Home Cooking: Hylocereus undatus soup

Several months ago, we had dinner at Angel Cafe in south Vancouver and the complimentary soup was one that tasted so darned familiar and definitely differed from the usual complimentary “old-fire” pork bone soup. I hadn’t had this soup in so long, over five years. The Chinese name (霸王花) escaped me at the time but it provided me with conversation material with Mum and Kit, to find out how to cook the soup and where to find the ingredient in Vancouver. Although a dried “vegetable”, when rehydrated in soup, it is very tender; I think I like it because I love the texture and taste of artichoke hearts and bamboo shoots.

If the package I picked up from Tung Fong Hong, a herbal shop in Metrotown, had simply labeled the product “Dried Night Blooming Cactus Flower”, I wouldn’t be here blogging right now. But the label read Hylocereus undatus, its scientific name in binomial nomenclature, and I had to find out more….

The Chinese name (bàwáng huā) is one that is intriguing, literally translating to “overlord flower” or “someone-who-tries-to-monopolize-everything flower”. Once upon a time, I used to gripe my Lil’ Sis was really bàwáng! If you had a bàwáng “dragon” instead of bàwáng “flower”, that is actually the Chinese name for the Tyrranosaurus rex!

If I Googled using the Chinese characters, the first search result is really fun and nonsensible to read Google-translated to English but it gives four different recipes to preparation of the soup. A Books.Google.Ca search result pointed to a great Chinese cooking classic, A Tradition of Soup: Flavors from China’s Pearl River Delta, that ought to sit on my bookshelf.

The most amusing synopsis came from PlantsAreTheStrangestPeople.blogspot.com (PATSP), calling H. undatus an Unsung hero. You commonly see H. undatus at your local plant store, the green cactus beneath a colourful cactus (Gymnocalycium) of a different species, siphoning off H. undatus’ chlorophyll. The fruit of H. undatus is–small world–dragonfruit, descriptively also known as strawberry pear. (I don’t like dragonfruit too much. It’s quite bland, not living up to its flashy appearance.) And the flower, my yummy “vegetable” for soup, is elaborate in structure and short-lived, opening for just one night. PATSP enthusiastically writes what I’ve explained here for your benefit:

“crazy flowers, alien-looking fruit, a tree-climbing cactus, and the only time I ever saw it, it was relegated to being the low-key servant for some lazy-ass Gymnocalycium that won’t even make their own chlorophyll. Not that you should go to your local plant supplier and start liberating the Hylocereus by knocking off their grafts…”

The Chinese have a reason for all of their soups and the benefits of H. undatus soup is clearing of phlegm and strengthening lungs. It is a “cooling” soup, if you believe all that.

Hylocereus undatus Soup

100g Hylocereus undatus
6 pork back ribs
8 cups water
1/2 bouillon cube
2 handfuls apricot kernels
ginger (I used pre-minced, I’m so lazy)

Bring water to boil and boil pork until just cooked and remove water.
Add 8 cups water, 1/2 bouillon cube, salt, ginger and bring to a boil.
Add H. undatus and apricot kernels and return to a boil.
Lower heat and simmer for 2 or more hours.
(Note: If not cooked for long enough H. undatus can taste very bitter. Soup also needs to very “sweet” from meat to counter the inherent bitterness of the flower.)

On this day..