It’s been hectic at work the last few weeks and speedy suppers like tofu miso soup, sambals and stir-fries have been gracing the dinner table. One of the simplest soups to prepare is fish ball soup. This was one of my staples at the East Coast Hawker Centre in Singapore when I was little. I liked spearing the balls floating about in the soup with a chopstick and hey, soupy noodles are always fun to eat (a guaranteed mess maker). Panda-in-crime has always been so-so about fish ball soup so I super liked my surprise of a packet of fish balls with no preservatives added when he did the shopping (if anyone falls into the trap of asking if I want anything – I always to their annoyance say surprise).
I’ve always got a packet of dried ikan bilis (small fish) lurking in the back of the cupboard so boiled them up with ginger, star anise and dried chillies to make a ten-minute stock, but if you’re in a rush just add in a splash of fish sauce for an instant soup that is ready in five minutes.
Kailan (similar to purple sprouting broccoli) or mustard greens are a great addition, but noodlewise it has to be vermicelli (bee hoon) or glass noodles (tang hoon: made from mung bean starch) with a garnish of spring onions, deep-fried shallots and preserved Chinese vegetables. The only downside is that panda-in-crime is changing his opinion in favour of noodle soups, so now I have to share.
RECIPE: FISH BALL SOUP
For the broth
A handful or two of dried ikan bilis or a tablespoon or two of fish sauce
3 slices of ginger root
A star anise
2 dried chillies
8 white peppercorns
1 litre of water
A dash of soy sauce
For the soup
Half an inch of finely julienned ginger
12 fish balls
5-6 stalks of kailan, stalks chopped leaving leaves whole
For the garnish
A sliced spring onion
Chinese preserved vegetable (optional)
Sesame oil (optional)
INSTRUCTIONS: Boil the ikan bilis, star anise, ginger, chillies and peppercorns for ten minutes and add a dash of soy sauce before straining. If I am in a real rush I cut this step out and just add a tablespoon or two of fish sauce and a dash of soy to the water for an instant soup base. Add the julienned ginger and bring up to the boil. Add the fish balls (these take about three minutes to cook), vermicelli or glass noodles and add the kailan a minute later. It’s ready! Drizzle over the tiniest amount of sesame oil, as you don’t want the strong flavour to overpower the soup, sprinkle with the garnishes and enjoy.