Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Vegan Hot and Sour Soup

I've had a thing for P.F. Chang's for some time now. When I was in college it would sometimes be the highlight of a trip into Boston. Are there better places to eat in Beantown? Hell yes, but I needed my fix. So sue me. In case you're wondering what fuels my devotion, it's those lettuce wraps with special sauce; I worship at their altar. I also have an ongoing love affair with their spicy eggplant. Those two dishes are exactly what I ordered last Friday for my birthday lunch.

While I happily ate my first meal as a 25 year-old, I watched my parents eat hot and sour soup. It's a menu item I've wanted to try for a while but haven't because it's usually made with chicken stock, not only at P.F.'s but elsewhere. It also sometimes has egg, which I'm not a fan of. I really wanted to figure out what was in this soup so I practically stuck my nose in my mother's bowl as she poked around with a spoon, both of us trying to figure out its exact composition. Since we couldn't identify all of the ingredients (we were missing the lily buds and the bamboo shoots) I consulted the Google Oracle.

The recipe I thought would best serve as a base for what I wanted was Food & Wine's, which was simultaneously listed as vegetarian and containing chicken stock. Really, Food & Wine? I obviously corrected this and made a few other modifications. The soup was exactly what I needed to put in a nail in my nasty virus' coffin. I rounded out the meal with some veggie dumplings, another first. If you want to check out that recipe you'll just have to stop by tomorrow.

Vegan Hot and Sour Soup
Adapted from Food & Wine 
Makes about 5 servings

Some of the ingredients in this recipe may be new to you (raise your hand if you've ever cooked a lily bud before!) and you may think they're hard to find. Asian market to the rescue! If you can't find the lily buds, omit them. The rest of the ingredients you should be able to find at a well stocked grocery store (or two).
  • 1 cup loosely packed dried lily buds 
  • 1 1/2 cup dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil or other vegetable oil
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 teaspoons ginger, grated or minced
  • 6 cups vegetable stock
  • 1/2 cup drained canned bamboo shoots, rinsed and julienned
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar 
  • 1 teaspoon garlic chili sauce or to taste
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch 
  • 4 tablespoons water
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce or to taste
  • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
  • 8-10 oz firm tofu, pressed and cut into 1/3 inch / 1 cm dice
  • 2 tablespoons scallions, thinly sliced
1.  Place the lily buds and dried shiitake mushrooms in two separate bowls and cover them with hot water until tender. The shiitakes I used were already sliced they only sat in the water for about 2 minutes. If you're using whole mushrooms you might have to soak them for longer. The lily buds were tender after about 30 minutes. Drain both the lily buds and the mushrooms. If you used whole shiitakes with stems, remove them before giving them a rough chop.
2.  In a large pot, heat the canola oil over medium heat. Toss in the garlic and the ginger and saute until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the vegetable tock, lily buds, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, and salt. Cover the pot and bring the soup to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Pour in the vinegar and the garlic chili sauce and simmer for another 3 minutes.
3.  In a small bowl, dissolve the cornstarch in 4 tablespoons of water. Stir cornstarch mixture, soy sauce, sesame oil and tofu into the soup and cook for about 2 minutes. Taste and adjust the balance of vinegar, garlic chili and soy sauce to your liking. Serve immediately, garnished with scallions.

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