Wednesday, April 28, 2010

43. Egg Drop Soup - Light Start (G)

In 1997, I took a Chinese cooking course and found the food to be quite different from the kind offered by local chop-suey houses. Our instructor broke down the food styles for us by region. We were told that Szechuan and Hunan cuisines are often have hot flavored seasonings, Mandarin is more mild-flavored and Cantonese - familiar.

As part of the class instruction, we were asked to visit a nearby Asian grocery store. The inside of the store was not like anything I had ever seen before. There were dried meats and vegetables, canned and frozen items with exotic names - foods with pungent aromas I did not know how to use and was afraid to taste! I did, however, purchase a jar of Szechuan hot pepper paste which our teacher called Ha-Ha sauce. It is so potent, a speck of it will heat up a dish!

The Chinese (Cantonese) food most of us are accustomed to, is actually a peasant-style food. It was modified by the Chinese people who came to America as railroad and laundry workers when the west was being settled. These Asians cooked for locals and had to accommodate their tastes and the limited availability of foods. Vegetables were hard to come by and were virtually eliminated;  meats became more of a focus. This variation has been carried over to the present-day offerings which are often very salty and loaded with MSG.

Meals in a typical Chinese restaurant seem to follow a pattern. They start with egg drop soup and work on down to the expected fortune or almond cookie. Compared to the thick and chunky American soups like split pea or chicken dumpling, egg drop is a pale cousin. Actually, many restaurants don't even bother to put in any egg. They just serve broth and add a few peas and miniscule pieces of green onion.

Done right, however, egg drop soup is delicious and slightly exotic!

Authentic Egg Drop Soup
Jion Liou Yen

1 quart chicken stock or broth
1 T cooked peas
1/2 tsp dry sherry
salt to taste
white pepper to taste (our teacher said that oriental people think black pepper makes the food look dirty)
1/2 T cornstarch paste (cornstarch mixed with cold water)
1 large egg, slightly beaten
1 scallion, chopped (most vegetables are sliced on the diagonal, looks prettier)
dash of sesame oil

Bring chicken broth to a boil. Add peas, wine, salt and pepper. Thicken slightly with 1/2 T cornstarch paste. Slowly drizzle in egg, stir constantly. Sprinkle with green onion and sesame oil, (I used toasted sesame oil). Serves 4.

Option: I also love certain commercial potstickers or dumplings. Add one to the egg drop soup for another taste adventure. (Omit potsticker for gluten-free meal). Trader Joe's sells a wonderful frozen fried rice/vegetable mixture entrée. While it may be microwaved, it is better fried. Add a few of the dumplings,( see photo),  and some fresh fruit or other vegetables on the side and you will have an authentic-tasting meal in a short time.

1 comment:

  1. Marian wrote: Your description of the oriental grocery store brings back memories of the time when I was living in Malaysia. The population was 75-80% Chinese, so there were many oriental grocers there. You're right--the smells were very strange indeed, especially the dried fish, which I would have pitched out months before! I guess they used those fish to put in soups, although not egg-drop soup. I usually don't eat the egg-drop soup because I don't care for the texture--sort of slimey, I'm afraid. But maybe that's because they don't know how to make it.