I’m a big fan of Chinese hot and sour soup and make it every once and while. Learning to make hot and sour soup taught me that the two key ingredients that contribute the most to its flavor profile are finely crushed white pepper (the hot) and Chinese black vinegar (the sour). You can get the Chinese black vinegar in any Asian grocery store, a well-stocked big-box grocer, or at Amazon. It is expensive on Amazon–I pay less than $4 for a bottle locally. Any mom and pop Asian grocer will have it. Beware there isn’t a rational substitute. Search this ingredient out, it is important!
This quick, one-serving recipe isn’t hot and sour soup in the most conventional sense, but if you are hungry for hot and sour soup and want something quick and delicious, this soup is great. I frequently cook with Asian ingredients, so I always have sambal, woodear mushrooms, and Chinese egg noodles on hand (in a pinch the noodles from a package of ramen noodles works fine-but don’t use the seasoning package). The mushrooms and noodles keep nearly forever in the freezer. If you don’t have an ingredient recommended here (except for the black vinegar) use something else! Part of the point of this soup is that it should be quick and easy to make. Oh, and very tasty.
In this variant, I use beef and beef broth (but another possibility is chicken broth and pork or chicken). For a recipe such as this I use “Better Than Bouillon” beef base. This isn’t a product I would normally have ever considered using for anything. However, an article in Cook’s magazine recommended it and I’m glad it did. For basic recipes, the beef and chicken versions of this product provide my go-to quick broth. It seems a little expensive, but it really isn’t compared to canned or boxed broths. The recommended usage is one tablespoon for a cup of water (but as the Cook’s article pointed out) one tablespoon for two cups of water works just fine (and is less salty and makes the base go farther).
For the beef in this recipe I generally rely on leftovers. Flank steak, NY strip, or rib eye works fine–but pretty much anything works. I use about 12-15 thin strips of beef (about four ounces) per two cups of broth. If the meat isn’t cooked, give it a quick flash in the pot before starting the soup. Don’t overdo cooking it. It will finish cooking in the hot soup.
Start the mushrooms soaking first thing and you can be eating this delicious soup in less than 15 minutes!
- 2 cups of beef broth (see text)
- I portion of Asian egg noodles
- 12 thin strips of beef
- ½ cup of woodear mushrooms (or shitakes in a pinch)
- ½ finely-diced carrot (it's not going to cook very long so no big chunks here!)
- 1 tablespoon of Chinese black vinegar
- ½ teaspoon of finely crushed white pepper
- 1 tablespoon of soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon of sambal chili paste
- a couple of sprinkles of red chili flakes
- several scallions for garnish
- a couple of sprigs of cilantro for garnish
- If you are using dried mushrooms, put them in a bowl and pour boiling water over them and let them sit until rehydrated (about 15 minutes)
- Slice beef into thin strips. If the meat isn't cooked, give it a quick flash in the pot before you start the soup.
- Bring broth to a boil in a small pot
- Add noodles, diced carrots, sambal, soy sauce and chili flakes
- Add the mushrooms, cut into thin strips, when fully rehydrated
- When the broth comes to a boil, add the noodles and cook until the noodles are al dente
- Remove the pot from heat and add the meat
- Serve garnished with thinly sliced scallions and a couple of sprigs of cilantro