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HOT AND SOUR SOUP AT HOME

The best hot and sour soup I ever had was, weirdly, in Paris. It’s been years since I had loads of time to wander around the side streets so things may be different now, but in the early 80s it was very common to see certain restaurants place a large cutout of Mickey Mouse or Foghorn Leghorn or some similar figure out on the sidewalk with their menu taped on the front. I thought it was pretty odd at the time but I have come to think  of it as charmingly French. Anyway, the hot and sour soup was fantastic and blisteringly hot; I have no idea now where the restaurant was other than somewhere on the Left Bank in the Luxembourg arrondissement or nearby. It’s probably long gone.

I usually get won ton soup in Chinese restaurants now because that’s what my husband likes, but if I am on my own, it’s hot and sour all the way. I found a recipe that I adapted a little bit and discovered it’s easy to make at home.  I found this at the Grocery Outlet the other day and it’s great in hot and sour. It’s already fairly sour.

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But regular chicken or vegetable stock works fine. Homemade broth would rock this soup.

I also used some spicy pork sausage so I didn’t need to use as much Sriracha, but again, this is optional.

HOT AND SOUR SOUP

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 pound (8 ounces) ground pork, ground turkey, or ground chicken
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger root
  • 4 chopped green onions (scallions)
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock or Tom Yum soup base
  • 1 pound firm tofu, cut in 1/2″ cubes
  • 5 thinly sliced mushrooms
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon nam pla (fish sauce)
  • Sriracha to taste
  • ground black pepper to taste
  • rice vinegar to taste
  • 2 large eggs, beaten

Heat the oil in a saucepan large enough to hold all the ingredients. Add the garlic, ginger, and green onions.006

Then add the ground pork. Break it up with a fork as best you can, and cook & stir about 1 minute. Don’t try to cook the pork thoroughly just yet; it will finish cooking as the broth simmers.

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Add the broth, sugar, tofu, mushrooms, soy sauce, fish sauce, sesame oil, and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat quickly, simmer and taste. If you used the Tom Yum soup base, you won’t need to add much rice vinegar. If you used regular broth, add up to 2/3 cup rice vinegar. Add 1/2 to 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper and 1/2 to 1 tablespoons Sriracha. Keep tasting as you add until soup is just right for you.

Pour the beaten eggs into the soup and whisk until they form strands.

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Garnish with sesame oil, chopped cilantro, and chopped green onions. A squeeze of lime would be nice if you want an extra flavor and tartness.

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For a vegetarian or vegan version, use vegetable broth and omit the meat and eggs. Use soy sauce instead of fish sauce. Rehydrate 1 ounce wood ear mushrooms and slice thinly; add with the other mushrooms.

Store leftovers in the refrigerator. The soup may look a little different after being chilled but it will reheat and taste fine.

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CHINESE ALMOND COOKIES

We were in San Francisco’s Chinatown a couple of weeks ago and made our usual stop at Eastern Bakery for a bag of almond cookies. I’ve bought other sweets there over numerous visits and I have a hard time wrapping my tastebuds around them, but then Chinese cuisine isn’t really known for its desserts.

But I have a wonderful cookbook, California the Beautiful Cookbook by John Phillip Carroll, which includes a recipe for almond cookies. I remember my mother making them years ago and I thought they were pretty good. Not exactly like the ones Eastern Bakery turns out which are drier and crumblier, these are more like a smooth shortbread. They’re easy to make.

The original recipe asks you to top the cookies with sesame seeds before baking. I don’t see sesame seeds as being necessary on an almond cookie, but that’s subject to taste.

CHINESE ALMOND COOKIES

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
2/3 cup powdered (confectioner’s) sugar
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
whole almonds

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Cream softened butter and powdered sugar together. Add egg yolk and almond extract and cream again, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary.
Toss together flour, salt, and baking powder. Add flour to butter mixture and beat in until all is combined and there are no flour pockets.
Roll out tablespoons of dough into balls and place on ungreased cookie sheet about 1 1/2″ apart. Give each cookie a mash with your fist to flatten it slightly, then top with a whole almond.

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Bake at 375 about 15 minutes until edges are browned.

If you feel sesame seeds would be a good addition, beat the leftover egg white with a tablespoon of water. Brush each flattened cookie with the egg white, then dip in sesame seeds and top with almond; bake as directed.

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SPICY SZECHUAN STIR-FRY SAUCE FOR VEGETABLES

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A couple of months ago we were at our favorite Chinese restaurant eating broccoli in hot garlic sauce, when it occurred to me that I could probably figure out how to make it at home. I did.

In this post about Grandmother’s Chinese Country-Style Pork Ribs  (which is by FAR the most popular post on this blog!) I wrote about soy sauce, mirin, star anise, oyster sauce, and sake.  In this recipe I use Thai sweet chili sauce, which might not be a familiar ingredient to everyone. There are numerous brands available; you can buy it in an Asian market or a supermarket. Trader Joe’s has their own version. It is not Sriracha or chili paste. It is a sweet-spicy goopy sauce that you can dip just about anything into,  or use as an ingredient in other recipes (like this one). I buy a big bottle at an Asian market and store in the refrigerator.

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SPICY SZECHUAN STIR-FRY SAUCE

  • 1 tablespoon fresh minced ginger
  • 3 cloves (or more) minced fresh garlic
  • 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
  • 1 tablespoon mirin
  • 1 tablespoon sherry
  • 1 tablespoon sake
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons low-salt soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons Thai sweet chili sauce
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1/2 of a star anise
  • hot pepper flakes to taste (I use 1 teaspoon, but suit yourself)

Combine all ingredients. Add to cooked, drained vegetables and stir-fry over medium heat until sauce thickens. This is enough sauce for about 1 pound of vegetables.

