Looks like a job for soup. Soup is easy to eat and can be filled with flavour to tempt sick taste buds. If you are careful it can be nutritious, balanced and easy to make. This will be fairly long because it isn’t just a recipe but an approach that has to be explained. Please read it all before deciding it’s too hard - it ain’t. I don’t actually have a recipe - this is stream of consciousness.
Here is a flexible soup whose origins are in southern China and it uses many Chinese ingredients. You might find something like it in a restaurant called combination long soup. This does not mean you will have problems keeping exotic ingredients to be available when you feel like soup. The reasons are;
- the recipe is flexible, you can use a subset of ingredients if you don’t have them all,
- many of these ingredients are long lasting, they are dried, preserved or frozen so you don’t have to shop fresh just 'cause you feel like having soup tonight,
- once these things were only to be found in specialised asian grocers, today many can be bought at the supermarket or elsewhere.
This is not a delicate soup, it its strong in basic flavours (umami) and in aromatics, it is hearty and filling, a one bowl meal. The food groups are protein, vegetable, starch and some fat, you can vary the proportions to suit yourself.
I use box chicken stock from the supermarket, you could use beef or vegetable. By all means make your own if you have the time, homemade stock is another good thing to freeze. If not making your own it is an idea to start with the low salt version as you will be adding some salty things and while you can always add salt later it is hard to take it out.
Raw chicken (I prefer thighs) or pork diced, leftover Chinese roast pork chopped, uncooked prawns halved (fresh or frozen), lup cheong (spicy pork sausage) sliced.
Any of the Asian brassicas, pak choi, choi sum etc. fresh bean shoots, broccoli, cabbage. Dried shiitake mushrooms are important.
Cooked fresh packet noodles (eg hokkien) note these freeze very well. Or whatever dried rice or wheat noodle you like.
Garnish and flavours
Various Asian sauces (soy, oyster, hoi sin, black bean, ma po etc), toasted sesame oil, spring onions trimmed and sliced, green ginger, garlic, shao shing (Chinese cooking wine, substitute dry sherry).
This is for four big serves for a whole dinner, you will need large soup or pasta bowls. For smaller eaters or lunch this will serve 6.
Chop meat. Soak 8-10 shiitakes in boiling water, when soft slice the caps thinly and discard stems. Cut your larger veggies into bite-size. Thaw your noodles or any other frozen food.
In a large soup pot gently fry 1 dsp grated green ginger and 1 dsp crushed garlic in 2 dsp oil (eg peanut) for a few minutes.
Add your raw meat (not prawns) raise the heat and stir until coloured. Add 2l of stock and return to the boil, then down to a simmer.
Add sliced 'shroom caps and any remaining liquid to the soup.
Add 2 dsp light soy (or tamari), 2 dsp shao shing and 2 dsp oyster sauce. For extra punch try some hoi sin (beany), ma po (beany and spicy), chilli or others. Don’t get carried away and add them all at once. Taste as you go.
Add 2 or 3 sliced lup cheong.
Simmer for 20 minutes.
I like to cook (dried) noodles or heat fresh (cooked) noodles in separate containers, especially if microwaving. You can heat/cook them in the soup but it is hard to control because unless your timing is great they and the vegetables will not be cooked the correct amount each and they get lost in the pot and are hard to serve. I tend to microwave bok choy etc.
If using beans shoots put some in each bowl they don’t need to be cooked other than on the heat of the broth.
When the broth is nearly ready, add your prawns, heat (or cook) your noodles and cook your veggies, leaving some crunch. Put the drained veggies and noodles in the bowls. Add 1 tsp toasted sesame oil to the soup and stir. Serve out the soup, making sure the solids are divided not concentrated in the last serve! Garnish with sliced spring onions.
Within the listed ingredients you can do many variations. On top of that those who enjoy tofu could replace one meat or all the meat with it. You could use other seafood. You could add dumplings in which case it would become long and short soup, or for logophiles, syncretic soup.
- Try lup cheong if you have never had them, they are readily available and keep very well.
- There are many kinds of soy sauce, start with light soy and experiment at your discretion. If you are worried about salt only add half the soy before you taste. If you want the broth more salty add more than I have said it’s up to you. You could serve soy and chilli sauce on the side so each can suit themselves.
- Shiitake have much more concentrated flavour than fresh supermarket mushrooms.
- If you have a surprise guest or two, or a big hungry person, use more noodles.
- If despite taking care the broth gets too salty add a cup of water.
 I forgot meatballs, which can replace meat. If you have pork or pork and veal mince make small meatballs flavoured with ginger, spring onions, soy, sesame with egg to bind. Drop them in the broth about halfway.