Hot & Sour Soup

It’s HOT in SoCal in September, but my thoughts are already turning toward soup and the (slightly) cooler weather of October (tomorrow!), so here’s a perennial favorite that can be tweaked many ways. It is traditionally a pork-based soup, but this is a vegetarian or vegan version, depending on the stock you use.

Five spice powder’s claim to fame is that it includes all 5 flavors found in Chinese cooking: sweet, sour, bitter, pungent, and salty. You can make your own by combining equal parts whole Sichuan (or other) peppercorn, cinnamon sticks, cloves, fennel seed, and star anise. The only one in the list that may be hard to find is Sichuan peppercorn – check your Asian market if you have one, or the Asian section of the international aisle in a conventional store. After toasting the spices lightly, grind in a mortar or with a coffee or spice grinder. If you’re in a hurry or don’t want to mess with that, five-spice is also available pre-mixed in Asian markets and in some conventional groceries – try the Asian section first, then the baking/spice aisle.


  • 1 qt water, stock or broth (use low-sodium if you’re going with canned/boxed)
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 2-3 T rice wine or cider vinegar, to taste
  • pinch of freshly ground Sichuan or white peppercorn


  • 1 T cornstarch
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 T light soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp five-spice powder
  • 1 c cold water or stock


  • 1/8 tsp sesame oil and/or hot chili oil
  • 1 scallion, cut thinly on the diagonal


  1. Bring the liquid to a boil.
  2. In the meantime, combine the thickener ingredients in a small bowl.
  3. Stir the thickener into the liquid, return to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook, stirring fairly constantly, 1-2 m to cook out the starchy flavor.
  4. With the soup at a gentle simmer, add the eggs in a thin stream, stirring constantly.
  5. Add the vinegar and peppercorn, stir to combine.
  6. Adjust seasoning, garnish with sesame oil and scallions and serve.


There are numerous ingredients you can add to make this a heartier soup. Add the ingredients to the liquid after step 2, and cook for 1 m.

I like to stick with fresh, whole ingredients that are available locally:

  • pork slices or shreds marinated with a bit of soy sauce and cornstarch
  • cubed tofu
  • sliced shiitakes
  • fresh bean sprouts (These don’t need to be cooked – just add at the end if you like them crunchy.)

For a true Chinese flair, you can explore the Asian market and add the following ingredients:

  • rehydrated wood ear
  • soaked lily flowers
  • bamboo shoot slices or shreds
  • water chestnut slices

nutritional data:

For these calculations, I have used water in place of broth and just looked at the basic recipe (no added ingredients). You’ll see that for a fairly simple soup, it’s on the high end for both sodium and cholesterol – I have already reduced the salt and soy sauce amounts drastically, but you could try to tinker with that further, depending on whether you are watching your sodium intake or not. If you add some healthy vegetables, you could reduce the amount of egg you use and thereby lower the cholesterol count, but if you are making the original recipe, you’ll need the eggs to provide a bit of body to the soup. The recipe serves 4 generously as part of a larger meal, figures given per serving.

  • Total calories 61, calories from fat 24
  • Total fat 3 g, saturated fat 1 g
  • Cholesterol 106 mg
  • Sodium 581 mg
  • Total carbs 3 g, dietary fiber 0 g, sugars 1 g
  • Protein 4 g

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