My favourite Chinese soup of all time: Spare rib and mustard green soup

Spare rib and mustard green soup

What do you eat when you’re ill?

I have decided that I am impossible to cook for when ill because I become a very horrible patient.

Colds are f–king annoying!

One’s not sick enough to be confined to bed but the snot-filled, streaming-eyed person it turns one into means one isn’t fit for company either. I’ve been working from home today, fuzzy-headed, and doing conference calls mostly on mute so that no one can hear me sneezing or coughing.

Can anyone tell me if I’m meant to starve a fever and feed a cold or feed a fever and starve a cold???

My friends and I were debating this very subject only a few months ago, I was convinced it was the latter but the Oracle that is Google tells me otherwise.

Mustard greens are basically pickled in vinegar, salt and sugar

But what’s the point of feeding a cold if I can’t bloody taste anything? This is what happened yesterday…

I had a business lunch out with my colleagues. My fried tofu starter felt crisp and light but I suspect the plaice I had as my main, cooked in a buttery caper sauce, was a tad overcooked because it felt rather too mushy on the tongue (a fact my colleague confirmed as true since she had it too). The beans, on the other hand, must have been cooked to perfection because it had just the right amount of squeak as I bit into them, grrr…

Which is why I think I am a horrible patient; for despite the cold, I feel like I’m constantly hungry because I’m not getting any satisfaction from what I actually eat. In the process, I’m driving my poor husband insane because I don’t know what I want to eat either since I can’t bloody taste anything. The only things I can taste are really salty, really sweet or really sour things – all of which are off the menu due to the cold. That makes me cross and grumpy and grouchy and just, well, grrr…!

So after I finished making my croaky calls today, we ended up making this spare rib and mustard green soup because you’re meant to have soup when you’re sick, right?

The main ingredient is the mustard green and its pickling juice. I always add tomatoes and tofu and vary the other vegetables depending on what's in the fridge

Sometimes they come in vacuumed packs

It’s like a version of a hot and sour soup (but with no real chilli heat, just warmth) but we also made it because it’s our favourite.

Preserved mustard greens. Don't throw the liquor away - that's essential!

The essential ingredient is the sour mustard greens; this provides a gentle sourness to the soup, while the pork and fresh ingredients provide the rest of the flavour.

We love this soup so much that we probably make it every couple of months. It helps that you can make this soup in 30 mins if you’re in a rush (though an hour’s simmering is ideal), and also because it’s so nice that the only thing we tend to have it with is a bowl of steamed rice. It is the easiest soup to make because you pretty much bung everything in at the same time, so the hardest bit is just waiting for it to finish simmering.

You’ll probably only be able to find these mustard greens in Chinese grocery shops but every Chinese shop will definitely sell them because they’re again another mainstay in most Cantonese families’ kitchens. They’re either tinned or vacuum packed in plastic and I’ve taken a picture of a typical tin in case you need a picture to show it to your grocery shop owner.

On a dreary wet day like today (it’s been drizzling and grim and grey here in the UK), it’s perfect for supper. My husband says tonight’s soup tastes fantastic but you’ll have to take his word for it because my tastebuds are still blunted, and now I’ve lost my voice too so it’s back off to bed for me. My husband thinks this is hilarious, it means I can’t nag him and he’s taking far too much delight in saying to me “”, supposedly for my own good… GRRRR!

You can also use duck instead of pork but I prefer using ribs - the bones provide extra flavour.

Spare rib and mustard green soup

Lots of love


This soup really is so easy to make

Spare rib and mustard green soup (feeds 2 with leftovers for tomorrow)

500 grams pork spare ribs, marinated in 2 tablespoons of soy sauce (alternatively, duck also works very well in this soup)

1 tablespoon shaoxing rice wine

300 grams sour mustard greens (please retain all the liquid – it’s essentially a vinegar, salt and sugar solution)

1 stick of celery, sliced

1 large carrot, chopped (I don’t bother peeling it)

1 red chilli, pierced with a skewer

1 large clove of garlic, left in skin and lightly crushed

Some soy and rice wine is all you need to pack the pork full of flavour

4-5 large slices of ginger

1 pork stock cube (or use a chicken/veg stock cube)

2 litres of water

3-4 large tomatoes, quartered

(optional) 300 grams of fresh tofu (firm or soft – your choice), cut into cubes

(optional) 200 grams for freshly sliced lotus root – I didn’t have it in the fridge this time but I normally put this in

In a large pot, brown your pork ribs. Once browned, pour the shaoxing over the ribs. Add the water and all of your ingredients apart from the tomatoes and the tofu. Bring to boil and then reduce to a simmer for 30 minutes.

5 minutes before serving, add half of the tomatoes and all of the tofu to the soup.

Divide your remaining tomato slices between your serving bowls and dish up the ribs, vegetables, tofu and soup evenly.

