Hot and Sour Soup

Please welcome guest contributor Garrett McCord as he shares this recipe for a Chinese American favorite, hot and sour soup. ~Elise

Hot and sour soup is a lot like chili; every family has their own recipe, and each family thinks that theirs is the best. When I was in the local Chinese market perusing the mushrooms I asked one of the other shoppers, a tiny and ancient woman half my height whose etched wrinkles framed a friendly smile, where the wood ear mushrooms were.

“What are you using them for?”

“Hot and sour soup,” I replied.

“What? You don’t want those. Here,” she grabbed a bag of dried shiitake, “use these.”

“No! You don’t want those for hot and sour soup!” cried another, more stout lady behind me. She said something in Cantonese to the first lady before grabbing a fresh bunch of enoki mushrooms and throwing them in my basket. “This is better.”

Soon, nine women were having an all out argument in the middle of the aisle. I was stuck in the middle, caught between volleys of angry insults and defenses of cherished family recipes for hot and sour soup, both in Cantonese and English. People insulted each other’s families, critiqued the various provinces of China (all were in agreement that the people in the North, apparently, can’t cook good soup), and altered the contents of my shopping basket at whim. Eventually, a decision was reached that you absolutely have to use black fungus – an apt, but unappetizing name for a delightful ingredient – and lily buds. The other mushroom is up to you. Whatever one you decide on be sure to be ready to defend your choice.

Hot and Sour Soup Recipe

  • Yield: Serves 4.

You can use gluten-free soy sauce in this recipe, and use vegetable stock to make it vegetarian. However, do not substitute black pepper for the white pepper. The mushrooms and lily buds can be found at any Chinese market.

Ingredients

  • 6 dried Chinese black fungus
  • 6 dried wood ear, black, cloud, straw, or shiitake mushrooms, or one bunch of fresh enoki mushrooms
  • 5 dried lily buds
  • One can of bamboo shoots
  • 2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon of white vinegar or rice vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of cornstarch
  • 4 cups of chicken broth (use gluten-free broth for gluten-free version)
  • 1/2 block of firm tofu, diced into small cubes
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon of sesame oil
  • 3 scallions, diced
  • 1/4 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of finely ground white pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon of chili oil (optional)
  • Cilantro (optional)

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Method

1 Pour boiling water over the mushrooms until the mushrooms are covered and allow them to soak for 20 minutes, turning the mushrooms over occasionally. It may not seem like a lot but they will grow quite a bit. After soaking remove any woody ends with a knife. Cut mushrooms into strips. Reserve 1/4 cup of the liquid and mix with the cornstarch. (If using fresh enoki mushrooms set aside as they do not need to soak).

2 Pour boiling water over the lily buds until covered and allow to sit for 15 minutes. Cut the buds crosswise then tear them up into a few bunches.

3 Mix the vinegars and soy sauce together and set aside. Open the can of bamboo shoots, drain well, and cut the shoots lengthwise into strips.

4 Place the chicken broth into a bot and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the tofu, mushrooms, lily buds, bamboo shoots, vinegar mixture, and cornstarch mixture. Mix and bring back to a boil. Once it comes to a boil remove from heat. While stirring the soup slowly pour the egg into the broth in a small steam while stirring the soup allowing the egg to instantly cook and feather into the soup.

5 Add the scallions, white pepper, sesame oil, and chili oil if using. Taste and adjust white pepper, vinegar, and salt to taste. Add cilantro to garnish and for added flavor. Serve immediately.

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17 Comments

  1. Jim

    You can get lily buds and black fungus on Amazon.com. I’m gonna order some a fix up a batch.

  2. R Fred Telles

    The way I make hot and sour soup:

    first you dice at least two or three chicken breasts
    and saute
    add about a half cup cellery
    add a half cup diced onion
    add a half cup diced carrots
    saute in scant butter

    add about three quarts chicken stock
    simmer until the chicken and veggies are tender
    add one or two cans of drained straw mushrooms
    add one can drained and sliced crosswise bamboo shoots
    add one can baby corn
    add one can sliced water chestnuts drained
    adjust seasoning with apple cider vinegar or white vinegar
    soy sauce or terriaki sauce
    salt
    black pepper and or red pepper flakes
    and shrimp base if you have some
    the broth should taste tart and spicy and savory
    finish with a cup or more as desired cleaned
    and chopped shrimp ( can omit shrimp and shrimp base for those allergic to seafood but it does make this a much better soup)
    adjust the thickness of the soup with corstarch until the meat and veggies all just float in the soup when it is stirred up

    finish with cross sliced scallions or chives

    This is a great remedy for colds and flu and anything else that ails you because the vinegar acidifies your system making it hostile to critters that may be attacking your immune system.
    The pepper (Mexican penicillin) raises your temperature again making it hostile to critters attacking your immune system and the chicken stock is Jewish penicillin and is known to cure what ails most people and even if the soup doesn’t cure you it is very tasty and comforting when you are sick and the nutrition in it is bound to help.

  3. Dack

    I’m not sure it’s the ugliest soup known (as posted by Jim Clifford). Sup cua mang tay is right up there. And tom yum gung isn’t all that pretty, either. On a related not, where does ‘soup’ end and ‘noodles’ begin (consider honest-to-goodness Japanese ramen bowls – not the cheap packet-things you get in the grocery)?

    (Not necessarily for posting … just curious for your opinion.)

