Warming and Healing Green Papaya Fish Soup | Food

In Chinese culture, there is a tradition that after giving birth, a mother stays home for a month to rest and recover properly.

This is called the confinement period (坐月子).

During this time, the mothers are given a variety of foods to help them heal. One of them is green papaya fish soup (skip to recipe).

The last time I ate this soup was over two years ago when I gave birth to my second child. When my mother arrived holding this big metal pot in her little arms, I knew what to expect.

As a kid, I didn’t enjoy this, but I was thrilled to dig into a bowl of this warm, comforting soup. I remember eating it for lunch and dinner, asking my mom to make it over and over again during that month.

The flavors of each ingredient balance each other; the sweetness of the papaya complements the flavorful fish. The heat of the ginger is mitigated by the slight earthiness of the ear mushrooms. In addition to the delicate taste, the components of the soup are said to have healing properties.

Peanuts and unripe papaya are believed to stimulate lactation and milk production. It is best to use unsalted peanuts to avoid too much salt in the soup. Unripe papaya should only be eaten after it has been cooked due to the high amount of papaya latex.

Fish helps replenish vitamins and minerals lost during labor and breastfeeding. Any fish can be used such as salmon, red snapper, bass or cod. For this recipe, I used tilapia. Cooking fish before adding it to soup helps it retain its shape, creates a more fragrant smell, and minimizes fishy taste.

Ginger is a “warming food” that increases circulation and brings positive energy to a healing body.

Dried red dates (dried jujubes, hong zao, 红枣) are anti-inflammatory and high in fiber to help with constipation that often occurs during postpartum.

Wooden ear mushrooms (Mu Er, 木耳) are rich in iron and improve blood circulation. If someone is taking blood thinners, this should not be included in the soup due to its blood thinning properties.

  • 1 tablespoon rapeseed oil

  • 1 whole fish or 500 grams/2 cups + 1 tbsp fish meat

  • 250 grams/1 cup + 1 tablespoon pork shoulder

  • 1 large green papaya

  • 30 grams / 1/4 cup dried wooden ear mushrooms (optional)

  • 10 dried red dates

  • 1 knob of ginger

  • 1 cup unsalted raw peanuts

  • 4 litres/~17 cups of water

  • salt to taste

Additional notes:

  • If you are serving the soup to young children, the fish can be removed after cooking to prevent it from choking on the bones.

  • The amount of ginger can vary depending on your family’s palate.

  • Dried wooden ear mushrooms and red dates can be found in most Asian grocery stores.

How it’s made

  • Preparation time: 20 minutes

  • Cooking time: ~ 2 hours

  • Serves: 6-8

First, you will soak dried wood ear mushrooms in water for 15 minutes and drain. (Only if you are using them. Skip this step if you are taking blood thinners.)

Now it’s time to prepare the fish. Wash the fish you have chosen to use and make sure the cavity is clean.

Over medium heat, add oil to a skillet. Once hot, add the fish and brown on both sides until fully cooked. Remove the head and set it aside.

Next, cut the pork shoulder into two or three equal-sized pieces. Add the pork to the hot skillet and lightly sear each side for flavor and texture. Remove and set aside with the fish.

Add water to a large saucepan and bring to a boil. While waiting for the water to boil, prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Wash and peel the papaya using a vegetable peeler. Cut it in half with a large knife.

Then, using a spoon, scoop out all the seeds. I filed an old newspaper for easy cleaning.

Once all the seeds have been removed, cut it into pieces. Like that:

There is a bit of preparation for this soup, but it’s totally worth it. Next step, cut your red dates in half.

Now prepare your ginger by cleaning and peeling it before cutting it into thin slices.

Take the wooden ear mushrooms that have soaked. They must be reconstituted and they can be cut into bite-size pieces.

Your water should be boiling now.

Add the pork shoulder, dates, papaya, button mushrooms (if using), peanuts and ginger. Add the fish last. Avoid stirring the pot too vigorously to prevent the fish from falling apart.

Let boil for 15 minutes. Then, lower the heat to medium-low and simmer for an hour and a half.

Add salt to taste and let the warming aroma take over your kitchen. Serve hot.

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