Hot and Sour Soup from 'Stewed'

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[Photograph: Nina Gallant]

Is it just me or is hot and sour soup one of the weirdest in the Chinese take-out canon? Most bowls consist of a gloppy mass of orange sweet liquid, giving way to a slightly sour and slightly spicy finish. Bites of mushroom, pea, and tofu add a bit of interest, but they can't save the soup bowl. But there's no reason why a homemade bowl of hot and sour can't make for a warming, pleasant meal.

Dave Becker's recipe in Stewed is one such example. He eschews the sweet element of too many take-out containers, instead favoring the naturally sour taste of lemongrass, rice vinegar, and lime juice and the gentle heat of red chiles and white pepper. Carrots, shiitakes, bell peppers, and snow peas make up the bulk of the vegetables, and a small amount of rice noodles or rice turns the appetizer into a full meal. It's a far cry from any hot and sour I'd ever eaten, and that's a good thing.

Why I picked this recipe: I've had my fair share of poorly prepared hot and sour soups, and so I wanted to try my hand at making my own.

What worked: The balance of spice and sweetness was spot-on, and the proportions of vegetables yielded a filling soup with textural variety.

What didn't: I needed to simmer the for about 10 extra minutes in order to soften the vegetables properly. Next time, I'll sweat them longer over a lower temperature to cook them gently without browning.

Suggested tweaks: I used dried chiles de arbol instead of the dried bird's beak chiles, and these worked just fine. I removed them after simmering, giving the soup a present, but not overwhelming heat. You could easily substitute another chile or leave them out all together--the white pepper adds its own unique heat. I used a 5-quart pot instead of the high-sided saute pan called for in the recipe.

As always with our Cook the Book feature, we have five (5) copies of Stewed to give away this week.

About the author: Kate Williams is a freelance writer out of Berkeley, CA. She is a contributor to The Oxford American, Berkeleyside NOSH, and blogs at cookingwolves.wordpress.com.

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