Whenever Pakistani people go to a Chinese restaurant they order chicken corn soup, and for good reason – the stuff is good. But sometimes you want to try something different, and in 1988 in Agra (city of the Taj Mahal) I decided to give Hot and Sour soup a try (seeing how I would add lemon juice and hot sauce to chicken corn soup anyway, something called “hot and sour” would have tempted me sooner or later). It was alright, but nothing special. I go back to the chicken corn.
Fast forward almost a decade. It’s my first year at university and my parents have helped me move my stuff into residence. As a treat they decide to take me out to dinner and we end up at a Chinese restaurant in town. Perhaps in anticipation of a new phase of my life I decide to try something besides the chicken corn, and the only soup not screaming pork was the hot and sour so I ordered it. This time it was so very, very good. Whenever the opportunity presented itself I would order hot and sour. However, with no Chinese restaurant near campus opportunities were few and far between.
Fast forward a few years. I’m off rez now and have to cook my own food. At some point an idea comes to me: I can make the soup myself. The internet is searched for recipes, many are tried. None are good enough. But combining the knowledge from the various recipes the best one is modified until I’m happy with it (not unlike the various smaller robots combining to make Voltron). But this recipe comes with a price – no longer am I satisfied with the hot and sour at restaurants, only mine will do.
When I went to Japan I had the recipe burned onto a CD along with other important files (resumes, computer account information, and so on) so that it wouldn’t be lost. It’s pretty much memorized, but something could happen causing me to forget (think blunt head trauma) and having it in front of me makes it less likely I’ll forget a key ingredient when grocery shopping.
I figure I’ll share it with the rest of the world.
- 1/4 cup dried shitake mushrooms
- 1/4 cup dried black fungus
- 5 cups chicken stock
- 1/2 cup bamboo shoots
- 2 teaspoons minced ginger
- 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- crushed red pepper (to taste)
- 1 egg and 1 egg white
- 2 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- 4 ounces tofu
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 or 2 green onions
- Soak the mushrooms and fungus until they are soft (about 30 minutes). The fungus isn’t necessary altough it does add to the texture. Once soft cut the mushrooms into small pieces and the fungus into thin strips
- In a large pot combine chicken stock, ginger, mushrooms, fungus and bamboo shoots. Bring to a boil at medium-high heat.
- Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes
- Stir in vinegar and crushed red pepper (1-2 teaspoons) and boil at medium-high.
- Add water to the cornstarch and mix together. Beat micture into the soup making sure to stir the soup at the same time. This will thicken the soup.
- Beat the egg and egg-white together and add to the soup, again stirring the soup at the same time
- Cut the tofu into small pieces (cubes, slabs, strips, your choice) and add to the soup. Add the soy sauce, sesame oil and green onion too.
- The soup is now done. If you want to make it look nicer you can sprinkle some more green onion and crushed pepper on top.
- In addition to bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, baby corn or other vegetables could be used
- Balsamic vinegar works in place of red wine vinegar
- Neither the mushrooms or fungus are necessary (for those who dislike fungi in general)
- Shredded carrot works pretty well in the soup as well.
- I’ve seen ground meat in the soup, but don’t care for it myself
- Vegetable stock is a perfectly fine substitution for chicken stock
- I don’t like wasting an egg yolk so usually I’ll just use one egg and forget the extra egg white
- If you were to have shitakes, black fungus, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, baby corn and tofu the soup would be really thick, almost stew-like. Just using shitakes and tofu is pretty good on the other end of the spectrum, although if you wanted to go thinner I guess you could.