Fish ball soup in ginger-coconut broth

Soup is about comfort. Comfort is about love.

Soup can be such a comfort.

My mom had only a handful of soups she made–my dad preferred canned–but when he was out to sea, she made them fairly often, and what they lacked in variety or complexity, they made up for in deliciousness. Her clam chowder has four or five ingredients; her split pea is just split peas, ham hocks, carrots, onions, and celery; kneidlach soup is a bit more of a production. I can’t remember any others that she made with any regularity.

Me, I could eat soup every day.

Here’s a soup that was a bit of an accident. I was in the mood for kimchi soup, but I was out of kimchi and didn’t realize it until I got to the fridge. Oh, woe!

I have made several iterations of this, and as I always was with mom’s soups, I’m impressed with how flavorful and complex it seems with so few ingredients (and some of the ingredients there are are optional, so you may have even fewer).

Soup isn’t about spending hours in the kitchen, usually, at least not for me. Soup is about comfort. And comfort is about love.

Please have this soup recipe from me, with love. Even better, serve it to someone who will feel loved because of the gift.

fish ball soup in coconut ginger broth

Fish ball soup in ginger-coconut broth
Recipe type: Soup
Cuisine: Thai-ish
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 6
This improvised soup is reminiscent of a Thai coconut-milk soup. Fish-lovers will really enjoy it.
  • 2-4 tablespoons olive oil or other oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 ribs celery, sliced
  • 1 small carrot, chopped
  • 1 cup potatoes, chopped (optional)
  • dash salt
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • 4 cups chicken broth (homemade or low-sodium)
  • 1 can (15 oz or so) coconut milk (I use organic to avoid the additives)
  • Vietnamese fish sauce to taste (or use soy sauce or tamari)
  • 1 cup (5-10) Japanese fish balls or other fish-cake-like item (or use cubes of fresh boneless fish, or shelled and deveined shrimp)
  • ¼ to ½ cup fresh or frozen green peas
  • fresh cilantro for garnish (optional)
  1. Heat olive oil in a medium saucepan on medium-high heat.
  2. Add onion, celery, carrot, potatoes (optional), and salt to saucepan and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion starts to turn translucent.
  3. Add garlic and ginger and cook for a couple more minutes.
  4. Add chicken broth and coconut milk. Bring to a boil.
  5. Reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes.
  6. Add fish sauce to taste. I usually start with a few tablespoons and taste the broth, then add more if necessary.
  7. Add fish and peas and cook about 10 minutes more, until fish is heated through.
  8. Garnish with cilantro if desired, and serve.
I used 4-5 purple marble potatoes (very small new potatoes) in this, but any kind of potato, or none, is fine, and noodles or rice would be fine, as well -- just cook them first, place some in each bowl, and pour soup over the top.

If you don't have an East Asian grocery near you, some ingredients may be harder to find, so I've offered substitutions that I know from experience are good.


Korean-style braised beef

Korean braised beef stew. So good!

The starting point was Maangchi‘s recipe for Doejibulgogi, or spicy stir-fried pork.

I used a pound of chuck, and since chuck prefers a slow braise, I put the ingredients (minus the green peppers, which I didn’t have handy) into a cast-iron Dutch oven instead. I browned the beef first, then added the remaining ingredients and about a half cup of water, then cooked on low heat for about an hour and a half.

It’s not too spicy, but it’s got a little zing to it. It’s very very rich and delicious.

Korean beef braise

Two bad photos equal a good one, right? This stuff was far more tasty than it looks here.

Korean braised beef stew

Banchan: learning to cook Korean side dishes

Learning to make Korean banchan, tiny side dishes.

Yes, I’ve been on a Korean-food kick lately. I’ve got a batch of kimchi in the fridge; it’s a lot less salty than the last batch, but not as spicy. I’ll keep working on it.

soup and banchan dishes on the table

And I’ve bought some little dishes for banchan, because I’ve been in love with those little dishes of joy since the first time I had dinner at our favorite Korean restaurant, Sura. At Sura, they bring out a dozen or more of these little side dishes, and sometimes the little treasures last long enough to be part of the meal, as they’re intended. My idea of heaven is small amounts of lots of different kinds of food, so banchan is a natural for me. Same with Indian thali–I just LOVE little dishes of food!

We gave this concept two tries this week. First, I made a Korean cold noodle soup. Bought the broth pre-made at Koreana, along with the noodles and the banchan dishes.

Korean cold noodle soup in a white bowl, before adding things

I put out a bunch of little bowls of ingredients to add:

boiled eggs, pickled herring, more boiled eggs, pickled daikon, peas, nori, gochujang (red pepper paste), pickled garlic, pickled red cabbage, dried fried garlic

Then we each added our favorite things from the little dishes (click to embiggen).

