One of my favorite soups is hot and sour soup, and I was flabbergasted to discover that it's really quite easy — and cheap! — to make. Who woulda thunk it? Called suan la t'ang in Chinese, it gets its tang from the addition of white vinegar.
Let me share a secret with you — not only did this recipe mark the first time I made hot and sour soup, but it also marked the first time I tasted it. Trust me, no one is more surprised than me. While I eat pretty much anything and everything, there was always something about the name of this soup that kept me on the sidelines.
What this recipe taught me about hot and sour soup — at least this version (which I want to eat again and again!) — is that it's neither hot, nor particularly sour. Instead, thanks to a few tablespoons of white vinegar, this broth-based soup has the most amazing tang. It's warming and savory, with deep, rich flavors that are unbelievably satisfying.
The other wonderful and surprising thing about this soup is how simple and quick it is to make. Aside from light prep work, like chopping and slicing, be prepared to throw the ingredients in the pot and let the magic happen.
6 dried shiitake mushrooms
1 quart chicken stock, fresh or canned
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon soy sauce (or tamari, if making gluten-free)
1/2 cup canned bamboo shoots, drained and sliced into matchsticks
1/4 pound boneless pork cutlet
3/4 cup firm tofu, sliced into matchsticks
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
4 tablespoons white vinegar
3 tablespoons cornstarch mixed with 4 tablespoons cold water
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 scallion, finely chopped
Place the mushrooms in a small bowl and cover with hot water. Let stand about 15 minutes to rehydrate.
Meanwhile, combine the chicken stock, salt, and soy sauce in a soup pot and bring to a boil. While waiting for the liquid to heat, trim any fat off the pork and cut it in strips 1/2-inch long and 1/4-inch thick.
Remove the mushrooms from the hot water. Strain any grit from the the mushroom water, then pour it in the soup pot. Slice the mushrooms thinly.
Add the bamboo, sliced mushrooms, and sliced pork to the now-boiling soup. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 3 minutes. Add the tofu, pepper, and vinegar to the pot. Bring to a boil again. Stir in the cornstarch mixed with water to the pot, and continue stirring until the mixture is thickened, about 2 to 3 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the egg, stirring gently.
Ladle the hot soup in bowls and garnish with a teaspoon of sesame oil and some chopped scallions.
This could easily be made vegetarian or vegan by substituting kombu dashi or vegetable broth for the chicken stock and omitting the pork and/or the egg.
If you want more sourness, try another tablespoon of vinegar.
If you want an even thicker soup, add another tablespoon of corn starch mixed with water.
Updated from a post originally published October 2009.