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Chinese Hot and Sour Soup

(Swan La Tong)

This complex Chinese soup is just the thing for lunch on a cold day--or for an appetite awakener for dinner. Traditionally it was made with tree-ear gungi, dried tiger lily buds, winter bamboo shoots, fresh pork blood or coagulated duck blood, bean curd, and eggs--with the focus on dried products because these were most readily available during cold winter months when you didn't have many fresh products. You can actually substitute seafood or fowl for the pork and any number of fresh vegetables, so long as you keep the hot pepper, vinegar, eggs, and bean curd. In her poem "Chinese Food," Erica Jong described this soup as "hot as an adulterous love." Serve hot to 6 your own risk.

Garnish: fresh cilantro, finely chopped (or green onion)

Marinate the pork in the soy, brandy, and cornstarch at room temperature for at least 15 minutes.

Soak the mushrooms in warm water to cover for 20 minutes. Remove the mushrooms, reserving liquid, and slice into thin strips. Discard any woody stems.

Mix mushroom liquid and stock in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Add soy sauce, vinegar, pepper, chili peppers, and salt--then blend in the cornstarch-water mixture and bring to a boil, so that it thickens. Add the pork, reduce heat, and simmer for about 30 minutes.

Add cubed taro or potato, the mushroom slices, and the cubes of bean curd. Cook 20 more minutes.

When ready to serve, keep at a simmer and slowly dribble in the beaten eggs. Don't stir: you don't want it to glop up in big pieces. When the egg strands float to the top, stir in the sesame oil and sliced green onions and serve immediately, ladling into bowls and garnishing with the cilantro or more green onions.