Two Years Ago: Spanakopita
I'm a big fan of hot and sour soup, and order it almost every time I see it on a menu - it's sort of my test to determine the quality of an Asian restaurant. I've discovered a lot of really bad soup along the way - bland, gummy, or just plain tasteless - which is really sad because hot and sour soup should be just the opposite: hot in both temperature and spiciness with eye-popping vinegar and rich broth. It's perfect for cold temperatures and/or cold and flu season.
I was really happy when I came across this recipe in Saveur magazine many years ago because it's everything hot and sour soup aspires to, and I've been making it ever since. I typically serve it with egg rolls for a light dinner and once (and only once) made both the soup and homemade egg rolls on the same day. After work, no less. I don't think we ate before 9pm that night and needless to say I now either make one or both in advance, or buy frozen egg rolls (gasp). Obviously I'm not as emotionally vested in egg rolls as I am in hot and sour soup.
The recipe is easy to make but there are two things to note. First, it calls for 4 ounces of lean pork (such as pork tenderloin or pork chops), but you won't find an amount that small to buy. You can either buy a larger amount and reserve the rest for something else, or first make a pork dinner and reserve 4 ounces of leftover cooked pork for the soup. Both ways work fine. If you use cooked pork, just add it later in the cooking process.
The second thing is the white pepper - don't be tempted to substitute black pepper and don't leave it out - it's an essential ingredient that adds heat and unique flavor to the soup. It's worth the trouble to find it at a store. Some major grocery stores carry it as do specialty grocery stores, Asian markets, and my favorite spice store Penzeys.
This is the best hot and sour soup I've ever had and I highly recommend trying it.
Hot and Sour Soup
Note: the recipe assumes you start with raw pork. If using leftover cooked pork, follow the directions except add the pork with the taro or potato, mushrooms and tofu rather than earlier.
For the pork:
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon brandy
1 teaspoon cornstarch
¼ pound lean pork, cut into ¼” dice (see note)
For the soup:
3 tablespoons cornstarch
8 cups chicken stock
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
½ teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon coarse salt
¼ cup cubed peeled taro or potato
6 shiitake or wood ear mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed and cut into ¼” dice
10-12 ounces firm tofu, drained and cut into ¼” dice
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon toasted Asian sesame oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
For the pork: combine soy sauce, brandy and cornstarch in a small bowl; add pork and mix well. Let marinate at room temperature for 15 minutes.
For the soup: combine cornstarch and ¼ cup water in a small bowl. Put stock, soy sauce, vinegar, white pepper, cayenne and salt into a large pot. Stir in cornstarch mixture. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Add pork, reduce heat to medium-low, and gently simmer, stirring occasionally, until soup has thickened, about 30 minutes. Add taro or potatoes, mushrooms, and tofu and gently simmer until taro or potatoes are tender, 15-20 minutes.
Slowly drizzle egg into simmering soup in a thin, steady stream (don’t stir as you pour or the egg will form clumps). When egg strands float to the surface, stir in oil. Serve, garnishing soup with cilantro.