At the farmer's market, the poultry stall also sells small bunches of watercress, gathered from the river that runs near their farm. I like that somewhat romantic notion of cooking things that were growing around each other before they ended up in my kitchen. It's not an entirely new concept, and that's probably the way people used to cook and combine flavours. Just eating in season means you often end up putting together produce that grow at the same time; but considering "where" instead of "when" can be a fun, different way to search for inspiration.
Since the weather has been just miserable these days, I picked up a chicken carcass for some good old chicken soup. I don't often buy a whole chicken, it just doesn't make sense when you're cooking for one, and a carcass is a perfect and super cheap option for making homemade stock, or bone broth. With the stock, you could probably add some watercress and blend it up with some potatoes and fancy creme fraiche for a creamy green soup a la Gordon Ramsay, but I thought of a simpler light soup that my mum often makes. My sisters and I fight over this soup, so it is pretty good stuff. Of course, my mum does it in a traditional black claypot, with a mix of pork ribs, letting the bones simmer slowly over a charcoal fire; I just do it in my trusty slow cooker, but the idea is the same-- a deceptively clear soup that's actually rich with flavour and nutrients. This kind of slow-cooked goodness is called 老火汤 , literally translated as "old fire soup".
"OLD FIRE" WATERCRESS SOUP
1 free-range chicken carcass (or about 350g of pork ribs, or a mix)
1 large bunch of watercress
1 large carrot, chopped into large chunks
3 tbsp of goji berries (yes those dried raisin-like things in your raw trail mix, we traditionally eat them cooked)
6 red jujube dates (NOT the black ones from turkey. If unavailable, use more goji and carrots, but you can easily find them, along with goji, for very cheap in an Asian supermarket.)
unrefined sea salt, to taste
about 1 l water (1.5l if not using slow-cooker)
1. Blanch the carcass in boiling water for 5 min and drain along with any scum. This makes for clearer soup later, the hallmark of good old fire soup.
2. Add the carcass, carrot and dates into a pot, bring to a boil, and immediately reduce heat to very low and let simmer for 2 hours, or more. I just dump it all into the slow-cooker and leave it for 6 hours.
3. 45 min towards the end, remove the carcass, shredding any meat from it, and set aside. If you use pork ribs, no work needed. Add the goji berries and watercress to cook.
4. That's it, season with unrefined sea salt if necessary, and scoop into a bowl with some chicken, and serve up with rice.