Monday, May 31, 2010

Hot & Sour Soup -- fast and fresh

Hot and Sour Soup makes or breaks a satisfying Chinese restaurant meal for me. (Kudos to Schuang Cheng in Minneapolis and Szechuan in Rosedale, MN for making my favorites.) Thanks to the late Bethann Thornburgh, I can make wonderful soup at home in 30 minutes.

Between 1969 and 1976, Thornburgh wrote Recipix, a series of cartoon-strip recipes for the Washington Post and she published them as 50 step-by-step recipes-in-pictures from around the world. I copied her Hot and Sour Soup directions (not the adorable drawings) on a 3x5 card that has lived on my refrigerator since 1982. With a stash of dried shitake mushrooms, chicken stock (Penzey’s Chicken Soup Base is great), soy sauce and sesame oil, this is fast, easy, and foolproof. It is delicious with or without tofu, fresh mushrooms, and scallions, and you can add rice or noodles to the broth. You are the boss of this soup.

This makes 4 appetizer portions, but you may double or triple the recipe.

HOT and SOUR SOUP adapted from Recipix

dried shitake mushrooms (5-6), soaked in hot water
1-2 cups fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 block of firm tofu, cut into ¾” cubes or rectangles
2T cornstarch mixed with 3 T water
4 c chicken stock (canned or paste)
1 T soy sauce
½ t white pepper (black will do)
2 T white or rice wine vinegar
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 t sesame oil
1 t hot oil
2 scallions, chopped fine


  1. Put the dried mushrooms and 1-2 cups of water in a microwave safe bowl with the mushroom cap side up. Microwave on high for 3 minutes. Let them soak until soft. Drain the liquid or (adding one more step) strain it through a coffee filter and use it for the soup stock. Cut off the stems and then slice into ¼” strips.
  2. While the mushrooms are soaking, slice the tofu.
  3. Combine the stock, soy, dried and fresh mushrooms. Boil. Cover and simmer for three minutes.
  4. Add the tofu, pepper, and vinegar. Boil again.
  5. Re-mix the cornstarch and water, and add to the stock over medium-high heat. Stir until the soup begins to thicken.
  6. Slowly pour in the beaten egg while stirring the soup.
  7. Remove from the heat and add the sesame and hot chili oil.
  8. Garnish with scallions. Should you be making this in the dead of night with no fresh vegetables in your fridge, know that Penzeys sells a very satisfactory Dried Chive.

Variations:
  • No tofu? No problem. You will make mushroom soup.
  • Add rice for Hot and Sour Chicken Rice Soup. Add cooked rice at Step 4.
  • Add ramen noodles at step 4. At that point it probably ceases to be Hot and Sour Soup and morphs into Spicy Noodle Soup.
  • If your pantry doesn't distinguish between "hot oil" and "sesame oil," perhaps because you have one or the other or only "Hot Sesame Oil," do not fret.  Go with what you've got.
  • Vegetarian option:  Penzey's makes an excellent Vegetable Soup Base.

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