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
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.
- 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
- 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)
1 Prepare the dried mushrooms: 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 Build the soup: 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.
5 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.
6 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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