The humble mustard green, also known as gai choy in Cantonese, is a vegetable you normally see preserved in pickle form. The Vietnamese eat them pickled with dishes like braised catfish hot pots, or braised caramelised pork belly; basically any rich, salty dishes. The Thais eat it on the side of Khao Soi (a rich, coconutty curried noodle soup) amongst other dishes. The Chinese often stir fry them, and in particular the Sichuanese pickle the knobbly bit with chilli, so that it looks like an alien.
When fresh though, it's quite the different beast. Unlike spinach or watercress, this is no wilting wallflower - it holds itself robustly, and stands up well to a long simmering. Don't let the name fool you; it's not really that mustardy. Slightly bitter and grassy-tasting, it's often made into soups, and the hot-n-sour treatment is as good as any.
On a lazy evening with a little time on your hands, it couldn't be simpler. Simmer some pork ribs (or use pre-prepared, home-made stock), add some flavourings, and simmer it all together for a while. Leave the chilli and tamarind out for a cleaner-tasting, comforting broth-like soup, or do as I did and ramp the flavours up a touch.
I used a lot of things I had floating around in the fridge, as you tend to do after a big steamboat session which is really my new, favourite Sunday lunch. Fish balls went in there, along with a few cubes of freshly fried tofu. Carrots, roll cut so that they made a decent mouthful lent a sweetness. For a more substantial meat you can have a bowl of steamed rice on the side, to soak up some of the flavoursome broth. Anything you like really; just had those greens and the flavourings.
Hot & Sour Mustard Green Soup
200gr pork ribs, cut into lengths about the size of your thumb (you can ask your butcher to do this)
1 head of mustard greens (from the Asian supermarket), washed and cut into bitesize pieces
1 small onion, peeled and sliced into half moons
2 carrots, peeled and roll cut
A few slices of firm or freshly fried tofu, blanched (optional, but tasty)
A handful of fish balls
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 inch piece of ginger, minced
2 large fresh, red chillis, chopped finely
2 tsp tamarind puree, or dissolve a small block of tamarind in boiling water and drain
1 medium tomato, chopped roughly
1 tbsp light soy sauce
A few sprigs of coriander
Blanch the pork ribs in water, so that all the scum floats to the top. Drain and rinse the pot and the ribs well. Heat a little cooking oil in the pot and fry the onion, garlic and ginger until soft. Add the chilli and fry for a little while longer, then add the ribs. Cover with tamarind water or the tamarind puree along with 500ml water or stock. Add the carrots and cover, simmering for half an hour. Add the tomato and the mustard greens and simmer for another half hour, stirring every so often. Add more water or stock if it's looking too busy in there. Add the tofu or fish balls if using and simmer for another 10 mins.
Taste and add a little sugar to balance out the tartness of the tamarind. Add soy sauce to taste, garnish with coriander and serve with steamed rice for a more filling meal. Have a bowl to hand to catch those little rib bones.