Springtime hot and sour soup

Spring has arrived with its blustery weather. A bowl of hot and sour soup with crunchy asparagus and carrots will feel wonderful after a brisk walk.

Pickles and Tea
A hot and sour soup with seasonal vegetables like asparagus and carrots to add sweetness and crunch.

If I were a much less patient person, I’d have unfriended Spring as if she were a FaceBook acquaintance gone rogue at the first sign of petulance.

For the last few weeks, the days have snapped back and forth from cold to warm, and back to cold again. I was even hoodwinked into stepping out the door in my shorts as sunshine beckoned to me through the window!

Hence, I was torn, unsure what to make for my upcoming cooking demo at the Day of the Book Festival in Kensington, Md., on Sunday, April 24.  I usually make my decisions based on the expected crowd and the predicted weather, which at this moment in time is behaving like winter and summer's love child!

In the end, I compromised with Springtime Hot and Sour Soup. Hot and sour soup because everyone is familiar with it; and to bridge the gap between winter and spring, the soup will be chockfull of spring vegetables. Unless it's 100 degrees F., out soup is still OK … right?

You probably won’t see asparagus or carrots in hot and sour soup served at an American Chinese restaurant (I could be wrong!). However, I wanted to do away with traditional hard-to-find ingredients like dried lily buds and wood ear mushrooms. Instead I’ve added seasonal vegetables like asparagus and carrots to add sweetness and crunch. This is a vegan recipe but you can easily amp it up with pork slivers or transform it into chicken and corn soup by omitting the vinegar and pepper, and adding chicken pieces and corn kernels.

Springtime hot and sour soup
Makes: 6 to 8 first-course servings
Time: 15 minutes

8 cups low-sodium stock of your choice
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup white distilled vinegar
1 teaspoon ground white pepper
6 ounces medium or firm tofu cut into 2- by 1/4- by 1/4-inch strips (3/4 cup)
8 medium stalks asparagus, trimmed and cut on the diagonal into 1/4-inch pieces (3/4 cup)
1 small carrot, shredded or cut into coins (1/2 cup)
4 large shiitake or button mushrooms, stemmed and sliced (3/4 cup)
1/4 cup cornstarch dissolved in 1/2 cup water to form a slurry
3 eggs, beaten
Sesame oil
Chopped green onions for garnish

1. Combine the stock, soy sauce, vinegar, and white pepper in a large pot. Add the tofu, asparagus, carrot and mushrooms and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.

2. Reduce the heat to medium. Stir the slurry and pour it slowly into the soup, stirring constantly until it thickens and returns to a boil, 1 to 2 minutes. Drizzle the egg into the soup through a pair of chopsticks or the tines of a fork while moving in a circle around the pot. You want the egg to form wispy ribbons, not one lumpy mass. Gently stir in one direction to integrate the egg into the soup.

3. Taste and adjust seasonings if desired. Ladle into individual bowls and garnish with sesame oil and green onions.

Related post on Pickles and Tea: Traditional hot and sour soup

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