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Suan La Tang (Chinese Hot and Sour Soup)

I am not quite sure how I caught a cold not having seen anyone who could transmit it to me, but the fact remains that I have a scratchy nose, congested lungs, runny nose, sore throat and earache...the whole shebang. Luckily, I had planned to make Suan La Tang this week anyway and today seemed perfect -- if anything can cure a cold it is definitely this tangy, piquant soup with magical restorative powers.

I did not have the pork or wood ears of the inspiration recipe below, but I did have dried shiitake and lily buds and subbed in ground pork. The important thing is to remember that this is a soup of textures and the balance of hot and sour - sub in what you have and make it work. I have transcribed my recipe below, but you can use bamboo shoots instead of lily buds, dried porcini instead of shiitake, rice wine vinegar instead of black vinegar, etc. Homemade chicken stock is best because of the gelatinous mouth feel of the stock but store-bought will work too.

This made two meal-sized bowls of soup rather than my usual recipe for one serving, as I was operating under the premise that, being sick, it might be nice not to have to think about lunch tomorrow...

2 cups chicken stock

1/4 lb ground pork

2 cups assorted vegetables (I used sliced rehydrated shiitake mushrooms, rehydrated lily buds, a carrot thinly sliced into strips, thinly sliced baby bok choi)

1/4 block of tofu, cut into strips (soft is best; I had regular which worked just fine)

2 eggs, beaten

2 tsps corn starch

1 Tbsp (2 tsps + 1 tsp) soy sauce

1 Tbsp black vinegar

1 tsp sugar

1 tsp freshly ground ginger

1/2 tsp gai lan oil (or 1/2 tsp sesame oil + 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper)

1/4 tsp white pepper

Salt to taste

Place the ground pork and the vegetables in a stock pot over medium heat. Salt parsimoniously and cook, stirring often, until the pork is cooked through.

Add the stock to the pan. If you have used rehydrated mushrooms, add a couple of tablespoons of the liquid from the mushrooms to the mix as it will add nice earthy undertones to the soup. Lower the heat and cook for fifteen minutes until the carrots are tender.

Add the ginger, sugar, soy sauce, white pepper, gai lan oil and black vinegar to the pot. Stir to combine.

Add the tofu to the soup and allow to heat through while you get on with final steps.

Make a slurry by mixing the cornstarch with a tablespoon of water. Raise the heat and bring the soup to a boil. Stir in the slurry and stir well; this will thicken the soup slightly.

While the soup is still boiling, pour in the beaten eggs, stirring rapidly as you do so that the eggs form threads that float in the thickened liquid.

Turn off the heat. Taste the soup and adjust seasoning. You may want more heat or salt or vinegar.

Inspiration recipe, here.


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