Hot and Sour Soup
Changing weather require some tweaking in the daily menu planning which is way easier in winter because all you need do is to up the temperature of food. Easy peasy. In Pakistan we take our food very seriously and we welcome each season with full zeal. Picture this… It is a regular winter evening and you are out shopping or going back home or just hanging out with friends and every street is depicting this dramatic scene with steam blowing from all small shops and vendors carts, selling freshly roasted peanuts and nuts, French fries, desi bun kebab, boiled eggs, a variety of qehwa like Peshawari Green Tea (Qehwa) or tea including Kashmiri Chai and the most crowded would be the one selling soup. How good does this sound! Most famous street soup, locally, would be Chicken Corn Soup and in restaurants it is Hot and sour soup hands down. Am I right or am I right!
It is supposed to be of Chinese origin but since I have never been to China I can’t say how authentic or close it is to the real Chinese cuisine. One thing for sure though, it is pretty darn good. It is what our taste buds want and it surely hits all the right notes of our palates. As the name suggests, it is bit spicy and tangy and you can adjust these levels depending on how adventurous you are. I ain’t no daredevil and I prefer keeping things under control without going overboard. My theory about food is that I should be able to taste the ingredients of a dish to savor it, enjoy it and appreciate it. The dish is in harmony when no element is competing to overpower the other and this can easily be achieved by keeping a good balance of seasoning and spices.
All good soups start with a well prepared broth or stock. This past Wednesday, I shared with you How To make Basic Chicken Stock which I use for all of the soups that I make at home. This stock is rich enough to provide solid base to any soup yet seasoned mild enough to be taken as Yakhni or to be transformed into any fancy version. Hot and Sour soup is a family favorite and even when we dine out, this is the ONLY soup that my husband orders. I’ll be sharing a pictorial guide for today’s post, followed by some tips I learnt from a chef and then of course the recipe. Have a pot of stock ready….
With Chicken Stock we need some vegetables, sliced or shredded or juilenne cut depending on how you like them. For me cabbage, carrots, green capsicum and scallions (spring onions) are a must as they give a perfect balance in terms of colors and flavors. If there are no scallions its ok too. regular red or white onions are a bit too strong for me in a soup. Beside these vegetables, you can add broccoli, red or yellow capsicum/pepper, mushrooms, tomato, bean sprouts, corns. Some restaurants even put some chopped green coriander/cilantro too which I don’t like at all but you do your own thing. For chicken, I marinate some boneless chicken pieces with garlic and salt and pepper and then steam. Boiled and shredded chicken becomes too soft and spread in the hot soup where as chopped and cooked chicken pieces would retain their shape.
Once everything is sorted and prepared, heat up very little cooking oil, like 2 tbsp, and fry some garlic paste in it for a few seconds only to bring out the aroma and without garlic changing its color. This is to enhance the flavor of the soup. I prefer garlic paste over chopped garlic because bits of garlic wont look or taste good in soup. Be careful though, garlic paste would splutter and easiest way is to cover the pot for few seconds. Move the lid a couple of inches and add a cup of stock to call things down. Pour in remaining stock with seasonings and sauces, bring to a boil and add chicken pieces.
Bring it to a boil again, add dissolved corn flour in a steady stream while stirring continuously to avoid any lumps and to keep a constant check on consistency. Everyone has a different liking when it comes to the thickness of soup. Always dissolve corn flour in stock and at least 10 minutes prior to adding it to the stock. Add vegetables once soup is thickened and cook for a minute or two only. A little crunch is better rather than mushy vegetables. Pour in slightly beaten eggs in a swirl as shown in the picture. Wait few seconds and then stir to break the streaks. Continuous stirring while adding eggs will result in very thin threads of dispersed eggs. Switch the flame off, check seasonings and serve asap.
Following are some points that I learnt from a chef and found them very helpful
- Always use stock or broth for the soup instead of regular water. If there is no stock or broth, boil a little chopped onion with a couple of vegetables like half a carrot or few cauliflower florets or any available vegetables. Stock is the core of any soup. Make it exciting.
- Frying a little garlic paste in a tablespoon of oil may not sound very impactful to a bowl of soup but such little steps matter. It would lift the flavor.
- Instead of boiled and shredded chicken, use cooked or steamed chicken pieces. Cooked pieces will retain their shape.
- Use stock to dissolve corn flour and not tap water. Always take a cup of stock from the pot before heating it.
- Stock should either be chilled or at room temperature. Corn flour will not dissolve if mixed in heated stock. Mix stock and corn flour at least 10 minutes before adding to the hot stock for thickening.
- While heating and boiling the stock for hot and sour soup, add seasonings and sauces. It will lower the boiling point. Sometimes vegetables don’t get softened when sauces are poured on them.
- Pour in dissolved corn flour gradually to keep consistency in check. Some people say that stirring soup with metal spoon at this point can make soup thinner and suggest to use a wooden spoon. I don’t agree with this and believe that it happens when stock is not at the right temperature (should be boiling) or corn flour isn’t of good quality or stale.
- Add corn flour to thicken the soup and then add vegetables. If vegetables are added before adding the corn flour chances are that vegetables would get mushy or overcooked. Color of the basic soup would be better when vegetables are added later.
- Use whole eggs for a slightly pale color or use whites only for whiter look. Very slightly beat the eggs and add in a swirl, wait 5-10 seconds and then stir to have slightly bigger remains of egg.
Hot and Sour Soup
A perfect welcome to chilly weather. This is an all time favorite soup with well balanced flavors and a hefty supply of chicken and vegetables
- 1/2 cup corn flour
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 2 tbsp cooking oil
- ¾ tsp garlic paste
- 6 cups chicken stock
- 1 tsp salt
- ¾ tsp black pepper powder
- 3 tbsp tomato puree (tomato ketchup can be used too)
- 3 tbsp soya sauce (gluten free)
- 3 tbsp white vinegar
- 2 tbsp Chinese chilli sauce
- 400 gm cooked chicken, cut in small pieces (see notes)
- 1¼ cups carrot, cut in julienne
- 1¼ cups cabbage, thinly sliced
- ½ cup capsicum, thinly sliced
- ½ cup chopped scallions (spring onion)
- 3 whole eggs, slightly beaten
In a small bowl, dissolve corn flour in 1 cup chicken stock.
Heat a big pot over medium heat
Add cooking oil and garlic paste. Quickly cover the pot as it will splutter.
After 5 seconds, move the lid a couple of inches and pour in 1 cup of chicken stock.
Remove the lid and pour in remaining chicken stock with salt, pepper, tomato puree, soya sauce, vinegar and chilli sauce.
Bring to a boil and add cooked chicken.
Stir and mix previously dissolved corn four and gradually add to the boiling chicken stock while stirring continuously with a spoon. You may or may not need to add all of the corn flour mix. Stop adding when desired thickness is reached. Check seasoning.
Add in carrots, cabbage, capsicum and scallions. Stir.
After a minute, pour in beaten eggs in a swirling motion. Wait 5-10 seconds and then stir to break the egg streaks.
Switch the flame off.
Serve immediately with crackers and extra sauces if you prefer.
Cut 400 gm boneless chicken into small pieces. Marinate with 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp black pepper powder, 1/2 tsp garlic paste. Leave for 15-20 minutes. Cook/steam in medium pan. Add a splash of water if required. It would take 4-5 minutes to cook depending on the cut size.
Add more vegetables or less according to your preference.
Adjust seasoning as you like.