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Blind Tasting: Hot & Sour Vegetable Soup

Chinese Blind or Bamboo-zled by Asian Cooking

We didn’t eat a lot of Chinese food when I was growing up.  There was one take-out place near where we lived as well as the “Chinatown” just east of downtown LA, but we were hardly regular customers.

Nor did Chinese cuisine figure into my mom’s home cooking.  She made Italian, French, and Mexican food, the usual casseroles, as well as the occasional Indian curry or Lebanese-style kibbe (both with lamb), but the only hint of Asian cuisine I can recall was the odd water chestnut.

In other words, Chinese cooking is not my home turf.  And any efforts to improvise Chinese-style cuisine would be essentially flying blind.

That doesn’t mean I’m not going to go there.  In fact, because Chinese Hot & Sour Soup is one of my all-time favorites, I decided this was the week I’d try to pull it off.

Now, before you all hit the back button on your computer or click over to watch the latest kitten playing piano clip on YouTube (is that already a cliché?), let me say I did take a course on Chinese and Pacific Rim cuisine in cooking school, although it involved more note taking than actual cooking.

Still, I can find China on a map (unless it’s a map of North America) and when I started, I had an inkling the hot in Hot & Sour Soup came from chilies while the sour came from vinegar.  I also had a bottle each of Tabasco and rice vinegar in my pantry, so I figured I’d be all right.  All I had to do was carefully adjust these flavorings (AKA stumble around blindly) until the soup tasted like it was supposed to.  Then I had to thicken it, which was not a problem, because I remembered that many Chinese sauces use cornstarch as a thickening agent.

The only thing left to worry about was where to find a crop of fresh colorful vegetables I could use to flesh out the soup without using actual flesh.  Not that animal protein doesn’t work with this soup, just that I was already marinating some chicken thighs for dinner and didn’t need it in the soup too.  Plus a vegetarian soup meant my mom could eat it as well.  (Hi Mom!)

The answer to the vegetable question came, as it often does, from our local Trader Joe’s.  That’s where I found the mushrooms, snow peas, bell pepper, pea shoots and scallions.  All I had to do then was chop up the vegetables and drop them into the broth.  Unfortunately I didn’t do as much chopping as I should have when I made the soup.  The result was that the snow peas and pea shoots, while tasting great, were larger than the spoon, which made for some pretty messy eating.

Except for these minor issues, though, the soup was an out and out success.  I served it alongside the aforementioned sesame and soy marinated chicken and an Asian salad with cabbage and ramen noodles.  My eldest, with her emerging gift for hyperbole, said this was the first meal she’d had since she was a baby in which she liked every single part of it.

High praise indeed.

I’d like to say she was right on the money, but what do I know about Chinese cooking?

Hot & Sour Vegetable Soup
(serves 6-8)
8 cups stock
6 oz. mushrooms, sliced
6 oz. snow peas
1 onion, slivered (cut into 1 ½ – 2” strips)
1 yellow pepper, cut in to 1” strips
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 oz. pea shoots
1 bunch scallions, cut into 1” pieces
4 T rice vinegar
4 T soy sauce
3 T sesame oil
¼ t Tabasco
salt & pepper to taste
Corn starch slurry:
4 T corn starch
4 T water
2 eggs, beaten

  1. Add the stock, vegetables, garlic, vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, Tabasco and seasonings (everything except the cornstarch slurry and the eggs) to a 5 quart stock pot, bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer for 20-30 minutes.
  2. Combine the cornstarch and water in a small bowl and stir until the cornstarch dissolves. Then add the slurry to the soup and simmer an additional 5-10 minutes.
  3. Right before service, beat the eggs together thoroughly, then stir it into the soup.  Wait 2-3 minutes, then serve the soup hot.
  4. Serve with crusty bread (NOT!).  Sorry, a nice Asian salad is a good accompaniment or a marinated roast meat.


Image Credit: “Asian Blind” by the author. 

As I notice the technique I used for making this soup, I realize I need to add another apology to the banking industry.  Last week I suggested that when they didn’t know what they were doing, they just made stuff up, which is just what I did.  Of course, my improvisation isn’t going to cause a major financial melt down (I hope).  It might even make some people happy.  Let me know what you thought (in the comments).


5 Comments to “Blind Tasting: Hot & Sour Vegetable Soup”

  1. Mom says:

    I’ve already made out my shopping list and will report back on the results later. It sounds delicious.

  2. Jreiz says:

    Love Asian,after the play (Beauty and the Beast)I’ll have some cooking time to try it … and reading time too… good story,loved Maggie’s comment, you are funny too! Love Jeni

    • admin says:

      I’ve got so much to learn about Asian cooking. Seat of my pants improvisation doesn’t always work but today it did. We’ll see about tomorrow. Thanks for the comment. Good luck with the play

  3. Karen says:

    Like the new website! Might actually find the time to make this soup – sounds great!