Hot and sour soup will be my first recipe of our Chinese journey!
Chinese culinary traditions are incredible rich and complex. The vast Chinese territory leads to different cuisines according to the regions and the cantons, but there are traditional recipes that are unique to the whole country.
It is one of the oldest cuisines in the world, whose beginnings date from the Stone Age that we will have the pleasure to celebrate this month, with our new Chinese cuisine expert, Chef katie Chin, author of the Asian cooking blog ChefKatieChin.com.
There is always a reason behind the choice of the countries we travel to every month. Indeed, 196 flavors will wear the colors of the Chinese flag to celebrate the upcoming Chinese New Year which will take place on Saturday, January 28th.
The Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival or Lunar New Year is the biggest festival of Chinese tradition. It marks the beginning of the new year according to the Chinese calendar.
The celebration of this holiday is not limited to China . It is, in fact, celebrated in many countries including Korea, Mongolia, Nepal, Bhutan, Vietnam (where it is called Tet Nguyen Dan) and Japan (where it was an official holiday until 1873) but also in the countless Chinese communities around the world.
Traditionally, the festival lasts up to 15 days, from the end of the lunar year until the Lantern Festival, which typically falls between the end of January and the end of February.
The origin of the Spring Festival dates back to an ancient legend. In ancient times, lived in China, a monster named Nian lived in the depths of the sea or in the mountains. In Chinese mythology, Nian came out of its hole once every 12 months, in the spring, and was looking for prey among human beings, especially children. The only way to escape Nian’s wickedness was to make noise and wear red. Indeed, the monster was very sensitive to loud noises, and terrified by the red color. For this reason, according to legend, every 12 months, it is customary to celebrate the new year to the sound of fireworks and drum beats and using a massive amount of red.
Although there are many legends besides this one that also explain the origin of this festival, there are two main mottos for every Chinese:
– Celebrating a year-end of hard work by resting and relaxing with his family
– Hoping that the New Year will be a year of success and prosperity
Chinese people believe that a good start to the year will bring good luck throughout the year and inversely, dread a bad beginning of the year. They have very specific customs and rituals. For example:
Many Chinese do not clean or wash their hair in the first three days of the year, because a legend says that “good fortune would be annihilated”.
Another legend says that the crying of children is a bad omen and does not bring luck to the family.
One of the most important customs is the use of the red color: trinkets, crockery, paintings, decorations, but also and especially wearing clothes and precisely red underwear.
Red underwear is on sale in all supermarkets and street markets. It seems that it brings a lot of luck!
Let’s go back to our hot and sour soup.
The basic recipe is a thickened broth, seasoned with white pepper and chili, flavored with white or black rice vinegar and soy sauce, and containing egg, fragrant mushroom pieces, ginger, and bamboo shoots, tofu, and meat (pork or poultry). It is often found on the menu of Chinese restaurants.
The combination of white pepper and rice vinegar creates a special pungent flavor. The key to the success of this delicious soup is the ratio of vinegar, soy sauce and white pepper.
The first traces of hot and sour soup date from the Warring States period in the areas of Henan, Hebei, Sichuan, northern China, and the southern region of Shandong. Over time and according to regions and practices, the ingredients have varied and evolved, but the predominant taste is essentially the same everywhere. Everywhere, the soup is hot and sour.
Similar soups are found in other Asian countries.
In Vietnam, canh chua (literally “sour soup”) is prepared from fish from the Mekong River or shrimp, pineapple, tomatoes and soy sprouts. It is flavored with tamarind and lemon leaves.
In Cambodia, samlor machu pkong or “shrimp stew sour” is a shrimp-based sour soup mainly flavored with lemon and pepper.
Samlar yuans machu is another hot and sour soup that is popular in Cambodia. It is prepared from fried or grilled catfish that is then added to the broth.
In Thailand, tom yum is a soup that is flavored with lemongrass, lemongrass leaves, galangal root, fish sauce and hot pepper.
In the Philippines, sinigang is a soup that is characterized by its bitter and salty taste more often associated with tamarind.
I prepared this soup at the request of a young epicurean named Talia. She is the daughter of my friends Shira and Ilan. Yes, the same friends from my Burmese mohinga soup. We tasted this delicious hot and sour soup with the family, in joy and good humor!
Hǎo niántóu … 好年头 … Or Happy New Year to all!
- 3 chicken thighs
- 4 oz tofu
- 6 teaspoons rice vinegar
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- ½ teaspoon chili pepper paste
- 6 teaspoons cornstarch
- 4 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 2 eggs , beaten
- 2 oz shiitake mushrooms , dried
- 2 oz black mushrooms (or wood ear mushrooms), dried
- 1 (1-inch) piece ginger , coarsely grated
- 4 oz. bamboo shoots
- 2 scallions , minced
- 1 small bunch cilantro , chopped
Soak the mushrooms in lukewarm water for 30 minutes to rehydrate them. Wash and drain.
Cook the chicken in 6 cups of salted boiling water over medium-high heat for 20 minutes. Drain the chicken and filter the broth using a fine colander. Let cool.
Dice chicken, tofu, mushrooms, and bamboo shoots.
Dissolve the cornstarch in a portion of the cold stock and mix well.
Bring the remaining stock to a boil.
Add mushrooms, tofu, soy sauce and ginger, and cook on medium heat. Stir for 30 seconds and add the chicken.
Stir well and add the rice vinegar, chili pepper paste, and sugar.
While stirring, gradually add the diluted cornstarch mixture and cook for 1 minute.
Add the beaten egg gently, stirring continuously for 1 minute.
Finally add the freshly ground pepper and the sesame oil and stir well for 15 seconds.
Turn off the heat and finish with scallion and cilantro.