This is one of those magical recipes that just happened. I had made chicken broth and felt compelled to use it right away. (I have mentioned before that I like soups that don’t require the use of broth. It’s not because I don’t like making broth, it’s because when I do make it, I want to use it immediately, in a dish that will duly appreciate its full worth.)
That day I happened to have all the right ingredients in my kitchen – perfect cooking serendipity: broth, ground beef, baby bok choy, soba noodles. I wanted a soup that tasted zingy, comforting, fresh, far-eastern…ish. (Sadly, this is the closest I come to making anything remotely Asian. And that is one thing I hope to change.) Miraculously, the soup I hoped for was exactly what I got.
Because I liked this soup very much and had nothing else on hand I was once tempted to make it with store-bought broth – it just wasn’t the same.
The chicken broth
I don’t make a science out of cooking chicken broth. Whenever I roast a chicken, I throw the bones into a saucepan, cover them generously with (filtered) water, add whatever happens to be in the fridge – chunks of carrot or celery, a wedge of onion, a sprig of parsley, or just a few peppercorns, a bay leaf, and a squeeze of lemon juice (or vinegar) if that’s all there is. It boils for a couple of hours, it’s drained, and it’s done. I usually add salt to the broth just before using it – it seems to be a better way of controlling the seasoning.
1 tsp fennel seeds
2 garlic cloves
1 tsp coarse grey sea salt
One handful flat-leaved parsley
Zest from 1/2 lemon
1 lb (450 g) ground beef (or a half/half mix of beef and veal)
In a mortar, grind the fennel seeds finely and set aside, then crush the garlic together with the salt to form a paste, and combine with the ground fennel. Finely chop the onion and the parsley.
In a bowl, thoroughly mix the meat with all the other ingredients: fennel/garlic/salt mix, onion, parsley, egg, and lemon zest.
Shape the meat into small balls, no larger than 1 inch (2.5 cm) in diameter (will make approximately 24).
2 heads baby bok choy
1 small piece fresh ginger (about 1 inch – 2.5 cm)
8 cups (2 l) homemade chicken broth
About 2 dozen meatballs
200 g soba noodles
3 Tbsps garum (or other Asian fermented fish sauce)
2 Tbsps soy sauce
To prepare the baby bok choy, remove any damaged outer leaves, cut into 1/2 inch (1 cm) strips crosswise, and wash in cold water to remove any grit. Cut the ginger into matchstick-thin strips.
Bring broth to a lively simmer. Add ginger and cook for 1 minute. Add meatballs and cook for another minute. Add soba noodles and cook for another 2 minutes. Add bok choy and cook for 1 final minute. **Adjust the heat throughout to make sure the broth continues to boil. The timing is important since all the ingredients overcook very quickly.**
Season with garum and soy sauce and serve immediately.