Thursday, May 15, 2008

Hot and Sour Soup, veganized

Sometimes I cook vegan just because it's a whole lot less stressful. No worries about cross-contamination or internal temperature, just a nice relaxing experience. I decided to make a veganized version of Sichuan hot and sour soup.

Traditionally, the hot part of "hot and sour" comes from copious amounts of ground pepper -- unusual considering the typically chili-happy style of Sichuan. Chinkiang black rice vinegar lends the sour component. I think that it tastes like a slightly smoky mellower version of malt vinegar.

Here's part of my mise en place. I've got half a block of lite firm tofu, julienned and marinated in a splash of shaoxing, julienned bamboo shoot, matchstick cut ginger, and enoki mushrooms, plus a quart of no-chicken broth.

This soup is really flexible, though. In place of or in addition to the tofu, you could use a number of proteins. Seitan, pork, ham, and/or chicken would all be good choices. And you could use any fresh mushroom, such as button or oyster. You get the idea. I'd keep the bamboo shoot and ginger, though.

By the way, if you've never seen whole, fresh bamboo shoot, this is what it looks like.

I also added some tree ears (a.k.a wood ear a.k.a. cloud ear a.k.a. tree jellyfish a.k.a. Auricularia). On the right you can see them in dried form, on the left you can see them reconstituted. You could sub dried shittakes but these have a gelatinous, rubbery texture that really is unmatched.

Anyway, you could saute some of your ingredients, but I just brought a quart of no-chicken broth to a boil and dumped my ingredients in. I also added a little soy sauce and shaoxing, plus of course tons of ground pepper. I let everything simmer until cooked through, thickened it with cornstarch, and finished it with a splash of vinegar.

To serve, I ladled it into bowls with sliced scallion greens at the bottom. Admittedly, the pepper wasn't enough heat for me so I passed Sriracha sauce at the table.

One of the great things about this soup is that it's very "anything goes", so it's a great opportunity to try out weird ingredients from the Oriental market that you want to taste but don't know what to do with. To name a few, dried tiger lily buds, snow fungus, flowering chives, or lotus root, would all be welcome additions! If anyone wants a detailed recipe though, just ask in the comments.


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