernels of a fruit similar to the apricot, and are smaller and flatter. There are also two types, one called the 'south' (sweet) almonds and the other, the 'north' (bitter) almonds, which is medicinal when prepared properly, but poison when not cooked. I'm not joking, you can DIE. You can easily find these almonds, and the white fungus (optional) in most Asian stores, but if not, I think normal blanched almonds might make a suitable, though less ideal stand-in. I used some Chegworth conference pears from the farmer's market, which is already a kind of stand-in for the traditionalAsian pears; no less delicious/ therapeutic though. Double-boiling is a method that locks in all the liquid (and hence nutrients and flavour) and keeps the delicate ingredients from disintegrating into mush especially if you like a longer slow-cooking process, but if you can't be faffed, a gentle simmer in your everyday pot will do. Don't let the almond, pear or pot be an excuse.



PEAR AND ALMOND DESSERT SOUP
serves 2
Ingredients
1 large ripe conference pear
2 tbsp south almonds
1 tbsp north almonds
1 dried white fungus (soft, not the crunchy variety)
1-2 tbsp rock sugar or raw honey (or to taste)
water

Method
1. Soak the almonds and white fungus in water for at least a couple of hours, then drain. The white fungus will plump up and become soft and translucent and kind of dirty as all the gritty bits get loosened, so rinse well and break into florets.
2. Peel, core and halve the pear.
3. Place the pear, along with the almonds, fungus, sugar, and just enough water to cover, into a little ceramic pot or deep bowl that has a tight fitting lid. Place the little pot into a larger pot (I use a ceramic slow-cooker) filled with enough water for the 2-3 hours of boiling.
OR (If you can't be faffed) 
Place almonds, fungus, sugar and enough water to cover in a pot and simmer for about half an hour till the fungus is soft but still retains a bit of bite, then add the pears and simmer until it's just fully poached through, translucent but not mushy.
4. Adjust the sweetness level if needed. The soup is quite refreshing when cool, but better warm I believe.


The soup is lightly sweet, with the honeyed fragrance of poached pears and the delicate flavour of almonds. I did say the white fungus is optional, but I like seeing its lovely blossoms strewn across the soup, and feeling its jelly-like texture as it slides down my throat. It may not look as exciting and fashionable as red wine-poached pears, but I love that it looks all pale and pure and zen. I feel better already just looking at it, and I definitely am better after having a bowl of two of this sweet medicine. Who needs cough syrup when you've got dessert eh?

Other Asian dessert therapies:
Old-fashioned Barley Water, with a few variations
Black Sticky Rice Porridge (Pulut Hitam), with red adzuki beans and coconut cream


40 comments:

  1. This sounds absolutely wonderful. I love the colour and your pictures.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks! I did think it looked all too pale, but it made me feel zen (:

      Delete
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  2. Nice "Tong Shui"!

    So I assume you are done with your thesis? :)

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  3. Congratulations on finishing your dissertation! I always think food is the best healer so I hope your throat feels better soon. This soup looks amazing, I love pears but would never have thought of a fruit soup. It's been quite an education. Thanks :)

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    Replies
    1. It's funny this seems like a newfangled soup, but it's actually a very traditional recipe! Thanks, I'm feeling better already I think! (:

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  4. Lovely soup! Pears cooked that way are delicious... I thought almonds were just almonds, and then you write about north and south almonds that come from apricot kernels ;-) I ate once the seed from a peach pit, are they similar?

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    Replies
    1. I think they all are pretty similar, but I hope you ate the seed cooked! If I'm not wrong, they're all toxic..

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    2. Probably those almonds came from apricots too, nothing happened to me! ;-)))

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  5. So many new things I learnt from this post - I thought double boiling meant boiling twice:) Never tried such a dessert/soup. Would love to, out of curiosity. Bitter almonds are easily available here which is a start.

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    Replies
    1. Haha maybe it should be called double-steaming instead, that's probably more accurate. But glad I piqued your curiosity! You should try it definitely since you can get bitter almonds easily!

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  6. The soup recipe looks divine & so healthy !

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  7. Such a light and refreshing soup! The simplicity of the ingredients makes it even more delightful...

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    Replies
    1. It is really simple to make, but it tastes really clear and I love it (:

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  8. Your dessert looks both incredibly intriguing and very tempting. I have always found the use of white mushroom (or any mushrooms!) in desserts one of the most unusual things in the cooking world. (I have already seen it once on a Chinese blog). I like this mushroom a lot though (but I know it only from a savoury soup)! It's much more sophisticated than the famous brown dried mushroom.
    I used to have soup desserts as a child, but they were always associated with summer and were cooling. I hope you feel better now.
    Thank you so much for keeping on surprising me and teaching me new things practically every time I come here!
    PS I have always heard that apricot kernels (even though similar to almonds in taste) are toxic in big amounts. When I was making apricot infused vodka, I left some kernels, but many people warned that if too many kernels are left, it might be toxic. Luckily I don't drink vodka in big amounts, so I'm still alive ;-)
    I must check if I can find these almonds here! (White mushrooms yes).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. it's so funny to hear it being called a white mushroom! Haha but I guess that is what it is, being a fungus isn;t it? What makes it very unlike a mushroom for me though, is that it's actually tasteless. So it's used more for its texture (which I love). And the yin-nourishing properties too I guess.

