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This piquant, highly designed soup drew inspiration from 6 exquisite soup bowls--a Christmas gift--and from the artist who made them, my sister Diane. In my case, since I have these gorgeous bowls, a single shrimp flower floats in a sea of clear noodles, nestled against a seagreen background--with red earth, incised with white, on the rim and underside. Your background color will depend on the color of your bowls. It looks like more trouble than it is--but I think it's worth the trouble regardless. Serve hot as a tangy first course to 4.
Heat the fish stock with the lemon, pepper, garlic, and bay leaves. Let simmer for 30 minutes, partially covered, then take off the burner and let cool in the pan until you are ready to assemble the soup.
Prepare shrimp flowers: shell and devein the shrimp, leaving the tail attached. Wash and pat dry. Slit the back of each shrimp further, opening and pressing it flat. Cut a little lengthwise slit right in the middle of the opened shrimp and bend the tail up through the slit, fanning the tail to make a flower. Salt the shrimp lightly, then dredge in a little cornstarch. Let them sit for a minute and hold their shape while you're bringing lightly salted water to a boil.
When the water is at a gentle boil, pop the shrimp in and let them boil for 2 minutes. Remove, drain on paper towels, and reserve.
Prepare the noodles: Bring water to a boil, drop in the noodles, and let boil for 5 minutes. Drain immediately, rinse with cold water, let drain again and reserve.
Assembling the soup: When you're ready to serve the soup, remove all solids from the stock pot and bring the flavored broth to a boil. Cut the cellophane noodles into the broth in edible-size lengths (they're slippery). Get out your best bowls (on the deep side) and ladle the broth and noodles into the bowls. Plunge a shrimp flower into each one, then arrange the garnish next to it--a thin slice of mushroom, a round of red chili pepper, a thin strip of lemon zest and a few lengths of fresh chives.