I’ve always thought that the Chinese and Jewish cultures have some sort of subconscious bond. I’m not sure why I thought this, since truthfully I didn’t grow up around a lot of Jewish people. But there you go. Anyway, this soup is, I think, the natural expression of this bond and it’s something that I’ve been meaning to do for a long time ever since Pete gave me the idea. So, I give you: Hot and Sour Matzoh Ball Soup.
Collect the following ingredients together:
Shitake mushrooms: a handful. Also a handful of dried shitake or black mushrooms.
Dried “wood ear” mushrooms: a handful. Soak these in water for a few hours before you start making the soup.
Chicken stock. 2 to 4 cups. Or more even.
1 or 2 scallions. Chopped. Mostly the green part.
1 large onion or two small ones.
A box of matzoh meal (Manischewitz is best, thanks Mr. Coblenz).
Chinese black vinegar. Rice wine vinegar. Soy sauce.
1 block of good fresh soft style tofu. In Pittsburgh this means going to Lotus on a Saturday and getting the stuff they make fresh in the store. None of the shitty boxed tofu in Whole Foods or whatever your favorite vegan health food store has is actually any good. Don’t fool yourself.
White pepper for the heat.
OK. First, follow the directions on the matzoh meal box for making matzoh balls. They all have a recipe on them. Put the mixture in the fridge and let it sit for half an hour. Put a large pot of water on the stove and set it to boiling, then turn it to a simmer.
While you wait for all that, chop the onion into a fine dice. Then slice the mushrooms. If you are using the bacon, chop it up and fry it in a cast iron pan until it is brown and crispy. Then save the fat. Now take the matzoh ball stuff out of the fridge. With two soup spoons, form small balls and drop them in the hot water. Cook the matzoh balls in the water for 45 minutes to an hour, or until they are nice and soft. Now make the hot and sour soup. Saute the onions in olive oil (or the bacon fat, if you have it). Season the salt and pepper. Let them cook for five to ten minutes until they get nice and soft. Add the mushrooms and mix it around. Now add the chicken stock and some water until it feels like you have enough liquid. You want enough soup around the mushrooms so that things feel “right”, and you need a bit extra to accommodate the matzoh balls later. Add the tofu and mix it in. Finally, if you want, stir in a beaten egg to get that eggy tendril effect. Now season the soup. Start with a about a teaspoon or two of soy and the same amount of vinegar. Then add soy until the soup is the right color and the right level of salty. If you go overboard, dilute with a bit of water. Then add vinegar until it is sour enough. Finally, add white pepper until you get some nice heat. Thicken the soup with a bit corn starch mixed with water.
When it’s all done serve like this: put 2 matzoh balls in a big soup bowl. Then lade the soup over them. Then put some of the scallion on top. Finally, add bacon if you want. It should look like this:
Note the color of the soup. Note the bacon. Enjoy.