      Glad to have taught you soemthing new, you always teach me somethign new too! You can prob find these almonds in any asian stores, if not, normal almonds do have that similar taste which can pass off (as Charles said below), but are much milder.. I think the toxins go away with cooking, so YOU SHOULD BE SAFE ;)

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    2. Shu Han, I prefer to call it mushroom because fungus makes me think of medical condition ;-)

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  9. I think you can make cyanide out of the little "almond" shaped things inside peach and apricot pits. They have a delicately almondy taste, which I guess means that some of the same things are inside other "real" almonds, albeit in a lower quantity, so I'm not surprised you can die from eating those ones.

    Great looking dessert though Shuhan - really tasty, I really love pears, and I'm glad your dissertation is over now :)

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    Replies
    1. I was just telling sissi you can prob replace the north/south almonds with the normal almonds because they have a very similar taste, although much milder. prob not as medicinal though. it is true they contain cyanide (yikes) but I also read that they contain amygdalin (what makes it bitter) and that is cancer-curing. So, poison or medicine I guess, if consumed in the right way ;)

      Thanks Charles, I'm so glad it's over too (:

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  10. looks great and fun to learn from you I had a Chinese flat mate at Uni who would make things like this

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  11. At first I thought that was sauerkraut and I was mildly disturbed. So seeing white fungus in the ingredient list actually came as a relief! Beautiful photos!

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    Replies
    1. I wonder how sauerkraut would go with pear in a soup.... Actually might not be that bad, reminds me of red cabbage and apples. Heh.

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  12. YUM! This looks & sounds delicious! :)

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  13. LOVING this Asian take on guilt-free dessert! Photos do look so pure and zen and gorgeous...

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Helene! Asian desserts or at least chinese tong sui, are usually very light and health-giving (:

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  14. Dear Sir/Madam,

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    ReplyDelete
  15. Congratulations!!!!! Go you! And what a wonderfully informative and fun blog post, as always. Commenter above is right: bitter almonds contain cyanide, as do the kernels of most stone fruits. Consume with caution.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yay!!!

      I did hear about the cyanide (yikes) but at the same time though, bitter almonds contain amygdalin (what makes it bitter) and that is cancer-curing. So, poison or medicine I guess, if consumed in the right way! I will be careful, that would be the worst way to go.

      Delete
  16. How fascinating to learn about north and south almonds. White fungus I had not heard of either. I wish I could try this. The flavours sound so clean and fresh. Perfect for cleansing you of germs and nasties. A beautiful looking dish :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks laura! You can get white fungus easily in asian stores! Maybe you've heard of its cousin the black fungus,that's popular in chinese stirfries/salads? White fungus is more delicate and, well, white. I already am well and prancing about, so it must have worked (:

      Delete
  17. I love the fascinating sound of north and south almonds and the white fungus too. What a cleansing dish this must be. Wonderful :-)

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  18. Such a lovely dessert/soup...I love pears in desserts, but never had it in a dessert/soup like this. Love your photos, as well!

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  19. Congratulations on finishing your dissertation! (Though "dessertation" is clearly more fun ; )) This soup looks beautiful. I love the illustrations on your site, and am also enjoying learning about all these cool ingredients - north and south almonds, white fungus, pandan, etc. I hope to get to try them all one day soon!

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  20. Thanks Shu Han, for this post! Love the dessert and have tried it several times in this period of hot and hazy days!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Yixi! So good to hear from you! I love this dessert so much. It's nice cold on hto days, or warm on cool days

      Delete
  21. heather.kathleen.cochran@gmail.com8 April 2014 at 21:32

    Thanks for the recipe Shu Han. I'm an acupuncture student at AIMC, Berkeley and I brought this amazing soup into my herbs class. We've studied medicinal qualities of both xing ren (apricot kernels) and bai mu er (white fungus). Everyone really enjoyed it. I love the soothing translucent appearance and it's wonderful for cough and sore throat. It's super nourishing for the metal element. My professor asked if she could post the recipe in our class blog with a link so other students can make it too. Please let me know by email or here. Thanks again!

    ReplyDelete
  22. WARNING!

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    But now, with this stunningly simple cookbook I’ll show you how to cook savory, mouth-watering meals in minutes for some of the busiest Paleo eaters in the world...

    For more info please click on the following link: How To Cook - Desserts - Salads - Omelettes - Soups - Meat - Snacks

    Talk soon.

    ReplyDelete