This is an exceedingly light soup, with a pretty look and a very pleasant flavor. The tiny meatballs float in chicken stock alongside the silvery noodles and fluffy greens, and the only surprise is the discovery of crunchy water chestnuts when you bite down on a meatball. Preparations are quick and simple and will not daunt even a non-cook.
Peel fresh water chestnuts, and cut into a neat, peppercorn-size dice. If you are using canned water chestnuts, blanch them in plain boiling water for 15 seconds, drain immediately, and refresh under cold water before dicing.
In a bowl large enough to mix the pork put the water chestnuts, pork, and remaining meatball ingredients. Mix lightly with a fork or chopsticks, stirring in one direction until well blended, then throw the mixture lightly against the inside of the bowl 5–6 times to firm the filling. Seal airtight, with a piece of plastic film pressed directly on the surface of the meat. If you are working in advance, refrigerate the meat until use, overnight if you wish. Bring to room temperature before making the meatballs.
Leave the rubber bands or strings binding the noodles in place, put the noodles in a bowl, and cover with hot tap water. Soak briefly until rubber-band firm, then cut the noodles into 4–5-inch lengths with scissors. Cut loose and discard the rubber bands or strings, rinse the noodles in a colander with cool water, and put aside to drain.
Cut the watercress above the string that joins the bunch and discard the lower stems. Sift through the upper sprigs, discarding any discolored leaves. If you are using spinach, discard any discolored leaves or bits of stem, and cut any large leaves crosswise into bands 1½ inches thick, leaving the smaller leaves whole. Pump the watercress or spinach up and down in cold water to clean it, then shake off excess water. Blanch in plain boiling water to cover for 10 seconds, drain immediately, and rush under cold water to stop the cooking. Drain, squeeze gently to remove excess water, then put the vegetable aside on a plate. If you are working in advance, seal airtight and refrigerate, overnight if you wish.
About 20 minutes before serving, cut off the spongy root cluster that joins the mushrooms and pull the mushrooms gently apart in small bunches.
Put the noodles in a small pot with 1 cup of the stock. Bring the stock to a simmer over moderate heat and simmer the noodles gently until silky, about 2 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat.
Combine the remaining stock and the soy sauce in a small, non-aluminum stockpot. Put the pot on the stove, with the meat mixture, a tablespoon, and a bowl of cool water alongside. Put the soup bowls in a low oven to warm.
Dip your palms and the spoon into the water. Scoop up 1 tablespoon of the meat mixture with the spoon, then toss it lightly between your wet palms to form a small, walnut-size meatball. Drop the meatball into the cold stock mixture, then repeat the process until the meat mixture is used up, wetting the spoon and your hands as needed to keep the meat from sticking.
Add to the pot whatever stock was not absorbed by the noodles, then bring the liquid to a near-boil over moderate heat. Skim the surface of foam, reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer, then cover the pot and simmer 5 minutes.
In the last minutes of simmering, portion the noodles and the watercress or spinach among the individual bowls.
At the end of 5 minutes, turn off the heat. Add the mushrooms to the pot and stir gently once or twice to mix. Taste the soup and adjust as required with pepper-salt or kosher salt and fresh pepper. Ladle the soup into bowls, portioning the meatballs among them, then fluff the noodles and greens gently with chopsticks to float them in the soup. Serve at once.
Leftovers keep 2–3 days and may be reheated by steaming in a covered bowl, or by reheating over moderate heat until hot.
© 1982 Barbara Tropp estate. All rights reserved.