I gained a lot of culinary influence from my college friend Salima. Her influence did not necessarily come by way of the kitchen, as I’m pretty sure the only thing she attempted to cook while we were living under the same roof was pancakes. They were never attempted during daylight hours and always resulted in batter on the walls and a faint smell of something burning that stuck with us for the week that followed. But she did have excellent (if eccentric) taste in the food she wasn’t making.
Under Salima’s tutelage, I tried escargot for the first time, which she gingerly doused in butter and arranged on toast for my sampling. I also learned to start ordering my steak rare versus medium (what was I thinking?!?). But the most ubiquitous dish in Salima’s diet was a bit less classy than the above. And that was hot and sour soup.
I’ve seen Salima eat hot and sour soup as early as 8am. I’ve seen her eat it in at least 5 different countries, including Rome, where I had no idea you could even find hot and sour soup. It was her cure all comfort food. But most of the times that required curing and comforting, were the times of extreme hangover. If Salima was in a bad state, we all knew to run down the block to Shanghai and come back with a quart container of hot and sour soup to-go.
I’ve never had a problem with eating savory foods for breakfast, especially anything Asian. Before I was gluten-free, weekend dim sum was a hangover tradition. But I had always been more of a miso soup kind of gal before Salima came into my life.
Maybe it was some wacked out college kid’s placebo effect, but soon all of my housemates and I started adopting Salima’s cure all. And it’s remained a brunch time tradition to this day when we all get together.
The times that I’m at my weakest and most cranky are not really the times I want to be cooking. So perhaps that’s why this hot and sour soup recipe has taken so long to materialize in my kitchen. It’s really easy to make, and has the added benefit of being gluten and MSG-free. Luckily, as I discovered last week, when I’m in good health and spirits hot and sour still tastes delicious, and doesn’t remind me of the times I’ve woken up with my pillow covered in eye makeup.
The official start of Chinese New Year was on Friday. My acupuncturist had a party at her new office and gave a little talk about what to expect from the year of the horse. I wasn’t there, but my friend Whitney reported back that we can expect lots of headaches and STD’s. I have no idea what that means. But I feel like hot and sour soup is probably the right thing to celebrate the year of the horse, and cure all that comes with it.
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 small yellow onion, diced
- 1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced, white and green parts divided
- 1 pound mixed mushrooms (I used shitake and cremini), stems removed, thinly sliced
- 1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and minced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 teaspoons sambal olek or sriracha
- 1/4 cup gluten-free tamari
- 1/4 cup rice vinegar
- 6 cups vegetable stock
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1 large egg, beaten
- Heat the oil in a large stockpot or Dutch oven. Saute the onion and white scallions over medium-high heat until soft, 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook until they've reduced in size and begun releasing their liquid, 5 minutes. Stir in the ginger, garlic, and sambal olek or sriracha. Cook until fragrant, 1 more minute.
- Carefully pour in the tamari and vinegar (hot vinegar can sting the eyes), scrapping up any brown bits that have formed on the bottom of the pan. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 10 minutes until the flavors have melded. In a small mixing bowl, whisk the cornstarch and 1/3 cup of water to create a slurry. Add it to the pot and simmer the soup until slightly thickened, another 10 minutes.
- Remove the soup from the heat and slowly pour in the egg while stirring the liquid. The egg will form soft strings and will cook immediately. Taste the soup and add salt as necessary. Garnish with the green scallions and serve.