Jennifer Wong’s Recipe for Sweet Snow Mushroom Soup
I had a supply problem, and let’s be honest, a skills shortage as well. In all my years, I never learned how to make the Chinese dessert known as Sweet Snow Mushroom Soup. It’s something mom has always done.
We would eat it piping hot in the winter and straight out of the fridge in the summer. As a child, I loved it because it was sweet and because the soft snow mushroom was shaking pleasantly on my tablespoon.
As an adult, I didn’t understand how a bowl of mom’s sweet snow mushroom soup could restore and nourish me in a way that cooking and eating on my own often doesn’t – until ‘I’m starting to want it.
I’m no food scientist, but I think mom’s secret ingredient is love, and on top of that, time (not to be confused with thyme).
Lately, I spent very little time cooking, as I worked long hours and ate on my own. Maybe it was time to stop eating tuna sandwiches for dinner and make an effort to cook things that restore and nourish, even if it was just right for me.
Make a memory dish
I decided to try making the sweet soup without asking mom for instructions and without reading a recipe online.
I wanted a creative stretch – to see how careful I had really been when I lived at home, and to determine how faithfully I could make dessert look like mom’s version.
After all, part of the recipe is in the name of the dish: Sweet snow mushroom soup in Chinese (雪耳 糖水) is sugar water with snow mushrooms. I had chosen a dish that was easy to try to recreate; it’s not like I’m making Peking Duck with just the name as a clue.
At the last minute, I decided to add three apples to my sweet soup, just because I had some. It’s common to make this dessert with apples, pears, or papayas, so it’s not like I’ve gone completely rogue.
I start by soaking the snow mushroom in lukewarm water. After about ten minutes it expands from dried bunches resembling yellow coral to soft bouncy ruffles, so I drain the water and rinse off the ruffles.
There are orange and brownish hard ends on the mushroom, which I never remember eating, so I cut them off.
I cut ten red dates in half and removed their pits, then rinsed them. I cut the apples into quarters.
I fill a large pot with about two liters of water, then add everything except the goji berries. I remember mom said not to add goji berries to soups until about five minutes before the soup was ready or they would be overcooked.
I bring the pan to a boil over high heat then lower it to a boil. I remember when I was a kid the pot would sit there simmering unattended, so I give it a little time.
After 30 minutes, the apples start to soften. The snow mushroom is already tender, but I think it’s probably tough enough to simmer longer. Some people like their snow mushroom with a bit of crunch, but I like mine sweet, so I let the pan simmer for another 20 minutes.
I try the soup. I can already taste the sweetness of apples and red dates. I add a piece of brown sugar in sheets (which is not the right sugar, I should have bought icing sugar!) And I let it dissolve. I try the soup again and decide to add another half slab of sugar. Then I add the goji berries.
I pour some into a bowl – the same bowls we use at my parents’ house – and take a careful sip from my spoon. It is sweet and fragrant with ginger and red dates.
This isn’t mom’s sweet snow mushroom soup – the brown sugar gives it a light caramel taste – but it is a sweet snow mushroom soup. And the pleasure of doing it for the first time is its own restorative food.
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Sweet snow mushroom soup
For four to six people
- 50 grams dried snow fungus
- ten red dates, halved without pits
- 1 tbsp Chinese almonds (also called southern apricot kernels)
- Fruit, optional
- 120g rock sugar, or to taste
- 1 piece ginger (about 4 cm x 1 cm), peeled
- 2 tbsp Goji berries
- Soak the dried snow mushroom in lukewarm water for ten minutes until tender.
- Remove the snow fungus from the water and use scissors to cut off the orange and brown pieces that are hard. Cut the snow mushroom into small pieces so that they are easy to eat.
- Rinse the red dates and Chinese almonds.
- Add 2 quarts of water, snow mushrooms, red dates, Chinese almonds (and fruit, if using) to a large saucepan over high heat and bring to a boil, then lower the heat for 30 minutes. If you are adding fruit, you may need to simmer for more than 30 minutes, until the fruit is tender.
- Add rock sugar to taste.
- Add the goji berries and simmer for five minutes. Remove from fire.
- Pour into bowls and serve hot.
• If you prefer your snow mushroom to keep a little crunch, reduce the simmer time to 20 minutes. All the ingredients can be purchased at an Asian supermarket.