Hot and Sour Soup

In North America it is called hot and sour soup, in China it is known as “peppered soup with vinegar”. Considered a restorative and curative soup for hundreds of years, what we have become accustomed to as a takeout staple pales in comparison to the original recipe. Some readily available take-out versions, thick with cornstarch, do not deliver the pungent spice and acidity that the name promises. 

Freshly made hot and sour soup is an entirely different experience.

INGREDIENTS

    • 5 oz. boneless pork loin, cut into 1/4-inch-thick strips
    • 2 teaspoons dark soy sauce* (it needs to be dark soy, not grocery store staples)
    • 4-5 small Shiitake mushrooms
    • 12-14 small dried tree ear mushrooms*
    • 1 tablespoons cornstarch
    • 12-14 dried lily buds* (sometimes called golden needles)
    • 1/2 cup canned sliced bamboo shoots*, cut lengthwise into 1/8-inch-wide strips
    • 2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
    • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar (not seasoned)
    • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
    • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
    • 2 tablespoons peanut oil
    • 4 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth – the best quality you can find
    • 3 to 4 oz. firm tofu (about a quarter of a block), rinsed and drained, then cut into 1/4-inch-thick strips
    • 2 large eggs
    • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground white pepper – not black pepper
    • 2 tablespoons thinly sliced green onion
    • 2 tablespoons fresh whole cilantro leaves – optional
    • 1 diced fiery red chilli  – optional

*available at specialty grocery stores

PREPARATION

    1. Toss pork with dark soy sauce in a bowl until pork is well coated.
    2. Soak dried mushrooms in 3-4 cups boiling-hot water (water should cover mushrooms), turning over black mushrooms occasionally, until softened, about 30 minutes. Cut out and discard stems from black mushrooms, then squeeze excess liquid from caps into a small bowl and thinly slice caps. Remove tree ears from soak, reserving liquid, and trim off any hard nubs. Cut into bite-size pieces. Stir together 1/4 cup mushroom-soaking liquid with cornstarch in a small bowl and set aside.
    3. Soak lily buds in about 1 cup warm water until softened, about 20 minutes, then drain. Trim off tough tips. Cut lily buds in half crosswise, then tear each half lengthwise into 2 or 3 shreds.
    4. Cover bamboo shoots with cold water in a small saucepan, then bring just to a boil (to remove bitterness) and drain in a sieve.
    5. Stir together vinegars,  soy sauce, sugar, and salt in another small bowl.
    6. Heat a wok over high heat until a bead of water vaporizes within 1 to 2 seconds of contact. Pour peanut oil down side of wok, then swirl oil, tilting wok to coat sides. Add pork and stir-fry until meat just changes colour, about 1 minute. Then add black mushrooms, tree ears, lily buds, and bamboo shoots and stir-fry 1 minute.
    7. Add broth and bring to a boil, then add tofu. Return to a boil and add vinegar mixture. Stir cornstarch mixture, then add to broth and return to a boil, stirring. Reduce heat to moderate and simmer 1 minute.
    8. Beat eggs with a fork and add a few drops of sesame oil. Add eggs to soup in a thin stream, stirring slowly in one direction with a spoon. Remove from heat and stir in white pepper, then drizzle in remaining sesame oil and divide among 6 to 8 bowls. Sprinkle with scallions and cilantro or chilli (if using) before serving.