Hot and Sour Soup for a Cold and Blustery Night

In honor of Chinese New Year today, I thought I'd post my recipe for Hot and Sour Soup.

As a staple in all Chinese restaurants and homes, there are infinite ways to prepare this satisfying tradition. My parents never used recipes, or wrote anything down while they cooked. That explains a lot about me, I know. I grew up knowing this soup by taste, by smell, by texture, and have always reproduced it in my kitchen accordingly. It was not until my friend Susan recently requested a cooking lesson, that I actually recorded (approximate) measurements for the ingredients. Don't be deterred by the ingredients--a visit to your Asian market will lay your fears to rest. It's so simple to make, you may never stop for take-out again. Just thank Susan.

1/4 c. dried black fungus (rinsed and reconstituted in warm water) handful fresh enoki mushrooms (cut off root ends and separate from each other or use one can, drained) 3 quarts water 3 T. chicken boullion 1 can bamboo strips 1/2 can baby corn pieces 3 T. soy sauce 1 t. sesame oil 1/2 c. white vinegar 1 pkg. medium-firm tofu, cut in 1/4 in strips (will use about 3/4 pkg.) 2 eggs, beaten 2 rounded T. cornstarch in 1/3 c. water 1 T. white pepper 1/2 T. sugar 1 t. chili garlic sauce 1/4 c. marinated chicken or pork, cut into tiny strips (marinate strips in soy, pepper, a dash of sugar, and a drip of sesame oil overnight) scallions for garnish

Begin by prepping the meat, by cutting into tiny strips, and marinating as directed. Cover in dish, and refrigerate overnight. In a large pot, bring first nine ingredients to a gentle boil. Carefully add the tofu. When soup is at a rolling boil, slowly stir in beaten eggs into the center of pot in a steady stream. Mix cornstarch mixture, and add to soup. Add pepper, sugar, and chili garlic sauce. Taste, and when all flavors are adjusted, add the pre-marinated chicken strips. If you've cut your meat up thin enough, this should only take a few minutes at a simmer. You don't want to toughen the meat. Turn off heat when meat is cooked through. Serve garnished with diced scallions.