Best thing about writing a soup column? Having someone else offer to make you soup, of course!
So when I got an invite from Ying Stoller to learn how to make her hot and sour soup, I jumped on it.
Ying is an Asian cooking instructor, cookbook author and creator of Ying's Kitchen Asian sauces so if anyone knows her way around the stockpot, it's her.
When I'm dining at Asian restaurants I almost always order soup. Whether tom yum, canh chau or hot and sour, there's something about the combination of the sour-sweet-spicy broth with crunchy vegetables that makes me feel so healthy.
Of course, that might have something to do with the fact that one spoonful of the spicy brew and my allergy-ridden sinuses clear up. Hot and Sour Soup is perfect for the winter sniffles.
Basically, it's the Asian version of chicken noodle soup -- the antidote to all that ails you. While that may seem like just another folk tale, there is evidence that hot and sour soup is really good for you.
The lightly cooked vegetables offer fiber, vitamins and minerals, but that's just the start. The concoction also includes red pepper or chilies (which contain capsaicin, a well-known anti-inflammatory agent) and rice vinegar (high in amino acids that help maintain a healthy immune system).
Some versions include shiitake mushrooms (which contain compounds found to lower cholesterol and inhibit viruses) and ginger (which has been shown to treat nausea and inflammation).
Ying uses rice vinegar and red pepper to give her soup zing, and adds a dash of soy sauce, sesame oil and white and black pepper for good measure. Feel free to experiment with this -- adding ginger or using shiitakes.
It's really pretty easy to make -- although you might need a little practice adding the beaten egg at the end. My first version looked like a soufflé rather than soup when I went overboard adding the cornstarch and egg. Go slowly here and remember less is more!
While I made it with a vegetable broth, Ying's original recipe calls for chicken broth and if you are not a vegetarian, that's the route I would take. Sometimes vegetable broth is a tad too sweet and can negatively impact this recipe. If you do decide to opt for a vegetable base, you might want to dial down the sugar and opt for a lighter veggie broth.
Oh, and don't skip the chopped green onions at the end. This is one time when the garnish is crucial. Ying says shallots would do the trick, as well.
No matter how you make it, it's the perfect soup for sharing. Thanks, Ying.
• M. Eileen Brown is the Daily Herald's director of strategic marketing and innovation, and an incurable soup-a-holic. She specializes in vegetarian soups and blogs at soupalooza.com.