Simmer

Mom's Pork Soup With Peanuts & Lotus Root

by:
August 16, 2021
0 Stars
Photo by ulia Gartland Prop Stylist: Gerri Williams Food Stylist: Kate Buckens
  • Prep time 1 hour
  • Cook time 3 hours 10 minutes
  • Serves 6 to 8
Author Notes

I was away from home for most of my early 20s—Cambridge for college, Paris for culinary school, and New York for work. Being away from my motherland of Malaysia for so long, it was only natural that on top on the list of things I missed was my mom’s cooking. Of all her hearty, Cantonese-style steamed fish and soy-braised stews, Shaoxing-scented stir fries and silky tofu dishes, sweet tong suis and classic kuihs, it was her pork and peanut soup that I missed the most.

It is a humble, unassuming soup—pork and peanuts simply simmered low and slow for hours until the flavors meld—that by no means shows off the full extent of Mom’s cooking chops. But it’s a soup that serves as a simple, hearty reminder of my Malaysian home. Whenever Mom would think of making this soup, she’ll head to her neighborhood butcher early in the morning to get pork bones—cartilage-encrusted hunks of backbone, with pockets of collagen-rippled meat—make a stop to the Chinese herb shop on the way back for some peanuts, and, back home, throw both together in a big ceramic pot of water. She’ll let them simmer over the stovetop until dinner, when we’ll share about our day in between wafts of soup steam and intermittent slurps of us trying to get at the fatty meat glistening in between the bones.

Pork and peanuts are the nonnegotiable heart and soul of the soup, but any flavor additions are welcome too. Some days, mom would throw in lotus root, red dates, water spinach leaves, or if she’s feeling particularly luxuriant, extra pork belly too, the fat stewed till gelatinous and the meat melting under the softest bite. On days that she’s pressed for time, she’ll bring out the pressure cooker to hasten the cooking process, and we’ll hear its rhythmic hiss late in the evening, an auditory appetizer.

In my years away from home, I’ve made pork and peanut soup three times. (This isn’t to say I only missed home thrice.) The first was during my fresher’s year of university in the U.K. Paralleling my mom’s ritual of getting ingredients the day of cooking, I bought bony chunks of pork knuckle from Sainsbury’s on a walk to town, then cycled 20 minutes to Cho Mee, the only Asian supermarket in Cambridge, for some raw shelled peanuts. I tossed both pork and peanuts into the largest pot I had, and left them to simmer as I went back to my books.

Three hours later, I lifted the lid off my pot, and was instantly disappointed as mine looked nothing like Mom’s. My broth was murky where Mom’s had a clean milkiness from the pork bones; my peanuts were hard, boiled pebbles compared to Mom’s (soft, practically pureed themselves in between your teeth). Over Skype that night , Mom shared the crucial steps of the recipe: blanching the pork and soaking the peanuts. (I looked at mine and thought: rookie mistakes. Dinner that night dampened my memory of the dish, and only served to make me miss my mom’s cooking, and home, even more than before.

The next two times I made it, to soothe bouts of homesickness, I remembered to blanch the pork, and soaked the legumes hours before I made the soup. Still, the bowls of soup were never quite as satisfying as Mom’s, and I quickly gave up trying to replicate her cooking, submitting to the adage that Mom indeed does it best.

Now that I’m back home in Malaysia with my parents, and have been throughout this pandemic, I’m ever more appreciative of Mom’s pork and peanut soup, the proper recipe for which you’ll find below. Each time she makes it, I’ll sneak into the kitchen, pop open the lid of the simmering brew and let the porky steam envelop me. Over dinner, I’ll ladle out a bowl for her and for myself, and slurp on it, scalding my lips in the process, but warming my heart—like no soup of my own ever could. —Jun

Ingredients
  • 2 cups (250 grams) raw, shelled peanuts
  • 2 pounds (908 grams) pork backbone (sometimes called neckbone), chopped into chunks (best to get your butcher to do it)
  • 2 pounds (908 grams) pork belly (skin-on or skinless will work), sliced into 1-inch chunks
  • 1 lotus root, peeled (optional)
  • 10 to 15 red dates, based on size
  • 2 teaspoons (10 grams) kosher salt, or more to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1 grams) ground white pepper, or more to taste
In This Recipe
Directions
  1. Soak the peanuts in water for at least 1 hour, or up to 3 hours at room temperature. Then, drain out the peanuts and discard the water.
  2. Place the pork backbone and pork belly in a large pot, and fill it up with water until all of the pork is covered. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to medium and let it simmer for 1 minute, then scoop out the pork and discard the water. Wash the pork under running water to remove any blood or gunk, especially in between the spinal bones.
  3. Wash out the pot, and refill it with 12 cups (3 quarts) of water. Add the pork backbone and pork belly back into the pot, and add the soaked peanuts and the lotus root (if using) into the pot as well. (If needed, add more water to the pot until the pork is completely covered.) Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat. Then, turn it down to a simmer over low heat and let it cook, covered, for 2 hours, until the broth is cloudy, the meat is spoon-tender, and your kitchen is filled with the comforting, savory pork broth aroma.
  4. Remove the lotus root from the broth, and slice it into ½-inch discs (it’s easiest to hold it with tongs and slice it with a knife), then plop the slices back into the broth. Stir the red dates into the broth, then season with the salt and white pepper. Let it simmer uncovered for another 30 minutes until the lotus root is soft and powdery.
  5. Portion the soup into bowls, and serve piping hot.

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1 Review

Linda September 6, 2021
This reminds me of a favourite from a New Zealand childhood that we called 'pork bones' - a pot full of meaty bones, a couple of onions cut in wedges, salt and pepper, covered in water and cooked for several hours. It belongs to a family of recipes of little more than meat, vegetables and water like Scotch broth (barley and mutton) and Irish stew. These simple dishes can be found in many cuisines and it is a miracle that so little can make something so delicious, even taking into account the seasoning of childhood nostalgia.