HOT AND SOUR SOUP

One of China's most popular soups, this is famed for its clever balance of flavors. The "hot" comes from pepper; the "sour" comes from vinegar. Similar soups are found throughout Asia, some relying on chillies and lime juice to provide the essential flavor contrast.

SERVES SIX
INGREDIENTS
  • 4-6 dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 2-3 small pieces of wood ear (dried Chinese mushroom) and a few golden needles (lily buds) (optional)
  • 115 g / 4 oz pork fillet (tenderloin), cut into fine strips
  • 45 ml / 3 tbsp cornflour (cornstarch)
  • 150 ml / ¼ pint / ⅔ cup water
  • 15-30 ml / 1-2 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1.5 litres / 2½ pints / 6¼ cups beef or chicken stock, or 2 x 300 g / 11 oz cans consomme make up to the full quantity with water
  • 150 g / 5 oz drained fresh firm tofu, diced
  • 60 ml / 4 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 15 ml / 1 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 5 ml / 1 tsp sesame oil
  • salt and ground white or black pepper
  • 2-3 spring onions (scallions), shredded, to garnish
  1. Place the shiitake mushrooms in a bowl, with the pieces of wood ear and the golden needles, if using. Add sufficient warm water to cover and leave to soak for about 30 minutes. Drain the mushrooms, reserving the soaking water. Cut off and discard the mushroom stems and slice the caps finely. Trim away any tough stem from the wood ears, then chop them finely. Using kitchen string, tie the golden needles into a bundle.
  2. Lightly dust the strips of pork fillet with some of the cornflour. Mix the remaining cornflour to a smooth paste with the measured water.
  3. Heat the oil in a wok or pan and cook the onion until soft. Increase the heat and cook the pork until it changes color. Add the stock or consomme, mushrooms, soaking water, and wood ears and golden needles, if using. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 15 minutes.
  4. Discard the golden needles, lower the heat and stir in the conrflour paste to thicken. Add the tofu, vinegar, soy sauce, and salt and pepper.
  5. Bring the soup to just below boiling point, then drizzle in the beaten egg by letting it drop from a whisk (or to be authentic, the fingertips) so that it forms threads in the soup. Stir in the sesame oil and serve at once, garnished with spring onion shreds.
Hot And Sour Soup