Time to take stock . . . and make it a little bit Chinese

I know that this blog is supposed to be about my books. And Blood’s Revolution (book 2 in the Holcroft Blood saga) is coming out in three weeks, yada, yada, yada, go order a copy from Amazon now . . . But today I don’t feel like banging on about history or my own writerly efforts. Today I’m feeling autumnal. After a scorching summer, I can feel winter’s cold knuckles tapping on the window and trying to get in. So, just to shake things up, today I’m going to talk about soup. Yes, soup.

I love soup: it’s nourishing, warming, healthy and perfectly hits the spot when the weather gets chilly. I’m not Jewish – I was born in Beijing, China, of Scottish heritage, and I’m now living in England after many years working as a journalist in Asia – but I’ve always admired their attitude to chicken soup. Made with the power of a mother’s love there is nothing it cannot cure – or at least make a little bit better. So as a homage to “Jewish penicillin”, here is my own take on this ancient healing elixir:

Chinese-Scottish Chicken Noodle Soup

Serves 2


2 pints home-made chicken stock*

1 leek, washed, trimmed and finely chopped

Thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled, finely chopped

Half-teaspoon of dried crushed chilli

1 segment of a clove of garlic, peeled, finely chopped

2 handfuls of twizzly pasta (or any kind of pasta – about half as much as you would use if you were making normal a pasta dish)

Dash of dark soya sauce, to taste (I like quite a lot)

Knob of butter

Squeeze of lime or lemon


Fry the leeks in the butter over a gentle flame for five mins. Just soften them, really. Add the garlic, ginger and chilli. Fry a bit more and add the chicken stock. Bring to the boil and reduce the liquid by a third. More if you like it stronger. Add the pasta and cook for ten minutes, lid off the pan. Add soya sauce to taste. If there is no salt in your stock (as in the recipe below) you will need a good tablespoon of soya. Serve in warm soup bowls with a squeeze of fresh lime juice.

* Home-made chicken stock

You must make this dish with home-made stock. You can use cubes – but to me they have a nasty chemical aftertaste. In dire necessity you can use Knorr Stock Pots, but home-made is far and away the best. I usually make chicken stock in bulk – four or five pints at a time – and I freeze it in pint-sized Tupperware for when I need it. It means that it is easy to make a quick soup. All you do is add fresh or left-over vegetables to the boiling stock, cook for a few minutes then whizz. Easy lunch.

This makes about four pints


2 packets of supermarket chicken wings

2 large onions

2 large carrots

2 stalks of celery

2 segments of a clove of garlic

1 large glass white wine

1 tsp of whole peppercorns

5 pints of water

1 bayleaf – and any other fresh herbs you have to hand. Parsley, sage, thyme and rosemary are all good. But steer clear of tarragon.


In the biggest pot you have, fry the chicken wings in a little oil over a medium heat until they begin to colour. Add the chopped onions, celery, carrots and garlic. Fry for another few minutes. Add the wine, let it bubble for a few minutes, then add the water, peppercorns, bayleaf and herbs. Turn down the heat and let it simmer for three hours on the hob. Alternatively, Agas and Rayburns – or any kind of range – are brilliant for this. Just put the covered pot in the bottom oven for a few hours and put your feet up. When the stock is done – anywhere between two and four hours – strain out the liquor and throw away cooked veg and chicken bones. Let it cool and pour into Tupperware pots for freezing.

A good strong home-made chicken stock is also great for risottos, chicken casseroles and making a quick gravy. I used to give it to my six-year-old daughter, slightly reduced in volume on the hob and with a little pinch of salt, as plain chicken broth – she rejected all other soups, oddly.

OK, enough with the soup already. Usual book-plugging service will be shortly resumed.



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