Mussels In Ginger Soup With Chili Leaves

Ginger Mussels Soup With Chili Leaves

Last week, a reader who goes by the initials V.T., e-mailed me about this particular Filipino mussels soup dish that I forgot about.  As I have said to V.T., this is one of my favorite classic Filipino dishes.  Unlike a lot of Filipino dishes, this is one of the easiest to prepare and cook.

This soup dish is quite simple and humble as it relies on the mussels' juices and the ginger for its flavor.  Traditionally, it is garnished with chili leaves.  Most Filipinos in the diaspora, however, tend to omit this due to lack of availablity.  Spinach leaves are usually substituted. 

Chili leaves
Chili leaves

Here in the Philippines, chili leaves are commonly used as vegetables in soup dishes such as this one.  Unlike the fruits they bear,  they aren't hot  at all.  The leaves have a slight bitter taste to them.  They are an excellent source of calicium, iron and phosphorous.
Mussels Ginger Soup With Chili Leaves
The soup should not be clear. It takes on the milky color of the mussels' juices.Clear soup = bland soup = HHS (Hydro-Happiness Syndrome) on the cook's part

For those of you in North America, you may be asking how is it a humble dish, considering that mussels, or any kind of shellfish, are generally expensive. Over here, mussels are considered as poor man's food. They are wonderfully cheap over here. These fresh live mussels cost me US $0.87 / lb ($1.91 / kg). It would have even been much cheaper had I purchased them at the wet market instead of the supermarket. It's just wonderful that I can have mussels everyday.

My Filipino friends find it very amusing that I always request for mussels whenever they ask me what I would like them to prepare for me when they invite me to their homes. They always say that I'm so easy to please. Filipinos have a term for this. Unfortunately, my Filipino language skills aren't the greatest even though I can understand some. It translates to something like "shallow joy."

I have to explain to them that back home, these creatures were a treat considering that they cost about $ 8-10 / lb ($ 3.64 - 4.55 / kg) in the Los Angeles area. That price was way back in the 90's and I'm not talking about live, fresh mussels here, but the imported frozen ones from New Zealand.

As simple as this dish is to cook and prepare, it is quite easy to get this dish wrong by going hydro-happy"Hydro-happy" is a Kitchen Masochist lingo for adding too much water.  Add too much, the mussels' juices and the ginger flavor will be diluted.  Remember, don't go too happy with the water.  Hydro-happiness has it's consequences!

V.T., thanks again for bringing this dish to my attention.
Mussels in Ginger Soup With Chili Leaves
Mussels In Ginger Soup With Chili Leaves


1.5 lbs (680 g) fresh, live  mussels, cleaned
1  thumb sized ginger, finely sliced
2-3 cloves of garlic, crushed
1/2 onion, sliced

1/4 cup (59 ml)  oil
3 cups  (710 ml) water
fish sauce (optional) - It is common to add this; however, I find the addition of this ingredient to be unnecessary, as the mussels' natural juices are salty enough on their own.  If it's not salty enough for you, feel free to add the fish sauce.

Chili leaves (or spinach leaves if unavailable),  use as much as you like, removed from stem
1/4 tsp  (0.94 g) freshly ground pepper


Heat oil in a pot  on medium-low heat.  Sautee onions for about 2 minutes.  Add the garlic and ginger. Cook until fragrant and the onion is translucent.  Be careful not to burn the garlic or onion.  Otherwise, the soup will acquire that burnt flavor.

Add the mussels.  Add the water to the pot, sprinkle the pepper,  and cover.

When the mussels open, taste the broth. Discard those that remain unopened.  If you find the broth too strong for your liking, feel free to add more water.  However, don't add too much that you dilute the mussels' juices and lose that ginger flavor; otherwise,  you will end up with a very bland broth that tastes like water.    If you end up with a clear soup, this indicates that you have temporarily suffered from HHS (Hydro-Happiness Syndrome).

Add the chili leaves (or spinach leaves) towards the end.  Season with fish sauce if you find the broth not salty enough for you.

Serve with hot steamed rice.  It's also quite good by itself, without any rice.

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