Simple Chinese Vegetable Soup

Soup serves several purposes in a Chinese meal:

  • It provides a liquid refreshment, as traditionally water (or horrors – ice water or cold drinks!) are not served with a meal – this purportedly has to do with not wanting to water down the gastric juices thereby aiding digestion. This is now changing in China, where you’ll often find coke, juice, water, beer, etc. on offer both in homes and in restaurants. (But be prepared – these drinks are still not always served cold!)
  • Its hot temperature is said to aid in breaking down the fat in the dishes – which it well might do, but if you use fat sparingly, this shouldn’t be an issue to begin with.
  • Some people like to moisten their rice, and pouring a bit of soup over it makes the rice tastier and the bowl easier to empty to the last grain.

Most American Chinese restaurants have bowed to the western custom of having soup at the beginning of the meal. In China, however, soup can come before, after, or with the rest of the meal. At home, we usually place it on the table along with the rest of the dishes.

If you like to have soup with your Chinese food, this is a quick and easy, ultimately flexible soup with a clean, light flavor. It can be made vegan by using water or vegetable broth.


  • 5 fresh or dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 1 qt broth or water
  • 2 stalks celery, cut on the diagonal into 1/4″ slices
  • 2 small tomatoes, cut into eighths
  • 4 oz bean sprouts, well rinsed, stringy ends removed
  • 1/2 tsp salt, or more to taste
  • ground white pepper to taste


  • chopped cilantro


  1. If you are using fresh mushrooms, remove the stems (save for making broth) and cut the caps into quarters. If you are using dried shiitakes, cover with 1 c boiling water and set aside until completely soft, approximately 10-20 m. Remove stems (reserve for making broth) and cut caps into quarters.
  2. Bring the broth to a boil over high heat, turn down to a simmer, and add the mushrooms and celery. Simmer until the celery is cooked but still crunchy.
  3. Add the tomatoes and bean sprouts and bring back to a simmer.
  4. Season to taste with salt and pepper, garnish with cilantro, and serve.


  • Experiment with different varieties of mushrooms – oyster, enoki, crimini all work well.
  • Replace the celery with bamboo slices or asparagus sections.
  • Add cubed tofu for extra protein.

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