Thursday, September 23, 2010

Bastardized Hot and Sour Soup

I grew up eating what I believed was hot and sour soup. My parents would whip up a huge pot of tangy, spicy broth floating with mushrooms, meat, tofu, assorted veggies, eggs and thin rice noodles. It warmed up us all up on cold winter nights.

I am constantly surprised by the slightly bitter gelatinous bowls of hot and sour soup I get at Chinese restaurants. There are some of the same ingredients - bamboo shoots, mushrooms, a bit of meat, but that is about where the comparison ends. I really don't like "traditional" hot and sour soup... but that doesn't stop me from ordering EVERY TIME I go to a Chinese place. I have hope that one day I will find "my" version when I go out to eat.

Until then I keep my pantry stocked with ingredients for this soup. The beauty of hot and sour soup is that it is hot and ready to eat in about 20 minutes (okay, maybe 30 if it is a REALLY big pot of soup.) You can mix and match any ingredients, but the secret is the rice wine, rice vinegar and loads of black pepper to give the soup its signature kick.

So let's talk pantry items. Once you have these in your house they keep for practically forever and are great ingredients for multiple recipes. Please don't be turned off by this list, they are all handy pantry ingredients!
1. Rice wine, or cooking wine, is pretty cheap and keeps forever in the pantry. It is a great addition to stir fries, marinades, and soups. If you don't have that on hand, a dry cooking sherry works just as well. 2. Rice vinegar is also a standard pantry item for our house. Not only does it give this soup its tang, but it is a key ingredient in sushi rice, cucumber salads or gentle salad dressings.
3. Dried Shitake mushrooms. I have seen these at our fancy grocery store for $5 for a couple shriveled mushroom caps. Head to your Asian market. A HUGE bag, which will last years will set you back maybe $5. I love to add these dried mushrooms to soups and stews. They bring an earthy note to almost any meal. I am also too lazy to pre-soak them, especially for soups. I just pop off the stem and break the rest up into bite sized pieces.
4. Rice noodles. We have a large selection of rice noodles, but I like to look for the thinnest version for hot and sour soup, sometimes called rice threads. Rice noodles are the base for stirfries or soups. Great to keep on hand, especially if you are avoiding gluten. Asian markets should have a wide selection of rice noodles, for less then a dollar a package.
5. Canned bamboo shoots and canned tiny corn are fun additions to the soup, but are not necessary.

This soup can grow as large as you would like, it is great to feed a crowd on a cold night. Instead of a specific broth measurement I will give you the average broth to flavoring measurements to get the right balance of flavors.

Bastardized Hot and Sour Soup
Broth base: (increase as needed!)
4 cups of chicken broth
2 tablespoons of rice wine or dry sherry
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper (or more!)
2 tablespoons corn starch

A selection or all of the following ingredients
1 small pork chop, sliced very thiny
1 package firm tofu, sliced thinly
handful of carrots, thinly sliced
4-6 dried shitake mushrooms, sliced or broken into small pieces
1 can bamboo shoots, rinsed and drained
1 can baby corn, rinsed, drained and if needed sliced in half
1-2 cups frozen peas (I feel this is a necessary ingredient!)

2 eggs
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1/2 - 1 package very thin rice noodles

1. In a large pot heat broth.
2. In a small bowl mix rice wine, rice vinegar, soy, black pepper and corn starch. When the broth comes to a boil add flavoring from bowl. Return broth to a simmer.
3. Add your selection from the ingredients. Simmer until meat is cooked through. About 5 minutes. Add noodles and cook about 3 minutes more, or until they are soft.
4. In same small bowl as above beat two eggs with sesame oil. Slowly stirring simmering soup pour the egg mixture in a slow stream. This will create egg like threads.
5. Taste soup and add more rice wine, rice vinegar, soy or black pepper until it has achieved a perfect balance for you.

Serve in big bowls with spoons and chopsticks. It is a meal in a bowl.

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