One of the most exciting parts of working in a restaurant kitchen is the food that cooks prepare for themselves. 12 years ago, I was working as a cook in a Japanese restaurant in Tel Aviv.
The amazing sushi chefs I was working with were actually Chinese chefs trained in the Japanese cuisine, but they were obviously highly skilled in their homeland’s cuisine, as well.
Toward the end of a night shift, when the stream of diners started to slow down, they started the process of what was the most interesting and fun part of the shift: preparing our end-of-the-night dinner.
On many nights, especially during the winter time, the choice would be a hearty soup of fragrant meatballs in a rich beef broth, with some vegetables and a bowl of steamed white rice. Exhausted after the hectic night shift, with the final task of the night—cleaning and closing the kitchen—still ahead of us, we would gather in the parking lot in the back of the restaurant, sitting on improvised stools, sipping and eating our soups and feeling life’s energy slowly returning into our sore muscles and bones.
These Chinese chefs I worked with didn’t speak a word of English, and, needless to say, my Chinese was no better. All I did to learn how to make this was watching their soup-preparing ritual night after night. This is my version, based on what I learned from watching them. With some small adjustments I’ve made, this soup is a perfect paleo meal.
- 1 pound ground beef
- 8 stalks green onion, chopped
- 1 medium potato
- 6 fresh Shiitake mushrooms, cut into thin stripes
- 8 Bok-Choy leaves, cut into 1/2 inch stripes
- 1 red bell-pepper, cut into 1/2 inch stripes
- 3 dry Thai chilies, chopped
- 2 inch ginger cube, chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 cup fresh cilantro leaves, separated from the stems
- 6 cups beef bone broth
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil
- 3 tablespoons Tamari soy sauce
- 4 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1 egg
- 1 star anise
- 1 dried clove
- 1 inch piece of cinnamon stick
Start with the meatballs:
- In a wide mixing bowl, combine the meat, half of the chopped green onions, 2 tablespoons fish sauce, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, the egg, and plenty of fresh ground black pepper.
- Peel the potato, and, using the smaller setting of a grater, grate it. Squeeze all the liquid out of it and add it to the bowl.
- With your hands, mix the meat well, tossing and turning until the ingredients are dispersed equally. The mix should be relatively soft and a bit sticky.
- Form balls the size a bit smaller than a golf ball. Put in the fridge.
Prepare the soup:
A wok would be ideal for this, but, if you don’t have one, you can use a wide pot.
- In a wok, put the coconut oil, ginger, and chilies. On medium-high heat, heat the oil and lightly fry the ginger and chilies for a minute. Add the garlic and fry for another minute, until fragrant. Don’t let the garlic burn.
- Increase the heat and add the red bell pepper and the mushrooms and stir-fry for 1 minute.
- Add the beef broth, star anise, cinnamon, cloves, soy sauce, and the remaining fish sauce.
- Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer, uncovered, for 8 minutes.
- Increase the heat and add the meatballs into the soup, bring to a boil, lower to medium heat, and simmer for another 10 minutes.
- Add salt, if necessary.
- Serve in a wide soup bowl. Add the remaining green onion and cilantro on top.