There’s a saying in Traditional Chinese Medicine that, when treating imbalances in the body, one should first try to treat oneself with nutrition, and only when nutrition proves inadequate should one resort to (herbal) medicines.
Meanwhile, Hipsters Have “Discovered” the health benefits of bone broth.
My Facebook feed is full of apprehensive posts: “Just made bone broth for the first time, don’t know how it’s going to taste!” and pictures of bones… in water… and that’s it. (The terrible thing is, these people are probably buying pre-packaged, long-life “Real Stock” to make their cooking taste better…)
This is all very perplexing to me, because as far as I know all cultures have traditionally included bone broths in their cuisine, and it is only recently, in our quest for faster, cheaper, more convenient food-like substances with longer shelf-lives that we seem to have forgotten this basic and highly nutritious ingredient.
I first had Kambing Soup when I was in Singapore a few years ago to visit my Ah Ma. Despite the fact that she was very sick at the time, she was, as always, infinitely more concerned with everyone else’s well-being than her own.
I was still struggling with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Although I had recovered enough to get around and perform basic tasks like grocery shopping, cooking, yoga, and a little book-keeping, everything I did entailed a huge cost in terms of exhaustion and recovery time, and as well as being unreasonably fatigued by the most basic activities of daily living, I was pale, cold and bloated due to the trouble my body was having digesting food.
My Ah Ma immediately sent my Godfather out to fetch Kambing Soup for me, a dish that is sold by Malay street vendors, traditionally made with goat or mutton, laden with spices, and usually eaten with crusty rolls of bread.
Over the following days, my Ah Ma and Godpa proceeded to advise me about the kinds of food that I needed to eat. They were described as “confinement foods,” the foods traditionally served to a new mother in the first forty days after childbirth to help her to heal and replenish the blood and qi which she had lost. The confinement foods typically included meat, smoked or dried fish, rice wine and sesame oil, as well as warming and astringent herbs like turmeric and ginger. Failure to observe the special nutritional requirements during the forty day confinement period was said to result in problems for the woman’s health in future, including weakness, fatigue, bone and joint pain, and gynaecological problems such as infertility, dysmenorrhea and miscarriage.
This soup is immensely comforting and is great for people who feel the cold easily. If you have poor digestion – bloating, fluid retention and loose stools – this soup taken regularly will also help over time. If you often feel very hot, have problems with constipation, or have symptoms of excessive heat such as persistent headaches or sore throats, take this soup less often, be sure to drink plenty of water and include more cooling foods such as bitter melon in your diet.
I adapted this recipe from that of Rosemary Brissendon, in her book South East Asian Food, to make it taste more like the rich soup that I had in Singapore, redolent of healing spices and strong, gamey broth.
- about half a kilo of goat, mutton or lamb, with bones. The bones are the most important part of this recipe. Using the relatively tough goat or mutton, as is traditional, is ideal for cooking this soup for hours or even days, as lamb tends to completely disintegrate if cooked for too long. Obviously, organic meat is better, but if conventionally raised meat is all you can find or afford, you can still cook a delicious meal!
- 1 tablespoon of coriander seeds
- three quarters of a teaspoon of cumin seeds
- three quarters of a teaspoon of fennel or fenugreek seeds
- 1 teaspoon of whole black peppercorns
- 15g of shredded old ginger
- 3 cloves of garlic
- 1 brown onion, chopped
- a sprinkling of ground cinnamon (NOT cinnamon sugar!)
- 4 cloves
- 3 cardamon pods, crushed slightly
- 1 star anise
- a pinch of bay leaves
- 1 large whole green chilli, sliced
- 4 medium carrots, chopped
- sea salt to taste
- boiling water
Grind the coriander, cumin, fennel, peppercorns, ginger and garlic roughly in a mortar and pestle (or with a spice grinder, if you have gadgets.)
Both in terms of flavour and nutrition, the longer you cook it, the better – you want to bones to have time to release their calcium and collagen and flavour into the broth, and for the meat to become falling-off-the-bone soft. So if you have the time, cook the meat, bones and spices for at least four hours, topping the water up as needed, adding the veggies in for the last hour or so.
If you’re short of time, you can throw everything in a pressure cooker with enough boiling water to cover, and cook under pressure for half an hour. If you choose this option, save the bones and re-use them in future broths to extract as much of their nutrients as possible.You’ll find that with subsequent broths, the re-used bones will break down more and more, releasing their marrow and yielding the cartilage and ligaments which are attached to them and, with them, more precious collagen.
Traditionally, Kambing Soup is served with bread, but since I’m gluten-intolerant I take it with rice. If you’d prefer to make it a one-pot meal, you can include other starchy vegetables like potato, yam, or pumpkin.