There is no doubt about it - hot and sour is a flavour combination that comes up quite often on this blog. I count 6 times; Hunan hot & sour soup, complete with noodles to make a one dish meal; Hot & Sour Aubergines with Tofu, one of the most successful recipes I've come up with, and deviating from the normal heat you get from the classic hot and sour - instead, fish sauce, birds eye chillis and lime juice flavour this one. Hot & Sour Mustard Green Soup is bulked out with a surf n' turf of pork ribs and fish balls; Hot & Sour Tofu, one of those dishes that might change your preconceptions about tofu; Hot & Sour Chicken Noodles, which almost graced the front cover of Chinatown Kitchen; and a Sichuan style of Hot & Sour Soup, way back in the mists of time when bad pictures were my game (arguably they still are...).
Why do I love it so much? It's hard to say, but as someone who is slightly addicted to both chilli and pickles, the clues are pretty strong. The heat in your classic takeaway-style hot and sour soup doesn't come from chillis, though. White pepper is what gives it that nose-clearing pep, though I usually add chilli too for good measure. With this vegan version you lose the silken strands of the egg-drop technique, a classic Chinese finisher for many soups. It's made by whisking egg up, bringing the soup to the boil and very gently drizzling the egg into the soup so that as soon as the egg hits the hot liquid, it cooks, forming wispy strands and that lovely, silken texture. However, what you do gain in losing the egg is a light, bright and refreshing broth packed full of interesting textures and a lot of goodness.
The key to making the soup pleasing to eat is to chop everything up similarly, so that you get the appropriate textures. Everything in this soup was julienned / matchsticked to get that effect.
Hot & Sour Soup - The Vegan Version
Serves 4 with sides (like these dumplings)
4 tofu bamboo sticks, rehydrated in hot water
4 large pieces of black fungus, rehydrated in hot water and julienned
4 inches of daikon / mooli, peeled and chopped into matchsticks
200gr firm tofu, cut into matchsticks
3 slices of ginger, peeled
4 cloves of garlic, peeled but left whole
2 large chestnut mushrooms, sliced thinly
4 large oyster mushrooms, also sliced thinly
3 spring onions, whites and greens separated - the whites can be left as is, the greens should be sliced into thin rings
1/2 a star anise
750ml vegetable stock
2 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tsp white pepper
3 tbsp Chinkiang black vinegar
1 tbsp cornflour, slaked with 2 tbsp water
1 red chilli, diced (optional)
Bring the stock to the boil and add the whites of the spring onions, the ginger, garlic and the star anise. Simmer for half an hour with the lid on, and then drain the stock into another pot.
Add the tofu, the bamboo sticks, the daikon, the chilli and the black fungus and simmer for 20 minutes. Then add the mushrooms and the white pepper and simmer for another 10. Add the cornflour solution and cook until slightly thickened. Take off the heat and add the soy sauce and black vinegar, and taste - add more vinegar or more white pepper as appropriate. Ladle out into bowls, and garnish with the greens of the spring onion.