If you think prefixing hot and sour soup with “Chinese-style” is unnecessary for being too obvious, I assure you it’s not. There are similarly flavored soups in Japan, in various countries in Southeast Asia, and in India and Pakistan in South Asia.
So, just to be clear, this is a recipe for Chinese-style hot and sour soup. What makes it Chinese? The ingredients and cooking method. I’m not going to say though that it is THE traditional Chinese hot and sour soup because even China, there are variants of the soup. Although meat is almost always present, it is not a must and the choice of vegetables varies.
What makes it hot?
Some recipes say it’s the generous amount of white pepper. I prefer Korean chili flakes. Mild with sweet undertones. So, yes, “hot” means spicy hot. Just how hot the soup is can be adjusted to suit your palate.
What makes it sour?
Vinegar. Again, there are variations. Some combine white vinegar with soy sauce to give the broth its distinctive dark color. I belong to the black vinegar team. Admittedly a bit harder to source than white vinegar, Chinese black vinegar has a unique taste that makes it the ideal souring agent for this soup.
For this recipe, I used dried shiitake and black fungus which had been soaked in warm water for about half an hour. The soaking liquid became part of the broth. For details on rehydrating mushrooms, see the post below.
How to rehydrate dried mushrooms
Yes, you just soak them in water. But what should be the temperature of the water? And how long do they need to soak? How do you know when they are sufficiently rehydrated?
To cook hot and sour soup, start by sauteeing chopped shallots, smashed garlic cloves and grated just until the shallots soften a bit. Sprinkle in Chinese five-spice powder and continue sauteeing for another minute or so.
Add the sliced shiitake, pour in the soaking liquid, and boil gently to give the shiitake a headstart (it does take a while to tenderize dried shiitake even after soaking). Next, the black fungus and julienned carrot are added, and vegetable broth is poured in.
The soup is simmered until the black fungus and carrot strips have softened sufficiently before tofu cubes and Chinese broccoli leaves are stirred in.
When the leaves have wilted, starch dissolved in water is stirred in. This thickens the broth slightly to prevent the solid ingredients from sinking into the bottom of the bowl when the soup is served. When the broth is no longer cloudy, black vinegar and chili flakes are added.
Chinese-style hot and sour soup
- 6 to 8 dried shiitake - soaked in warm water for at least 30 minutes
- ¼ cup dried black fungus - soaked in warm water for at least 20 minutes and trimmed
- 2 tablespoons cooking oil
- 2 shallots - peeled and chopped
- 3 cloves garlic - peeled and smashed
- 1 one-inch knob ginger - peeled and grated
- ¼ teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
- 1 carrot - peeled and julienned
- 6 cups vegetable broth
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- 150 grams soft tofu - cut into half-inch cubes
- 4 cups Chinese broccoli - (leaves only) cut into two-inch slices
- 2 tablespoons tapioca starch - or cornstarch (use more for a thicker soup)
- 2 tablespoons Chinese black vinegar
- 1 teaspoon chili flakes
- salt - if your bone broth is under-salted
- Slice the shiitake caps (save the soaking water).
- Roughly chop the black fungus.
- Heat the cooking oil in a pot.
- Saute the ginger, garlic and shallots for half a minute. Sprinkle in the five-spice powder and saute for another minute.
- Add the shiitake and pour in the soaking liquid. Boil gently for two to three minutes.
- Add the black fungus and carrot to the shiitake.
- Pour in the vegetable broth and soy sauce. Stir in the sugar.
- Bring to the boil. Lower the heat, cover the pot and simmer for ten minutes.
- Add the tofu cubes.
- Stir in the Chinese broccoli leaves and simmer just until wilted.
- Disperse the tapioca starch in two tablespoons of water, and pour into the pot. Stir until the broth is thickened and clear.
- Turn off the heat, stir in the black vinegar and chili flakes.
- Taste. Add more salt, black vinegar and chili flakes to suit your taste.