This time of year, when the last leaves have fallen and winter has settled in for its long stay, always reminds me of my mother’s friend and her daikon soup. Like my mother, she chooses food based on traditional Chinese beliefs of their benefits. For example, tofu, like its appearance, provides the benefit of whiter, smoother skin. Chives, a homonym for the word to be smart in Chinese, are said to boost intelligence. Daikon, in particular, is believed to help stave off colds because it moisturizes the lungs, which is why it’s a perfect dish for this time of year when we are all feeling parched from the dry air.
Though I was (and am still) not entirely convinced that it moisturizes my lungs, I made this dish often when I was a broke and living off a meager salary in New York. The ingredients are inexpensive, and it was quick to make after a long day of work. I will warn that some of it may not make sense, but this is how I was taught to make it.
Wintry Daikon Soup, serves 4 for supper
1 lb pork spine
2 medium size daikon roots, peeled and chopped
1 star anise
1 medium onion, sliced (optional)
1 packet of rice noodles, cooked
1-2 stalks of green onions, sliced
Salt and pepper
Dipping sauce, served in a separate small dish
Toasted sesame seed oil
Place the pork bones into a pot and sprinkle generously with salt. Scrub the bones with salt, rinse and pour out the water. Fill the pot with fresh water until it just covers the bones. Put the pot on medium-high heat until it just comes to a boil and pour out all of the liquid. Fill the pot once again with fresh water about 6 cups and bring it once again to a boil.
Add in the star anise and a teaspoon of salt. If you are using onions, add them in now. Allow to simmer for ten minutes. Add in your daikon and simmer until the daikon is fully cooked. It will become a bit translucent, about ten minutes. If you haven’t cooked your rice noodles, this would be a good time to cook them and prepare your dipping sauce.
For the dipping sauce, I like to keep it simple with a mix of soy sauce and sesame oil at a 4:1 ratio. However, you can add in srirarcha, chives, garlic; the possibilities are endless.
When the soup is ready, place some noodles at the bottom of your bowl and ladle over the soup, ensuring there is a bit of daikon and a bit of the pork. Then, sprinkle over some green onions to liven up the dish.
Tasting notes: Similar to Pho, you can dip as many of the soup components into the sauce as you’d like. It’s really there for the pork because once soup is done, the meat has flavored the broth. Usually, you pry off a bit of the meat and then dip it into the sauce. If you get lucky, you might get a nice piece with more meat, but the reason it’s so inexpensive to make is because you’re using unusual cuts.