A classic Chinese soup, watercress and honey dates with pork ribs soup, is a mildly sweet, yet savoury, flavourful, full-bodied and nutritious soup that’s generously packed with tender, meaty pork ribs and ladles full of softened, crunchy watercress.
I’m updating this post on a classic Chinese soup, watercress and honey dates with pork ribs soup. Personally, I think this soup is reminiscent of some of the best home-cooked Chinese meals. It is a mildly sweet, flavourful, full-bodied and nutritious soup that’s generously packed with tender, meaty pork ribs and ladles full of softened, crunchy watercress. Watercress is particularly valued in Chinese cooking as it has ‘cool’ properties, and promotes vital fluids which help moisturize the lungs and alleviate coughs.
Soups are the heart of a complete Chinese meal. If you grew up in a traditional Chinese household as I did, a typical Chinese meal was often considered incomplete without a soup dish. And it wasn’t just any soup – one’s choice of soup to prepare was always made in consideration of other dishes to be served at the table.
I learnt from a young age, that a well thought through Chinese meal should always offer a spread of dishes where each complimented or paired well with every other dish at the table. Basically, it epitomised the principle of a well-balanced meal – servings of rice or noodles for carbohydrates, vegetables for fibre, essential vitamins and minerals, tofu, fish and seafood, or meat, for protein, and to round it all up, a nutritious soup.
Often times, you don’t even have to cook other dishes if you have a soup like watercress soup – it’s essentially a soup meal by itself, best enjoyed with a bowl of freshly cooked rice. And not to forget, have some light soy sauce with sliced bird’s eye chilli on the side, to drizzle (or spoon) over the watercress, and the tender pork meat. Yum!
Thankfully, Chinese soups, the sweet as well as the savoury, are some of the easiest, fuss-free soups you can prepare at home, each having distinct and unique flavours with a swap of just a few key ingredients. Ultimately, Chinese soups are by far, very healthy and nutritious, which explains their appeal.
Typically, all that’s involved is just throwing together ingredients in a pot and slow-stewing or double-boiling in water, broth or stock, until the ingredients’ natural flavours and essential nutrients diffuse into the stewing medium, enhancing the taste of the soup and boosting its nutritiousness.
Watercress can be enjoyed stewed till very soft in the soup, or with a slight, fibrous crunch left to it. To enjoy it really soft, simply stew for at least half an hour to 45 minutes before the soup is done, or for 15 to 20 minutes for a nice, chewy texture. Personally, I think the star of the soup would have to be the honey dates – just two to three are enough to sweeten the soup considerably, and their tender, juicy flesh is like no other. I simply can’t get enough of them!
Slow cookers are fantastic cookware for stewing or braising – and it takes away the trouble of having to monitor the stewing process over a stove top. If using one, add just enough water or stock to immerse the ingredients as there will be relatively little water loss through evaporation.
If using a stock or soup pot and cooking over the stove top, you’ll have to add substantially more amounts of water or stock – typically, anywhere between 4 to 4.5 times the amount of soup you’ll want to be left with. For instance, if you want to have about 2 cups (500 ml or half a litre) of soup (excluding the soup solids) for serving, you’ll need to add 8 cups (2 litres) of water or stock, to begin with. More water can always be added during the cooking process (just make sure to add boiling hot water so as to keep the temperature of the stewing medium consistent), or water can be reduced by stewing for longer if you’d like a more intense flavour.
- 300 g pork ribs
- 200 g watercress (1 bundle)
- 3 dried scallops
- 3 honey dates
- 6 Chinese red dates
- 1 tbsp sweet almonds (a.k.a. sweet apricot kernels)
- 1 tsp bitter almonds (a.k.a. bitter apricot kernels)
- 1 tsp salt, or to taste
- 1/2 tbsp light soy sauce, or to taste
- Some pepper, to taste
With the watercress still in a bundle, cut off the stems where the leaves begin, about 5 to 6 cm from the end, but do not discard. Wash leaves and stems separately, in several changes of water.
In a small bowl, soak dried scallops in warm water for 10 minutes, till slightly softened.
Meanwhile, fill a small pot with water and bring to a boil. Put in pork ribs and blanch for a minute or so to remove impurities. Discard the water and wash the meat clear of all scum and grit. Set aside.
Put pork ribs, scallops (including soaking liquid), honey dates, red dates, sweet and bitter almonds, into a slow cooker. Pour in water or stock until just enough to immerse all the ingredients. Set slow cooker on Auto setting. When soup has come to a simmer, add in the watercress stems and slow cook for another two hours. (Note: If cooking in a pot over the stove top, please read Recipe Notes below).
Remove the watercress stems and discard. Add the watercress leaves and continue to slow cook for a further 30 to 45 minutes or so, depending on how soft you'd like the watercress to be. Season with salt, light soy sauce, and pepper, to taste. Serve hot.
#1. The soup must be boiling or simmering before adding the stalks and leaves, or else the soup may turn bitter.
#2. For cooking over a stove top:
Follow steps (1), (2), and (3) as above.
Then, bring 2 litres of water to boil, over medium fire. Once boiling, add all the ingredients, except watercress leaves, bring back to a boil then lower heat. When meat is tender, about 2 hours later, remove watercress stems and discard. If meat is not quite as tender as desired, let soup gently simmer for longer until tender. Add more water (always add hot water) if stewing liquid has reduced considerably.
When ready to add watercress leaves, increase to medium fire. Add in the leaves and cook for a further 20 to 30 minutes or so, depending on how soft you'd prefer the watercress to be. Season with salt, light soy sauce, and pepper, to taste. Serve hot.