Mom’s Pork Soup With Peanuts & Lotus Root

Author Notes

I was away from home for most of my early 20s—Cambridge for college, Paris for culinary school, and New York for work. Being away from my motherland of Malaysia for so long, it was only natural that on top on the list of things I missed was my mom’s cooking. Of all her hearty, Cantonese-style steamed fish and soy-braised stews, Shaoxing-scented stir fries and silky tofu dishes, sweet tong suis and classic kuihs, it was her pork and peanut soup that I missed the most.

It is a humble, unassuming soup—pork and peanuts simply simmered low and slow for hours until the flavors meld—that by no means shows off the full extent of Mom’s cooking chops. But it’s a soup that serves as a simple, hearty reminder of my Malaysian home. Whenever Mom would think of making this soup, she’ll head to her neighborhood butcher early in the morning to get pork bones—cartilage-encrusted hunks of backbone, with pockets of collagen-rippled meat—make a stop to the Chinese herb shop on the way back for some peanuts, and, back home, throw both together in a big ceramic pot of water. She’ll let them simmer over the stovetop until dinner, when we’ll share about our day in between wafts of soup steam and intermittent slurps of us trying to get at the fatty meat glistening in between the bones.

Pork and peanuts are the nonnegotiable heart and soul of the soup, but any flavor additions are welcome too. Some days, mom would throw in lotus root, red dates, water spinach leaves, or if she’s feeling particularly luxuriant, extra pork belly too, the fat stewed till gelatinous and the meat melting under the softest bite. On days that she’s pressed for time, she’ll bring out the pressure cooker to hasten the cooking process, and we’ll hear its rhythmic hiss late in the evening, an auditory appetizer.

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In my years away from home, I’ve made pork and peanut soup three times. (This isn’t to say I only missed home thrice.) The first was during my fresher’s year of university in the U.K. Paralleling my mom’s ritual of getting ingredients the day of cooking, I bought bony chunks of pork knuckle from Sainsbury’s on a walk to town, then cycled 20 minutes to Cho Mee, the only Asian supermarket in Cambridge, for some raw shelled peanuts. I tossed both pork and peanuts into the largest pot I had, and left them to simmer as I went back to my books.

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Three hours later, I lifted the lid off my pot, and was instantly disappointed as mine looked nothing like Mom’s. My broth was murky where Mom’s had a clean milkiness from the pork bones; my peanuts were hard, boiled pebbles compared to Mom’s (soft, practically pureed themselves in between your teeth). Over Skype that night , Mom shared the crucial steps of the recipe: blanching the pork and soaking the peanuts. (I looked at mine and thought: rookie mistakes. Dinner that night dampened my memory of the dish, and only served to make me miss my mom’s cooking, and home, even more than before.

The next two times I made it, to soothe bouts of homesickness, I remembered to blanch the pork, and soaked the legumes hours before I made the soup. Still, the bowls of soup were never quite as satisfying as Mom’s, and I quickly gave up trying to replicate her cooking, submitting to the adage that Mom indeed does it best.

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Now that I’m back home in Malaysia with my parents, and have been throughout this pandemic, I’m ever more appreciative of Mom’s pork and peanut soup, the proper recipe for which you’ll find below. Each time she makes it, I’ll sneak into the kitchen, pop open the lid of the simmering brew and let the porky steam envelop me. Over dinner, I’ll ladle out a bowl for her and for myself, and slurp on it, scalding my lips in the process, but warming my heart—like no soup of my own ever could. —Jun

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About the Author: Thien Bao

Hello, my name is ThienBao. I am a freelance developer specializing in various types of code.