Although the temperatures are still in the high 80s here and will continue to creep into the 90s for a little while yet, it feels like autumn, and that makes me want soups and stews. A couple of days ago I made an old favorite recipe that I found several years ago in Mark Bittman's "Minimalist" column in the New York Times. I'm pretty sure it was the first of his recipes that I tried; now I have two of his big cookbooks: How to Cook Everything and The Best Recipes in the World. This fish soup is so fast, so easy, so good, so healthy, that it's a great choice for a quick, satisfying after-work dinner, especially if you happen to have cooked rice on hand and put a half-cup in the bottom of the bowl before ladling in the soup. (Joe usually makes a pot of brown rice on Sunday so we have it for lunches to take to work or quick dinners after work - with beans or curries or stir-fries and then leftovers the next day for lunch - or even for breakfast, heated in the microwave and eaten like oatmeal.)
West Lake Fish Soup - serves 4, takes half an hour
2 T. peanut or canola oil
1/2 cup peeled and chopped shallots or onion
6 cups chicken or other stock
3 T. soy sauce (I use low-sodium)
1 tsp. (at least) ground pepper
1 cup peas, thawed if frozen (I've also used snow peas when I have them)
3/8 to 1 pound plain white fish, roughly chopped (I used 1/2 pound of pollock here,
which is often quite inexpensive frozen)
2 T. cornstarch
2 egg whites, lightly beaten (or 1 egg, or 1/4 liquid egg substitute, which is made from egg whites)
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves (or any tender green, but cilantro is best)
Put oil in saucepan large enough to hold all ingredients and turn heat to medium. Add shallots or onion and cook till golden brown, adjusting heat so they don't burn.
Add all but 1/4 cup of the stock and turn heat to medium high. When contents begin to steam, add soy sauce, pepper, peas, and fish, and cook at a gentle simmer (adjust heat as necessary), stirring occasionally, until peas are tender and fish is falling apart, 5 to 10 minutes. In a small bowl, mix 1/4 cup stock with cornstarch.
Drizzle egg whites into saucepan, stirring constantly. Stir in cornstarch mixture. When soup thickens, stir in cilantro. Taste and add more pepper or soy sauce if you like. Serve immediately.
If you don't like the idea of fish soup - and I know some folks don't, though this doesn't taste at all "fishy" in the disagreeable way some people object to, you can use chopped shrimp or leftover chicken or tofu. The basic recipe will be good with any of them.