May 16, 2008

Pork Meatball Soup with Mushrooms and Cabbage

I'm generally not one to worry about spending a little more money on food but some of the prices lately are a little shocking. I was at the meat counter trying to decide what to get that was inexpensive and not my standby, chicken leg quarters. I saw some pork steaks and thought they'd do well for soup. Using the bones for the stock and grinding the meat for meatballs was a way to fully utilize the three dollar purchase and stretch it into enough soup for several meals. I used Stephanie's Top Chef recipe for meatball soup as inspiration and borrowed some directions from this photo recipe for wonton soup. My version gives you Asian flavors with less work and using items I usually have on hand. I already had dried mushrooms, green onions, cilantro and some savoy cabbage in my kitchen. You could definitely make use of other vegetables and any mushrooms you have on hand for a similar effect. If you can't find bone-in pork steaks you use any pre-made stock and enhance it with mushrooms and make the meatballs from ground pork. The smell of the broth simmering had my mouth watering but I know from first hand experience that you can cheat and make any old vegetable stock ten times better by adding in dried mushrooms.
Here's the recipe, best eaten while watching Tampopo:

Cabbage and Pork Meatball Soup
Rich mushroom scented broth, flavorful pork meatballs and crunchy cabbage.
Serves 4-6

1 1/2 lbs bone-in pork steaks or 1 lb ground pork + 3 1/2 quarts of pork or vegetable stock
1/2 cup dried wood ear mushrooms (my package calls them dried black fungus)
1 cup dried shiitake mushrooms
3 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
2 teaspoons of grated ginger
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons fish sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2-3 cups cabbage (savoy or napa are best), shredded
5 scallions, thinly sliced
more salt and pepper to taste

-If you are using pork steaks: remove the meat from the bones and place in a 6-quart pot. Cover the bones with 3 1/2 quarts of cold water and bring to a simmer. Simmer for at least one hour, skimming the foam/scum from the surface. Grind the pork meat in a meat grinder or food processor.
-If you are using premade stock: bring 3 quarts of the stock to a simmer in a 6-quart stock pot
-Mix the cilantro, ginger, sesame oil, soy sauce, fish sauce, 3/4 teaspoon salt and pepper into the pork. You can microwave a small ball to taste for seasoning and adjust accordingly. Refrigerate this mixture covered until the stock is ready.
-Soak the dried mushrooms in hot water for at least 15 minutes. Remove the mushrooms from the water and add the mushroom water to the stock. Make sure you leave out any grit that is at the bottom of the mushroom liquid. Remove the stems from the shiitake mushrooms and chop into quarters. Add the shiitake mushrooms to the stock pot and cook for at least a half hour. Slice the wood ear mushrooms into ribbons and set aside, throw away any tough looking parts.
-When the shiitakes have cooked in the stock for at least a half hour remove the bones and add the wood ear mushrooms and bring to a good simmer. Add at least 1 teaspoon of salt and a few grinds of pepper, taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper if needed.
-Spoon in balls of the meat mixture into the simmering broth one at a time, stirring occasionally. I made balls about 1 1/2 tablespoons each but you can make any size. Add the cabbage and bring back to a full simmer.
-Add the scallions and serve.
-Optional: If I had them I would have used bean sprouts as a garnish. Other vegetables and/or noodles would be good as well.