Sunday, 10 February 2013

Celebrating Chinese New Year with Hot and Sour Soup

February 2013

SmartCooks here.  Every time I grumble about not being able to find ingredients in Ottawa for my latest culinary venture ... well, try Charlottetown.  In Ottawa, I tell myself I just don't know where to look (and then I go on an expedition) but in Charlottetown, well... variety is bleak. 

But I persevered this week to enjoy flavourful Chinese Hot and Sour Soup as a tribute to Chinese New Year (year of the snake).  It was worth the search effort and gives me a mission other than work.  

Brief Observations on the Ottawa-Charlottetown Living Experiences

Charlottetown is a beautiful city (especially in the summer) but it's a bit grim in the winter like the blizzard raging this weekend that I avoided by taking the last plane off the Island Friday night.  Photo below could be either the reality in Charlottetown or Ottawa! 
But to date it's proven impossible to find much organic produce in my searches around Charlottetown (other than PEI potatoes) or staples like dried mushrooms, bamboo shoots, or black vinegar.  I've resorted to packing heat in my suitcase every week -- chiles, Sriracha, Asian sprouts to name a few ... and stocking the kitchen with 'imported' goods.  Not that there's much time to cook given the hours I'm working these weeks .... but that's a tale for another day.    

Kevin's Closet Cooking Blog 

Given the weather in both my cities, I developed a craving for homemade "Hot and Sour Soup".  The craving was prompted by a post I received from Kevin's 'Closet Cooking', a Toronto-based lad who is a prolific food blogger and e-recipe book publisher.  He describes himself as a software engineer by day and a cook by night.  I swear he must research, cook, photograph and post 10 hours a night... his passion and obsession with 'never again eating a boring meal' is evident through his busy, colourful blog.  

For Chinese New Year, he posted a tempting array of dishes ranging from lemon or orange chicken, Kung Pao, Dan Dan Mian to the one below on "Chinese Hot and Sour Soup".  For the most part, the recipes are part of clean eating.  I adapt them to suit taste... last night, for example, I cooked a version of his "Lemon-Honey Chicken" but tripled the sauce to spoon over noodles.  He's worth checking out.  

Chinese Hot and Sour Soup Ingredients 

I found many variations of this soup on line, both vegetarian or made with pork or chicken.  I opted for tofu and pork exactly as recommended by Kevin's Closet Cooking.  

Finding the dried mushrooms can be challenging.  Luckily, I have a variety of dried mushrooms on hand, the result of an Internet buy gone wild on my part. If it's too difficult to find the exact type listed below, most supermarkets now carry packages of 'gourmet' or even shiitake dried mushrooms that will work.  

The recipe calls for dried wood ear, black and lily bud dried mushrooms.  Lily bud dried mushrooms may be the most difficult to find in our part of the world.  They are the unopened flower buds of orange and yellow day lilies and are also known as golden needles.  They are very popular with Buddhists and in other vegetarian cuisine due to their distinctive, earthy flavour.  Before adding to a dish or soup, they just need to be soaked in warm water for 20-30 minutes.  Trim soaked buds of any hard stem tips and then shred or cut across in halves.

Bamboo shoots can also be a challenge to find.  Bloblaws is a write off, at least the shambly store in my neighbourhood.  I eventually found them at the Asian Supercentre in the East end of the world. Strange they are so hard to find given their popularity for centuries in Asian cuisine.  The canned variety lacks the flavour of fresh produce but for this soup, they did the trick quite nicely.

Once the shopping expedition is done, assembling the soup is simple.  The photo from a delightful food site called Wandering Chopsticks most of the ingredients. Enjoy and check out Kevin's Closet Cooking site.  

Chinese Hot and Sour Soup Recipe
  • 6 dried tree ear mushrooms (also known as wood ear mushrooms)
  • 6 dried black mushrooms
  • 8 dried lily buds (otherwise known as golden needles)
  • 1/2 cup bamboo shoots
  • 3 T unseasoned rice vinegar
  • 2 T Chinese black vinegar
  • 4 T light soy sauce (or Tamari) 
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 2 T cornstarch
  • 2 T water
  • 1 T oil
  • 4 ounces pork loin (optional), 
  • cooked and shredded
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock 
  • 1 package tofu, cut into small pieces
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 tsp black pepper, ground
  • 1 tsp white pepper, ground
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 2 tsp chili oil or to taste
  • 1 T chili sauce or to taste
  • 4 green onions sliced

Soak the dried tree ear and black mushrooms in boiling water until softened, about 20 minutes, and shred them. Soak the dried lily buds in warm water until softened, about 20 minutes, and shred them. Cover the bamboo shoots in water, bring to a boil, drain and shred.

Mix the vinegars, soy sauce, salt and sugar in a bowl. Mix the cornstarch into the water in a bowl.

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat.  Add the pork, tree ear and black mushrooms, lily buds and bamboo shoots and saute for a minute.  Add the broth and tofu and bring to a boil.  When boiling, add the vinegar mixture and the cornstarch mixture and stir until it thickens.

Pour the eggs into the soup in a thin stream while stirring the soup. Stir in the peppers, oils and chili sauce.  Serve garnished with green onions.  

No comments:

Post a Comment