Serene's soup with nori, pickles, peas, and gochujang The kid's bowl, with egg, nori, peas, and garlic James's bowl with egg, gochujang, pickles, and nori

Later in the week, though, I decided I wanted to learn to make some of the items I get at Sura, so I headed over to find Korean cooking videos on YouTube, and hit the motherlode. Oh, Maangchi, where have you been all my life?

Maangchi is the embodiment of Mom Food. Simply and cheerfully, she makes the recipes of her childhood while telling stories of Korea and her family. She clearly tastes home when she eats the results of her cooking, and her love of sharing her Mom Food is palpable. (“You could palp it if you wanted to.” — Tripod)

I made most of the banchan you see in the photo below. If you want to know more about each dish, I’ve given the names, and you can go to Maangchi’s site and find out how to make them.

Rice in a covered bowl. Big bowls of figs and bulgogi. Little bowls of kimchi, pickled herring, seaweed, kongnamul muchim, pickled garlic, Korean barbecue sauce, musaengchae, plain myulchibokkeum, gamjachae bokkeum, spicy myulchibokkeum, and gochujang

I bought 5 of the things in this photo at the store: pickled garlic, seaweed salad, Korean barbecue sauce, gochujang, and pickled herring. I picked the figs off Guy’s tree. I made the rest.

The bulgogi is from Bonnie’s recipe; kimchi is from Closet Cooking’s recipe; the kongnamul muchim (soybean sprout side dish), musaengchae (radish salad), plain myulchibokkeum (pan-friend dried anchovies), gamjachae bokkeum (potato and oyster mushroom side dish), and spicy myulchibokkeum all came from Maangchi.

Thank you, Maangchi! As you can see, we really like this way of eating!

the remains of the banchan (mostly eaten)

Frugal Cooks Note: The recipes for banchan all make a fair amount, and most keep for a really long time, so beyond the fact that the recipes are cheap to begin with, they’re even cheaper because they’ll serve you for several meals. I plan to continue learning new banchan dishes and re-making faves so that we have a steady stream of things to fill our cute little bowls with.

New Mom Foods: Porcini and Puffball Mushrooms

Try new foods! If they’re really expensive mushrooms, try a SMALL amount of new foods.

Two Mom Food urges fought with each other this week.

Mom Food Urge #1: Don’t spend too much money! Buy food on sale! Get the best deal!

Mom Food Urge #2: Try new things! Strange and untried foods are exciting! Fish candy? Pickled hairy plums? Jackfruit jelly? Sign me up!

This week, I had an email conversation with Anna Mindess about how to approach shopping in markets that sell foods from cultures other than one’s own.

My answer: Buy small, and be brave.

whole porcini mushroom

But it’s easy for me to say that, because mom and I are both frugal (okay, cheap) and adventurous, so we often have shopping trips in which we make it home with some inexpensive grocery item that neither of us has any earthly idea what to do with.

One time, we thought we’d be game and buy fish candy. Pro tip: don’t buy fish candy.

We (mom and James and I) have discovered some of our favorite foods by being brave this way: seasoned nori strips; shrimp chips; ceviche; kim chee; unagi; passionfruit; oxtails.

(Full disclosure: another time, our nerve failed, and we never opened the jar of hairy pickled plums. Scary, seriously.)

So I was talking to Anna about how excellent it is to eat new foods, and the next day, I was at the Berkeley Bowl and saw that they had both fresh porcini and puffball mushrooms, neither of which I’ve tried, so I decided to be brave.


Puffballs: $11.95 a pound. Porcini: $20 or so a pound. Oy.

So I figured out a way to do both things: buy new foods, and not spend too much money.

I bought one of each.

About $3 for one puffball mushroom. About $5 for a porcini. Here’s what they looked like whole:

whole puffball mushroomwhole porcini mushroom

And here they are after slicing:

sliced mushrooms: puffball and porcini

I decided that the best way to sample the true flavor of these was to cook them very simply: After taking a tiny bite of each raw, I sauteed them separately in a little butter, with a tiny bit of salt.

The puffball was much drier than the porcini, and soaked up most of the butter, so it got almost grilled:

sauteed puffball mushroom

This interesting little fungus gave James a little too much of a moldy vibe, so he gave me most of his, which I call a win. I adored it, especially the nutty flavor and the firm texture.

But my real new love is fresh porcini. Here it is after being sauteed. Because it’s so moist, it was almost stewed:

sauteed porcini mushroom

I could have made a whole dinner out of the mushrooms. However, here’s the dinner we actually ate. Roasted veggies, cheddar sausages, crash hot potatoes made with purple potatoes, and the mushrooms. VERY very good.

dinner: roasted veggies (carrots, onions, garlic, red peppers); cheddar sausages; crash hot purple potatoes topped with each kind of mushroom

In the future, I will use this New Mom Foods feature to try new things that I’ve been wanting to taste, or to take your challenges for new foods to try. Ideas?