Friday, November 22, 2013

Hot and Sour Soup

Hot and Sour Soup has been one of my almost favorite things for years. I love love love tangy dishes, especially when that tang comes from copious amounts of vinegar or citrus. Plus, this soup has a lot of the flavors I love in Chinese cooking - lots of porky goodness, warm nutty toasted sesame oil, a good kick of heat, and the firm tofu that aids in rounding out some of these intense flavors. What was keeping me from truly embracing it was the texture. You know what I'm talking about here - that thick, gloopy broth that isn't so different from what runs out of my nose during allergy season? Yeah, not appetizing. 

Surprisingly, lots of recipes online call for the addition of a corn starch slurry to be added to the soup to achieve that undesirable viscosity, so apparently there are those of you out there that enjoy it. Me, not so much. When I stumbled across this gem, I knew it was a keeper. It has been on repeat in our house for quite a while now, mainly because it comes together super fast and nearly all the ingredients are things you probably already have in your fridge and pantry. 

I usually try not to get too nostalgic about my food memories, but I feel an urge to for this post. When I tasted this version of hot and sour soup, I immediately remembered the first time I had egg drop soup that wasn't prepared in a Chinese restaurant's kitchen. A high school girlfriend invited me over for dinner one night at her parent's house, and I gladly accepted, without knowing of the amazing treats that lay ahead of me. Her mom's egg drop soup was divine; homemade chicken stock, perfectly cooked ribbons of egg, a subtle hint of lemon, and none of that slippery, goopy texture. I never knew it could be that good. This recipe reminds me a lot of that - simple, yet packed with flavor and super comforting, something a friend's mom or grandma would make. I was 16 at the time, and I still remember that entire meal. Along side the soup, we had bean sprouts quickly sauteed with soy and butter, perfectly cooked rice, and fried spring rolls. Heaven. 

I didn't make any alterations to this recipe, since I think it's pretty much perfect already, but there is of course room to make it more sour or spicy to suit your tastes. I've been reading cookbooks a little obsessively lately, and this little gem was from Flour, Too by Joanne Chang. Seriously, check it out - it is full of amazing goodies, and lots of sweets, which I need to start making more sparingly... it's been like Christmas here with all the cookies, brownies, cakes, etc that I've had around. I can't remember the last time I didn't eat at least 2 cookies in a day. But enough of my new baking/eating my baking addiction. 


2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 Tbsp fresh ginger, peeled and minced
4 scallions, sliced thin, plus
   more for garnish
1/2 lb ground pork*
4 cups low sodium chicken broth
1 lb firm tofu, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
4 - 5 button mushrooms, cleaned and
   thinly sliced
1 tsp sugar
2/3 cup rice vinegar, plus
   more to taste
3 Tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp toasted sesame oil
1 Tbsp sriracha, plus more to taste
2 large eggs, lightly beaten

Prep all your ingredients before you even set your pot over the heat, since this soup comes together super fast. You can use pre-ground pork from the supermarket, or *grind your own, which is what I prefer. Simply take a pork tenderloin or some boneless chops and cut them into smaller hunks that your food processor can handle, and place them on a plate. Put the pork in the freezer for 20 minutes to firm up a touch so when you process it, it doesn't get all gummy on you. Once the pork is slightly firmed up from the freezer, toss it in 1/2 pound increments into your food processor and give 5 - 7 1 second pulses. Set aside the 1/2 pound needed for the soup and refrigerate or freeze what remains. You'll now have delicious ground pork with no mystery cuts and much less fat than what you'd get at the grocer. 

Place a large saucepan over medium high heat and add the vegetable oil. Add the ground pork, ginger, garlic and scallions, stirring occasionally for ~1 minute. Break up the pork a bit with your spoon, but don't fret about getting into fine pieces - some variation in its texture is very welcome in this soup. When it gets to about this point, you'll want to add the stock:
Dial up the heat and cover to bring the soup to a simmer, which should take a couple of minutes. Add the the remaining ingredients except the eggs, and cook uncovered till it comes to a simmer. Once there, start swirling the soup with a fork while you slowly pour in the beaten eggs. Serve immediately with a touch more sesame oil, scallion greens for garnish, and rice vinegar and sriracha at the ready if you want a bit more bite to your soup.

Recipe for 'Mama Chang's Hot and Sour Soup' from Joanne Chang's Flour, Too

Friday, November 8, 2013

Orzo and Lentil Salad with Dill

The first time I had this salad was years ago at a friend's annual labor day party, and everyone loved it so much that it now makes an appearance every year. It's a very simple salad with not many ingredients, so it's kind of vital to use the best you can afford/get your hands on. The flavors mingle together really well, yet still manage to be prominent enough to taste every nuance. So, get the best olives, preferably with the pits (it is cumbersome to pit them yourself, but it'll be worth it since the texture between pitted and not is night and day), the best french goat's milk feta, and some really special extra virgin olive oil. The salad isn't swimming in oil, yet there is enough to keep the ingredients flowing and not clumped up.

A small disclaimer, I am aware that this recipe comes from a James Beard cookbook full of different kinds of salads... or is it pasta dishes... not really sure, it's been a while since I've perused it. I've never referenced the recipe myself when making this dish, since I simply go with the ratios of ingredients that suits my taste. I may be forgetting some, or including things that were never in the original salad I tasted. It's really no matter, because as long as you use high quality ingredients here, whatever ratio of them you prefer, it will be pretty delicious to you too.


1 1/2 cup uncooked orzo pasta
heaping 1/2 cup dried lentils
~1 cup kalmatta or favorite olive,
   pitted and finely chopped
4 - 6 ounces feta, crumbled
1/3 cup good quality extra virgin
   olive oil
~1/2 cup dill, lightly packed and 
   coarsely chopped
1 small lemon, juiced
several splashes red wine 
   vinegar (optional)
sea or kosher salt
freshly ground pepper

Set a large pot of salted water on the stove to boil for the pasta. Meanwhile, spread out the lentils in an even layer and check them over for any non-lentil debris. Place the lentils in a medium sauce pan with 2 cups cold water. Cover and turn heat up to medium high, and give them a good stir after a few minutes. Once they come to a boil, dial heat down to medium low and cook for 20 minutes (still covered), or until they are tender yet not mushy, stirring occasionally. Drain any remaining water from the lentils, and set aside. 

Once the water is at a boil, dump in the orzo and cook till al dente. Drain the pasta and immediately rinse in cold water and drain thoroughly. While the pasta is cooking, prep all other ingredients and place in a large bowl, preferably one you don't mind serving in. Add the cooked orzo and lentils with a couple pinches of salt and lots of turns of pepper. Toss well and adjust seasoning if needed. This is where I like to add some red wine vinegar, or more lemon juice if that is more your thing. Either way, the orzo and lentils really soak up the seasonings. The earthiness of the lentils can really hold up to some aggressive seasonings, but don't be tempted to add too much acid or salt, since too much of either can thoroughly offset the balance of flavors you want to achieve. 

This salad can be served room temperature, but I think it tastes the best after sitting in the fridge over night so the flavors can really meld. Serve with a few more sprigs of dill and a good drizzle of olive oil. This is great as a side, but I love a big bowl of it for a totally filling lunch.