How to make a fragrant Asian broth, no recipe required

Stash some of this versatile broth in the fridge, add fresh veg and frozen dumplings and you'll have a flavourful meal ready to go in minutes

29 July 2020 - 14:36
Look out for frozen dumplings at Asian stores and keep a stock in your freezer for quick meals.
Look out for frozen dumplings at Asian stores and keep a stock in your freezer for quick meals.
Image: 123RF/Tom Baker

A big bowl of soup and a chunk of bread will nurture any soul, but for those who want to ring the changes, put together a broth pot, as I decided to make this week.

Asian in origin, it has been our family’s tasty lunchtime staple for the past few days.

You simply make a big batch of a fragrant base broth which can be stored in the fridge. Heat a few portions and add some extra vegetables and/or conveniently frozen Chinese dumplings to the mix, and you’ll have a wholesome one pot meal ready to go in no time.

Here’s how to make an Asian broth which can be customised to your taste:


The base is water. Start with about 12 cups of water, almost 2.5 litres, in a large pot.

I added some chicken stock, but you can add the stock of your choice. The liquid in which a chicken has been poached is very flavoursome.

As an alternative, a spoonful or two of Marmite or Bovril will also add good umami-rich flavour.


The basis of an Asian broth may be water, but the secret lies in the aromatics, like lemongrass, ginger or galangal, garlic, lime leaves (I used a lemon leaf, finely sliced),  sliced fresh shiitake mushrooms, chilli, soy sauce and star anise. The amounts of the aromatics you add will depend on your taste.

Add the aromatics to the base broth and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, and simmer gently for about 30 minutes to allow the flavours to infuse.


Taste the broth and evaluate according the four foundations of Asian flavour: sweet, sour, salty and spicy.

Mine was spicy but lacked sweetness so I added 30ml (2 tbsp) brown sugar. You could use palm sugar instead.

It needed a tang of sourness — lime juice would have been ideal - but I only had lemons so I squeezed one into the pot. I then added 30-45ml (2-3 tbsp) fish sauce for saltiness, and another split chilli, seeds removed, for added heat.

At this point, the broth can be cooled and stored in the fridge for future meals. Use it within a few days.


If your broth was refrigerated, decant the number of portions required into a pot and bring it back to a rapid boil. Boil for five minutes.

Add extra vegetable like chopped spring onion and bok choy and, my favourite, some dumplings. These can be handmade — try this recipe from Asian restaurateur extraordinaire Emma Chen — or take the easier option, as I did, and keep a stock of dumplings in the freezer. These are available with a variety of fillings from Asian stores.

Boil until the veg are just cooked, but still crisp, and the dumplings float to the surface.


Lots of fresh coriander will add freshness to the dish. Serve the broth with a soup spoon and chop sticks for the dumplings.