Hot and Sour Soup

Lots of black pepper and rice vinegar give this popular soup its signature kick.
TIME 40 minutes
MAKES 4 servings
1 tablespoon sesame oil
3 tablespoons soy sauce, or more to taste
3 tablespoons cornstarch
½ pound boneless pork loin
6 cups chicken or vegetable stock or water
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon grated or minced fresh ginger
½ pound shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and caps sliced
½ pound extra-firm tofu, cut into ½-inch cubes
2 celery stalks, roughly chopped
¼ cup rice vinegar, or more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves for garnish
½ cup chopped scallions for garnish

1 Whisk together 1 teaspoon of the sesame oil with 1 tablespoon of the soy sauce and 1 tablespoon of the cornstarch in a medium bowl. Cut the pork crosswise into thin slices, then cut each slice into sticks no more than ½ inch wide. Add the meat to the bowl; toss to coat it in the soy mixture and let it sit.

2 Meanwhile, put the stock, garlic, and ginger in a large pot over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Add the mushrooms, reduce the heat to low so that the liquid bubbles steadily, and cook until the mushrooms are softened and the broth is darkened a bit, 3 to 5 minutes.

3 Bring the soup back to a boil over medium heat and add the meat. Stir to make sure the pieces do not stick together and cook until the meat is no longer pink, 1 to 3 minutes. Then add the tofu, celery, vinegar, a generous sprinkle of black pepper, and the remaining 2 tablespoons soy sauce. Lower the heat so the soup bubbles gently and cook until the flavors meld a bit, just a minute or two.

4 Whisk the remaining 2 tablespoons cornstarch with ¼ cup water in a small bowl to make a slurry. Stir the cornstarch mixture into the soup and cook, stirring, until it just begins to thicken, about 1 minute. Turn off the heat and stir in the remaining 2 teaspoons sesame oil; taste and adjust the seasoning with salt, pepper, soy sauce, or vinegar. Garnish with the cilantro and scallions and serve.

  • Hot and Sour Soup with Chicken, Beef, Seafood, or Tofu: Try substituting boneless, skinless chicken breast or thighs, flank steak, or chopped peeled shrimp or crab instead of the pork. (If you use seafood, add it in Step 4 about 1 minute before you stir in the cornstarch slurry.) Or skip the meat altogether and use twice as much tofu in Step 3.
  • Hot and Sour Soup with Eggs: For more body and contrasting textures, stir in eggs as you would for Egg Drop Soup: After you add the cornstarch in Step 4, beat two eggs and pour them into the soup slowly, whisking all the while, until they form nearly translucent ribbons.

  • The “hot” comes from black pepper; the “sour” comes from the rice vinegar. Adjust the quantities of both up or down to suit your taste. If you do accidentally overseason with either, don’t panic; just dilute the soup with a little more stock or water.

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