panda-monium: hot and sour soup
Panda Express hot and sour soup was my childhood. Oversalted, inauthentic, sure—but I savored every last bit of it.
After my middle school let out, I used to walk to the Panda Express in The Highlands (before it became all Searsucker and Mendocino Farms) and get a bowl of soup and wait for my mom to pick me up. It was a great arrangement; my first taste of independence and a special treat, and my mom got to avoid the traffic at CVMS. Apparently I told this story to my high school boyfriend so frequently that he just assumed it was my favorite food, which was incorrect (I'd like to think that I have better taste in food than that), but this soup still has a very special place in my heart.
Britt and I found a recipe from food.com, and it was pretty damn close to the real thing. I've included ingredients from the original recipe (still mad that they changed it), like bamboo shoots and water chestnuts, but you can really add anything you like to it (if anyone can tell me where to buy black fungus, that would be greatly appreciated).
I don't know if hot and sour soup is that unhealthy, other than the sodium content, so I can't say for sure how much of an improvement this is, but a tablespoon of soy sauce per serving isn't outrageous, so I imagine it is a bit healthier.
PANDA EXPRESS HOT AND SOUR SOUP
Yields: 6ish servings
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 30 minutes
6 cups chicken broth
6 tbsp soy sauce
¾ cup mushrooms
2 tsp chili-garlic sauce
⅓ tsp white pepper
3 tbsp cornstarch (or you can use flour)
3 tbsp cold water
3 eggs, beaten
6 oz tofu, diced
1 can bamboo shoots
1 can water chestnuts
⅓ cup white vinegar
¾ tsp sesame oil
1 tsp sugar
2 tbsp boullion
Bring chicken broth to a simmer in a large saucepan.
Add soy sauce, mushrooms, chili-garlic sauce, and white pepper. Make sure you have white pepper, as black pepper doesn't give it the same taste. Simmer for five minutes.
Combine cornstarch with cold water and stir until smooth. Add cornstarch mixture to hot soup and stir well. Simmer until soup is thickened. You can use flour if you like, but you may have to cook the soup a bit longer to get rid of the flour-y taste.
Beat eggs in a bowl and pour into soup.
Add tofu strips, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, and any other ingredients. Stir well and remove from heat.
Add white vinegar and sesame oil. This is when you get to play around with the seasonings. We found that the soup lacked body, so we added some boullion and some sugar to balance out the vinegar.
Keep tasting! Never add anything with tasting. You can't un-season a soup. Stir and serve hot.
I've made this a couple of times since trying it initially with Britt, and it's still one of my favorites, so this will likely be a staple in my fridge from now on. It's easy to make, perfect for cold days (which, inexplicably, we've been having a lot of lately in San Diego), and filling enough to eat as a snack, so it's a great soup to keep in stock (ha).