Chicago’s Chinatown was never exactly the centre of the great Chinese empire. We had a small Chinese community, perhaps a few thousand people. But as I grew up, I was always surprised at the diversity and variety of Chinese ingredients and foods available within that narrow circle.
For example, we were delighted when fresh water chestnuts were available. They came from Hong Kong via San Francisco. We acted like deprived refugees or exiles, happy to see the well-remembered fruits of the homeland. Everyone rushed to buy whatever authentic ingredients had arrived, even at exorbitant prices. People were willing to pay for that taste of China, which made them feel closer to the homeland.
One popular vegetable that made rare appearances at our dinner table was fuzzy or hairy melon. As a child, I loved to play with the melon before my mother would peel it for soup. In season, it had a wonderful refreshing texture and taste. Because the melon was not always available, my mother would often substitute cucumber in this unusual chicken soup. It did not taste the same to my mother as the fuzzy-melon version of her childhood, but, then, we weren’t living in China either. However, if you are able to find fuzzy melon, you can use the same proportion as cucumber in this recipe.
Cut the chicken into thin slices about 5 cm (
Peel the cucumbers, halve them and remove the seeds with a teaspoon. Cut the cucumber into 2.5 cm (
In a pot of boiling water, blanch the chicken slices for 2 minutes, until they are slightly firm and white. Drain the chicken and set aside.
Just before you are ready to eat, bring the chicken stock to a simmer and season it with the soy sauce, rice wine, sesame oil and sugar. Toss in the cucumber and simmer for 3 minutes, then finally toss in the chicken. Bring the soup back to simmering point, add the spring onions and serve at once.
© 1998 Ken Hom. All rights reserved.