    –D

    I think when the broth acts as simply a means to keep the noodles warm due to the noodles being the focus of the dish it’s noodles. But it might just be semantics and point of view. ~Garrett

  4. Lee

    Hot and sour soup is all I crave when I have a cold or flu – probably because it’s the only food I can taste! I love the addition of lily buds; I’m off to go find some!

    Lee, you can always get them on Amazon in their grocery section. However, you will find them cheaper at an Asian grocer (and you can probably locate one of those near you on Yelp). ~Garrett

  5. alice

    I’ve never used dried lily buds before thanks to the great abundance of day lilies in our garden. How do you think the dried compares to the fresh?

    Not sure. I’ve never eaten day lilies so I can’t attest to the taste or even if day lilies are edible like the dried (dragon) lilies that are used in Chinese food. The dried lilies can be found in any Asian market. I got mine for $1 for a bag that will last me for years. ~Garrett

  6. Julia

    I would never use my daylily buds in a soup. Too much beauty that I would never see if I did. I have heard that some people will actually eat the flower after the pistil and anthers are removed first. They use the cleaned flower as a holder for salads. The yellow ones have the least amount of bitterness but the pale lavender one are actually the best flavour.

  7. Deb

    Day lilies are edible. Often the buds or flowers are batter dipped and fried.

    I was taught to harvest yesterday’s blooms and dry them for a colorful thickener in soup. I’ve never noticed much taste in the flower itself.

    This looks like a recipe I should try. I love hot & sour!

  8. chandani

    In my version I use ginger, lemongrass and fresh mushrooms. Will have to try this out with dried mushroom.

  9. Renni

    I love Hot and Sour Soup. Personally, I like wood ear and shiitake mushroom in my soup and I love black fungus. The only thing I don’t use is sesame oil…it’s a bit too strong for my taste, at least in this soup. Also, if you can find fresh bamboo shoots, it is a whole lot better than the canned. Often I substitute the bamboo shoots with fresh water chestnuts.

  10. Cassie

    I use black fungus and wood ear myself, and I find that the Chinese black vinegar instead of red wine vinegar really adds a little something extra, as long as you’re shopping at your local friendly Asian grocery.

  11. confused

    I thought Chinese black fungus was the same thing as wood ear mushrooms per my Chinese mom. I just checked wikipedia and they agree (not that they’re always right).

    I am going by what a bunch of Chinese ladies in the store told me, and the girls who taught me Chinese food in college in the dorms taught me. I assume diffierent people have different names, and that the names shift and move aroiund depending on where a person is from. ~Garrett

  12. Pelin

    I made this last night and it was PERFECT! Seriously, when I go to a Chinese restaurant I always get the hot & sour soup because I love it so much, and the quality I find in it lets me know what I can expect for the rest of the meal. Over the years I’ve had soups that were way too sour, way too thick, way too artificial tasting and sometimes far too sweet. This, I am happy to announce, was just the best combination of tanginess and hotness and that flavor I remember from the best restaurants I’ve been to. Maybe it’s the lily buds?
    I used black fungus (love the silky texture) and dried shitake.

    By the way, thanks Garrett, for the pics of the lily buds. I am in France and I was trying find the lily buds at a wonderful and Huge Aisan supermarket here but I had the additional difficulty of French besides the Chinese to decipher. Thanks to your pictures, I found the bag and it does look like it’s gonna last me years.

    And thanks for a hilarious introduction to the recipe. Had me actually laughing out loud. I look forward to reading your other recipes.

  13. Elisabeth

    Garrett–I use a blend of black vinegar (Asian grocery again) and rice vinegar for the “sour”– (I disagree totally on using an Anglo wine vinegar in a chinese soup) and a couple shots of Vietnamese red hot sauce. Much less greasy than chili oil. Who wants pepper in a Chinese soup.

    Other ingredients are similar (egg, chicken, mushrooms…)

    For if I have a cold I even have a “fast” method –1 bouillion cube with a shot of rice vinegar and another shot of hot sauce. Clears those sinuses for hours!

    White pepper is actually very common in Chinese food. As for red wine vinegar it’s widely used these days. ~Garrett

  14. Don Cuevas

    Looks good, but where’s the pork or chicken shreds?

    And how does black fungus differ from from tree (cloud) ears?

    Saludos,
    Don Cuevas

    Traditionally, there is no meat in this dish, but feel free to add it. I think, if I am correct, those two mushrooms are the different species of the same genus. Like blue oyster mushrooms to golden oyster mushrooms. ~Garrett

  15. Johnny Smith

    I cooked this recipe for my family last night and they absolutely loved it. Thanks so much for the post Garrett!!! I will make this again and again. It is truely a wonderful recipe. My wife and two grown daughters love asian food with hot and sour soup being one of our favarites. We get it everytime we eat asian food. This is by far the best we’ve ever had.

  16. Gordon

    Oh. My. Gosh!!!
    I am still sweating! This was the most delicious soup! I had to add a bit more seasoned rice wine vinegar and red wine vinegar (about 5 or 6 tablespoons each) but once I hit the “sweet” spot that was it. So delicious… Oh, I said that already – well it needs to be said. I WILL make this again, and again, and again…. Thank you Garrett! (and Elise) :)

  17. TJ

    Garrett- thank you for this recipe. My favorite part was the story that went with it.

    TJ

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