When I started blogging about food in general, I told myself I would try to honestly show how I eat, in addition to displaying all the fancy dishes. And yet, as it happens, I am mildly embarrassed to be showing you this – gaeng jeud is so basic, there’s not really much of a formula or a technique to it (unlike, say, Thai omelettes), but it is frequently part of meals in Thai homes.
‘Gaeng jeud’ literally means ‘bland soup,’ but perhaps a more nuanced translation would be ‘plain soup.’ It is a soothing, unspiced soup whose substance and savour is drawn from long-simmered bones. Various items may added to it: combinations of plain vegetables, a bit of meat, a bundle of glass noodles usually feature. Mince-stuffed squid is my favourite, personally. I’m also partial to this combination – pork bones or mince with watercress and perhaps some glass noodles. My parents also made this with chicken drumsticks, maybe a little carrot, too – everything was sweet and tender, a fine breakfast (yes) with hot rice on a cold morning.
As with any other soup in a Thai meal, this is not meant to be eaten alone as a separate course: it should be taken with rice as part of the main meal, whether this features the gaeng jeud as the sole accompaniment to rice or as part of a spread of hopefully contrasting Thai dishes.
To actually make gaeng jeud, it’s just a case of covering some bones with cold water and letting it simmer for a couple of hours until you have a light, clear broth. My parents like to add a couple of whole garlic cloves while the soup simmers; some people like adding a coriander root or two. Your interesting bits and pieces (mince, vegetables, noodles, etc.) are simmered in the resulting stock, then fish sauce is stirred in to season the soup to your taste. My parents add a little light soy sauce – not too much, or the soup will be too dark, but just enough for a slightly rounded flavour. Some people like to add chopped spring onions, fresh coriander, maybe a little powdered white pepper to finish, as they like.
For Gaeng Jeud with Pork Bones, Watercress and Glass Noodles, I hacked about 800g pork ribs into short pieces and placed them in a big heavy-bottomed pot along with 2 whole unpeeled garlic cloves. I covered everything with cold water by 2 – 3 inches and boiled it, uncovered, skimming off the impurities that rose to the surface. Then I half-covered the pot, lowered the heat to a simmer, and let it boil for 1 1/2 – 2 hours, or until the meat was fork-tender.
Meanwhile, I soaked some cut-up lengths of dried mung bean noodes (glass noodle/vermicelli) in cold water for 10 – 15 minutes, or until pliable enough to smoothly drape your fingers. You’ll need barely 25g per person.
When the pork was cooked until tender, I seasoned it with a couple tablespoons of fish sauce and a little tiny bit of soy sauce. Then, I added the glass noodles and a handful of washed watercress, letting them gentle simmer for barely a minute until the noodles were soft and the watercress just wilted and bright green. I spooned out my portion of noodles and watercress into a bowl and if I had found some white pepper I would have sprinkled some on top.
Makes about 6 – 8 servings in smallish bowlfuls. Refrigerate and eat within 4 – 5 days.