It doesn’t happen frequently, but every now and then I just can’t bear to eat another meal of chicken, beef, pork or seafood. On those occasions when Mom’s in charge of the meal and asks what we want for dinner, I’ll say Kang Chup Chay, or our family’s version of a hearty Asian-style vegetable stew. It’s the next best thing to fasting when you are having one of those days where you feel like you’re still trying to digest last night’s meal.
It’s also one of those great meals to have when you’re feeling a little low on energy or your digestive system’s a little off.
Mom learned how to make a version of this years ago when she traveled home to Thailand and stopped for a vacation in Taiwan to visit a Buddhist monk whom she knew. He was part of an order that ate strictly vegetarian. While staying at the temple, she was asked to help out in the kitchen to cook meals for the monks. She invented this dish with whatever vegetables she had on hand.
The base of this soup can either be vegetable broth, if you want to be strictly vegetarian, or chicken broth. My mother will often make a chicken broth from scratch using chicken wings that have been chopped up. “More flavor,” she says when I ask her why chicken wings. Must be all those bones and skin.
One of the nice things about this soup is that it never tastes the same. That’s because the soup takes on much of its flavor from whatever combination of veggies you end up putting in it. Mom’s made it with chopped daikon raddish, Chinese broccoli, yu choy, choy sum, cabbage, Chinese cabbage, bok choy, oyster mushrooms and shiitake mushrooms. I think we’ve even had a rendition of the soup with organic baby carrots that we buy and keep in the refrigerator as treats for our dogs! Luckily, our dogs don’t mind sharing their treats with us.
Usually we’re pretty exacting with our measurements, but you’ll have to indulge us this once because this is the way Mom makes it and she never measures. She just starts with whatever vegetables she has on hand or finds at the Asian grocery store.
Kang Chup Chay — Pranee’s Asian-Style Vegetable Stew
- Any combination of the following vegetables, chopped coarsely and placed in a large stock pot: Chinese broccoli, choy sum, yu choy, daikon raddish, carrots, baby bok choy, regular bok choy, oyster mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms, even potatoes; basically whatever suits your fancy
- Enough vegetable broth or chicken broth to totally cover the vegetables in the pot
- 3 or 4 whole star anise
- A stick of cinnamon
- 4 to 6 tablespoons (60-90 ml.) sweet dark soy sauce to taste
- Ground white pepper to taste
- Wash and coarsely chop all vegetables and place in large stock pot.
- Add broth to completely cover the vegetables.
- Add spices and soy sauce, bring to a boil over medium flame and then reduce flame to low and simmer for 1 hour.
- Serve hot.