I use this on Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and/or cauliflower, but it would be great on green beans, asparagus, carrots, celery, pearl onions, zucchini,  mixed vegetables with tofu, or whatever else needs spicing up.

GRANDMOTHER’S CHINESE COUNTRY-STYLE PORK RIBS

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My apologies, if needed, go to Andrew Zimmern. You know him, the guy who will eat anything; if he doesn’t like it, you just know it’s got to be foul.  Anyway, a few months back I made his recipe for Grandmother’s Chinese Chicken Wings, and boy howdy were they good. I did have to tweak the directions a little in order to get them falling-apart tender, but other than that, the recipe is great. The original recipe is here at the Food Network website.

Last night we needed dinner that was easy and filling. My husband had been digging post holes; I had been mowing about 1/2 acre. We were both tired but didn’t want to get take-out. We already had leftover steamed rice and salad makings in the refrigerator – what to go with?  I dug around in the freezer and came up with a package of country-style spare ribs.

Not everyone is familiar with country-style pork ribs, or maybe they’re known by other names in other areas.

009   Country-style ribs are cut from the sirloin or rib end of the pork loin, which is a less exercised part of the pig – therefore, they are more tender than spareribs.  They are also much meatier and indeed, look like thick-cut narrow steaks. They lend themselves well to braising and are really delicious prepared with Asian seasonings. I thought with a little tweaking, Andrew Zimmern’s chicken wing sauce would be good on the ribs. I was right.

A few words on ingredients:

Mirin is an alcohol-based liquid made from rice and is used in Japanese cooking. At one time it was drunk like sake, but now is considered a condiment. Salt is often added to avoid the alcohol tax. It is available in Asian markets.

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Sake is an alcoholic beverage made from rice; there are six zillion varieties available, but unless you live near a large Asian community you may be  able to only find a few.  It is thought of as rice wine,  but it is actually brewed like beer (in winemaking, alcohol is produced via the fermentation of naturally-occurring sugars; in sake and beer, the sugar has to be converted from starch before it can ferment). Available in liquor stores and well-stocked supermarkets.

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Oyster sauce is – duh – made from oysters. It is a thick brown salty sauce that has the smell and flavor of oysters. Don’t run off screaming. When cooked in a dish like this, it becomes much less assertive and if you didn’t know it was an ingredient,  you wouldn’t be able to tell. Since it does contain oyster extractives, it is not suitable for people with shellfish allergies. Available in Asian markets and well-stocked supermarkets.

006Star anise is the fruit of an evergreen tree from Asia; it is harvested green and dried. It has a strong anise scent and flavor; anise seed could be substituted for it.  Interesting note: star anise is the source of one of the main ingredients in the prescription drug Tamiflu. Available in Asian markets, spice shops, and well-stocked supermarkets, and possibly health food stores.

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About soy sauce:

I use either Shoyu Low-Salt Soy Sauce or San-J Low-Salt  Tamari.  Soy sauce contains wheat; tamari does not (but check the label). For God’s sake, throw out the La Choy and get a decent brand of soy sauce. Asian markets have a good selection; at the very least, get some Kikkoman.

Grandmother’s Chinese Country-Style Pork Ribs

  • 4 to 6 country-style pork ribs, about 1/2 to 3/4 pound each
  • 1/3 cup sake
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce
  • 6 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons mirin
  • 3 tablespoons oyster sauce
  • 6 large thin slices fresh ginger
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 2 cloves star anise
  • 1 dried hot chile or 1 teaspoon hot pepper flakes (pizza parlor type) – more if you want
  • 1 cinnamon stick (do not substitute powdered cinnamon)
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 2 carrots, sliced

Garnish:

  • Green onions/scallions
  • Fresh cilantro (coriander)
  • Sesame seeds

Heat heavy skillet or Dutch oven. When hot, add a little vegetable oil and then the ribs. Do not crowd the pan! If the meat is crowded in the pan, the meat will not brown and instead will steam. Do this in batches if necessary, removing meat as it is browned.

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While ribs are cooking, combine all the sauce ingredients. Stir to dissolve brown sugar.

When all the ribs are browned, return all to the pan. Pour in the sauce and 1 cup water.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and cover, leaving lid slightly ajar so the sauce can begin to reduce.

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Either cook on lowest heat on the stove, or put in a 300 degree oven and bake slowly until ribs are tender, 1 hour to 1 1/2 hours. Edit: a friend asked if this could be made by browning the ribs in an electric skillet, then braising in a crock pot. I don’t see why not. You’d have to reduce the sauce later in the skillet, but I think it would work well.

Prepare the garnishes: thinly slice three or four green onions (scallions). Chop 1/2 cup cilantro (coriander). Lightly toast 2 tablespoons sesame seeds by putting them in a small dry skillet over medium heat and shaking the skillet frequently until they begin to pop and turn brown. Remove them from the pan as soon as they are toasted.

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When the ribs are tender, remove them to a serving dish and keep warm. Put the pot containing the sauce on the stove and turn to high heat, boiling the sauce to reduce it.  When the sauce has thickened, pour it over the ribs and then add the garnishes.

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This sauce is very intense and rich, so accompaniments should be simple: steamed rice (or possibly mashed potatoes or polenta), steamed or grilled asparagus, sliced fruit like oranges or grapefruit, sauteed chard or spinach. Serve this with a ballsy red wine like a Zinfandel or Sangiovese – a big fruit-forward Cabernet Sauvignon would work too.

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