I serve this soup with a small bowl of plain rice, a saucer of pickled green chillies in soy (recipe here), and a saucer of sweet soy for dipping.

I love this soup. My husband does too!

32 Responses to “My favourite Chinese soup of all time: Spare rib and mustard green soup”
  1. K.M. says:

    Mustard greens are one of my very favorite vegetables. I’ve never had them in soup before but I bet I’ll really like this. Looks great!

  2. I am going to keep my eye out for sour mustard greens in the can (the oddest things turn up at Grocery Outlet) and if I don’t find them I’ll look for them next time I go to Chinatown. I love hot and sour soup and am pretty sure I’ll like this soup, too.

  3. Hope you feeling better soon. I have never tried this soup before sounds interesting. BAM

  4. Sarah says:

    Ohhhhh, I hope you’re feeling better soon! This soup looks like it has healing power 🙂 YUM!

  5. ceciliag says:

    Drown it darling, you DROWN a cold, so you are on the right track with this lovely soup! so sad you are still sick. drink up! c

  6. Michelle says:

    That soup looks almost worth getting sick for.

  7. Joanne Ozug says:

    I would love a bowl of that soup, it looks delicious!!!

  8. Your soup looks appetizing from the photos. I bet it tasted great!

  9. Hmmm, I always thought you were supposed to drink scotch or something to get over a cold? Heehee, oh, well, it might take the edge off of your grumpiness? This soup looks like it would be so warm and soothing, the perfect thing for a cold!! Get well! xo Smidge

  10. Tandy says:

    yum! Love in a bowl 🙂 Hope you feel better soon – and tonight, why not try some chicken soup, it is full of natures antibiotics 🙂

  11. Colds are the worst, as you say too poorly to do anything but not poorly enough to be quiet about it!
    I grew mustard greens this year, they did well for a 1st attempt, and I’ve been on th elookout for recipes to use them in. Why didn’t I pop over earlier?!

  12. I’m not a big fan of hot and sour soup, so I’m not sure I would like this one, but I do love most of the ingredients within this recipe. I go into soup mode when I am sick, and I really only want broth soups, with a few noodles, and bits of vegetables. It’s mainly the broth that I crave. Hope you feel better soon.

  13. Starve a fever, feed a cold my dear. Hope you get better FAST! I was sick like that a week ago and it’s no fun. Take care and your soup looks like the perfect medicine!

  14. Charles says:

    I *love* spare ribs – in any form 😀 Soooo good! I’ve never heard of mustard greens… they sound really interesting. Thanks for letting me know about them, I’m gonna have to try and seek them out, and I just love how this soup looks. Such a beautiful colour!

  15. Darcy says:

    I love this soup and have made it often since discovering it. Sometimes I leave out the ribs for a healthier version, substituting water with chicken stock. Thanks for the excellent post!

  16. Carole says:

    I’m Chinese and would never use canned mustard greens! I use fresh and the Chinese type only, not the “Curley” type. Never use tomatoes in the soup either.

    • Hi Carole, you’re lucky enough to get them fresh then. It’s not so easy for me. Do you not add tomatoes because you don’t like that? I’m sorry if you don’t like this recipe, it’s all about personal taste and so far, all of my friends have really enjoyed it.

  17. Really good soup!
    What I did…
    I could not find Shaoxing cooking wine, used KWV Cape Pale Dry Sherry
    – I marinated the ribs and tofu cut into small chunks in a mix of soy sauce, KWV Cape Pale Dry Sherry (about 2-3 Tbls. each), 1 tsp. sesame oil and salt and pepper for 40 minutes or so.
    – in 1 Tbls. coconut oil I heavily browned the ribs on both sides then added the water and liquid chicken bouillon (about 3 Tbls.), brought to a boil, reduced heat and simmered about 20 min.,
    – opened the sour mustard bag and added liquid to pot, separated the mustard leaves and chopped into bite size chunks and added lots of chopped garlic, diced onions, sliced celery & carrots, 5 -1/8″+ slices of ginger root about 2″thick, brought to a boil, reduced heat to low then simmered for 1/2 hour +.
    – added the tofu and a 3″x 1/2″thick green chili with seeds sliced into 1/8th inch slices simmered another 1/2 hour +, (tofu swells to 2x the size),
    – then brought to a boil and stirred in chopped bok choy and diced red peppers for a crunch, then covered and turned off heat.
    – really good/interesting flavour. I wanted it to be a hot and sour soup.
    * – I actually forgot the chili rings until the end just before I added the bok choy and red peppers at so I added the chili slices and simmered soup for 15 min. then added the end veggies and shut the heat off.
    – the heat intensified to a good level after sitting. Next time I’ll put them in at the correct time.
    – forgot about the tomatoes altogether!

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