Nobody actually likes tofu.


Photography by Matt Hocking.

It feels a little bit like clickbait to dispute my post title in the opening paragraph, but I’m going to do it anyway. Tofu is wonderful – light and pillowy with a crisp exterior – when it is fried. Otherwise, it is terrible – bland and mealy. Trust me, I was forced to eat this crap several times as a chubby teenager. With so many other wonderful, healthy foods with a high ratio of nutrition to calories why in the good Lord’s good name would someone willingly eat tofu? Sure, it takes on other flavors easily. So does a sponge, but I have no plans to dip one in soy sauce and eat it either.*

That said, it will come as no surprise to you that when my friend Acha suggested that I develop a hot and sour soup recipe during my bi-weekly recipe #testkitchen, that I decided to leave out the tofu. Recipe after recipe for Hot and Sour soup – the American Chinese take-out variety – delivered the same ingredients: chicken broth flavored with soy and vinegar, thickened with cornstarch and eggs, made hot from lots of white pepper, and full of wood ear mushrooms, bamboo shoots and reconstituted, dried daylily buds.

While I have daylily buds and wood ear mushrooms in my pantry, and they are available within 48 hours from Amazon.com, they certainly are not everyday items in American pantries, so I decided to see if I could make a delicious Hot and Sour soup without those three ingredients, or tofu. Reading up on bamboo shoots I found many assertions that the flaccid and bland ones found in cans pale before freshly-harvested and thinly-sliced bamboo shoots, so I decided to leave those out too. Where did that leave me?

When I was developing a recipe for mù xū pork I found many recipes that substituted shiitake mushrooms and cabbage for wood ear mushrooms and daylily buds, so I decided to try it here. Researching substitutes for bamboo shoots I found odd recommendations from carrots and celery to broccoli ?! but I was intrigued by one suggestion of thinly sliced sunchokes (also known as Jerusalem artichokes and available now at farm markets and many grocery stores). With those substitutions in place I jumped into the kitchen and made a soup that placed one more nail in the coffin for DC’s largely disappointing Chinese take-out scene. It was delicious, fresh and light, despite the hearty, silky texture gained from cornstarch.

While pork is traditional I decided to add less-common-but-not-unheard-of shrimp, which was lovely. And decidedly better than tofu.

*In fairness to my friends skilled in cooking tofu using recipes from its native cuisines which always look amazing when you tease me with photos on Facebook and Instagram but won’t come visit me in DC and cook with me so I can try them, I will admit that tofu, when not stir-fried and served in disintegrating chunks may be delicious in many other preparations. Come visit and convince me. Really. Those photos look so. darn. good!

Hot and Sour Soup with Shrimp

Serves 6

This may look like a lot of ingredients, but it’s a really simple soup with very little knife work and active effort. To have a bowl on the table for dinner in about 30 minutes, cut up the mushrooms, cabbage, sunchokes and scallions while the stock warms to a simmer.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbs peanut or vegetable oil
  • 1 tbs minced ginger
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 8 cups chicken stock
  • 4 tbs corn starch
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 tbs rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tbs cider vinegar
  • 4 tbs soy sauce
  • 1 tsp white pepper
  • 1 large sunchoke, about 3″, cut lengthwise in thin matchsticks*
  • 2 cups of thinly sliced shiitakes
  • 2 cups thinly sliced napa cabbage
  • 1 lb 26-30 count shrimp, peeled and deveined*
  • 1 bunch scallions, white and light green parts cut in 1″ pieces, dark green parts thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1 cup chopped cilantro

*Can’t find sunchokes? Use a small can of bamboo shoots. Leaving the tails on the shrimp looks pretty but forces you to eat soup with your fingers. It’s up to you. I totally left them on for photographs.

Directions:

  • Warm oil in a 4 quart soup pot over medium heat. Add ginger and garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add stock and bring to a simmer.
  • Whisk together warmed stock with 3 tbs cornstarch. Whisk the remaining 1 tbs cornstarch together with the eggs.
  • Whisk soy sauce, rice wine vinegar and cider vinegar into the stock along with 1/2 tsp white pepper. Whisk the cornstarch mixture into the stock and simmer for 4-5 minutes to thicken.
  • Re-whisk the eggs and cornstarch while reducing the soup to a bare simmer. Whisk soup in one direction to create a funnel. While whisking, drizzle eggs into funnel. Continue to whisk for 30 seconds longer while eggs set.
  • Add sunchoke matchsticks, shiitakes and cabbage to soup. Simmer until tender, about 15 minutes.
  • Add shrimp and the white and light green parts of scallions and simmer until shrimp are cooked, about 5 minutes longer.
  • Season soup to taste with remaining 1/2 tsp white pepper, toasted sesame oil, and additional soy sauce or cider vinegar as needed. Stir through cilantro and sliced scallion greens to serve.

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