Food has this mystical ability to conjure up with it a whole variety of memories and associated feelings. For me, this soup always reminds me of the warm blanket that is the kindness and thoughtfulness of friendship, having first had this dish some years ago when a friend made it to help me deal with a stubborn cold. Since then it often comes to mind, tacitly in a whisper when it needs to, as if somehow the healing properties of this soup are summoned, unspoken, by you or another. You, of course, need no such excuse and this is a soup that is a healthy, packed full of flavour, choice for lunch or a light supper.
Although primarily Chinese in the case of its ingredients, hot and sour soup is one that has a multitude of varieties across many Asian cuisines. In this case I have completely used a sort of culinary license to draw from both Chinese and Thai traditions. As a result there is a wonderful adjustability and ease with this soup that may not appear immediately apparent due to the amount of ingredients. The main constituents of this soup is rice wine vinegar, which is the sour, chilli and Sriracha makes up the hot, soy for saltiness, and then a whole other range of seasonings and ingredients, all of which have a certain flexibility. Don’t have bamboo shoots? Leave them out. Have some nice sweetheart cabbage in your larder? Slice it up thinly and add to the soup. Have some pork fillet in the fridge instead of chicken? Feel free to experiment with the proteins and of course for a vegetarian option, leave out the chicken and use entirely vegetable stock. What I would say however is that, although not essential, a homemade stock (recipe here) really helps to take this soup to the next level. A couple of notes about some of the more possibly lesser known ingredients follow.
Sriracha is a Thai chilli sauce that is ever increasing in popularity. If you haven’t tried it yet you’ll know why when you do. Frequently used as a dipping sauce and a more commonly seen condiment in restaurants, it is made from chillies, vinegar, sugar, salt, and garlic. Like all good Thai cooking it gives a wonderful balance of flavours leaving a tingling, lingering heat, rather than an overpowering smack of chilli, with the other ingredients providing that acidity, sweetness and flavour to produce an excellent sauce. It is definitely starting to appear in larger supermarkets but if you can’t find it there you will pick it up with ease at Asian supermarkets.
Wood ear mushrooms also known as black fungus are dried mushrooms that are sold in Asian supermarkets and handy to have in your larder as they have a long shelf life. As with all dried mushrooms, hydrating them beforehand is a must. To do this place the required mushrooms into a bowl and top up with room temperature or warm water and leave for about 20-30 minutes. The liquid left from this mushrooms does have its uses but it’s a strong tasting liquor and should be used with caution. Add a teaspoon or two to this soup for a woody note. These mushrooms don’t have a huge amount of flavour and rather adopt the flavour of what they are added to so they are quite versatile. They retain a slight bite and crunch so add another texture dimension to this soup and are also high in fibre for those curious about the health benefits.
Hot and Sour Soup