A light mussel, asparagus and fresh pea broth, infused with the flavours of south-east Asia
You don’t normally associate the summer months with soup making, especially broths. At this time of year the only soup you’re probably hoping to make is a chilled one to cool yourself off as the mercury rises. I love an iced soup on a hot summers day and have a few in my repertoire. Unfortunately it never really gets hot enough here in Dublin to make any of them. The summer’s not over yet so I live in hope!
The summer months of june, July, and august are also the most colorful of the year and offer some of the best seasonal ingredients, there are some fabulous greens available at this time of the year along with home-grown courgettes, broad beans, runner beans, and the two ingredients in this soup asparagus and peas.
I’m not really a big believer in the whole seasonal food thing. Slowly its a term that’s been hijacked by marketing men. These days every restaurant is cooking with local and seasonal ingredients. You should just buy what tastes best and if it happens to be grown down the road by farmer joe all the better. But if there is a time of year for truly good tasting local food than its surely now.
The short summer also gives cooks time off from stewing, braising, sweating and of course soup making. We’re more lightly to be cooking up some bbq or putting together a quick salad. But two of my favourite summer ingredients, asparagus and peas, make wonderful soups. Most of the time their only made in winter with frozen peas or imported asparagus but give them a go in summer when their at there best, fresh and full of flavour
Here I’ve teamed them up with mussels in a broth that’s inspired by the flavours of south-east Asia. It’s a hot and sour soup with pungent lemongrass and ginger along with a little chilli that provides the necessary heat and a little kick to the soup.
The thing that I most admire about asian cuisine is the ability of a lot of their ingredients to season and give a real depth of flavour. In the west, if we need to season something we only really have salt. With asian cuisine you have soy, fish sauce and anchovy. If they want to make it sweet they have honey and tamarind. A little more sour and you can add pickled ginger, lemon juice or zest, and of course lime juice or leaf.
This soup does have one special ingredient though – mussel stock. Any time you cook mussels you’re left with a unique tasting stock and you should never let it go down the drain. Even if you have no use for it at the time you can freeze it and add it to soups and sauces later. It has a wonderful taste of the salty sea.
The other key ingredient is fish stock. You simply can’t make a good soup without a good stock.
You can make this recipe to your own taste. If you like it sweeter add a spoon of honey and of course it you like it fiery, have a freer hand with the chillies.
Clean the mussels in several changes of water and remove any beards and barnacles. Throw away any that are open and which don’t close when tapped with a knife. Thier already dead and you don’t want to eat them.
Heat the olive oil in a large pan and gently cook the shallots and garlic on a moderate heat for 3/4 minutes. Add your clean mussels to the pan before turning up the heat and pouring in the white wine.
Throw in the bay leaf and cover the pan with a tight fitting lid. Give the pan a good shake and steam your mussels for about 3 minutes or until the mussels begin to open.
When the mussels are cooked drain off the cooking liquor and reserve it for later. Discard any mussels that haven’t opened and when their cool enough to handle, remove them from the shell and set aside.
Heat the sesame oil in a large saucepan and cook the lemongrass, ginger, chilli and garlic together for about 5 minutes
Add the sugar and coriander leaves and cook the soup for a further 2 minutes before adding the lemon zest and juice, followed by the reserved mussel stock.
Pour in the fish stock and bring the soup to the boil, season with a little sea salt and cook the coup for a further 10 minutes.
Strain the soup discarding the herbs and spices.
Bring the soup to the boil and add the asparagus tips. Cook them in the soup for 2 minutes. Then add the peas and allow them to cook for about a minute before finally adding the mussels and chives.
Divide the soup into 4 bowls and drizzle a little olive oil over the top of each soup.