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Joanne Chang's Hot and Sour Soup

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Every week -- often with your help -- Food52's Senior Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius.

Today: A Chinese restaurant classic strips off its winter coat, and you get the post-holiday soup you've been waiting for.

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Joanne Chang's Hot and Sour Soup Recipe from Food52

Hot and sour is what we hanker for when we're chilled and worn -- or when we've eaten 8 kinds of potatoes in a week -- but it rarely lives up to its name.

Let's blame the cornstarch. Restaurants and recipes inevitably use it as a thickener, and we accept this without asking why. (What's our problem?) Yes, cornstarch plumps up the broth, but in doing so puts a hazy, viscous layer between us and the sour, spicy sting we crave. Flavors go muddy and dim, like listening to Les Mis with cotton balls in our ears.

Flour, Too
Luckily, Joanne Chang has never been shackled by everyone else's expectations (at Myers + Chang, she makes genius scallion pancakes out of pizza dough). Her mother's version of hot and sour got her off to a good start: "No cornstarch, lots of egg to thicken, really bright and pungent," Chang told me.

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More: Another soup to cure the winter blues: Barbara Lynch's Spicy Tomato Soup.

Joanne Chang's Hot and Sour Soup Recipe from Food52

She took it further and made it her own, loosening tradition without compromising all that's good about it. She subbed button mushrooms for the traditional wood ear, ground pork for strips of loin, and skipped lily buds and bamboo shoots altogether. "I didn't always have easy access to Asian markets," Chang said. "The important part to me was the broth."

Joanne Chang's Hot & Sour Soup from Food52

And the broth is everything you want it to be, but can never find. Don't get stressed out by the ingredient list -- all the effort is in gathering, and chopping and slicing a few things. Once you start cooking this soup, you're nearly done. Just watch.

Joanne Chang's Hot & Sour Soup from Food52  Joanne Chang's Hot & Sour Soup from Food52

First, sauté ground pork in garlic, ginger, and a lot of minced scallions. It's going to smell cozy and cleansing. (If you keep kosher, ground chicken or turkey would be a reasonable substitution, but don't go too lean.)

Joanne Chang's Hot and Sour Soup Recipe from Food52

Joanne Chang's Hot and Sour Soup Recipe from Food52  Joanne Chang's Hot and Sour Soup Recipe from Food52

Pour in chicken broth; warm all that up. Next add your tofu and mushrooms, heat them through too.

Joanne Chang's Hot & Sour Soup from Food52  Joanne Chang's Hot & Sour Soup from Food52

Next go in all your hot, sour, and salty seasonings -- Sriracha and soy, rice vinegar and sesame oil, a lot of black pepper.

Joanne Chang's Hot and Sour Soup Recipe rom Food52  Joanne Chang's Hot and Sour Soup Recipe from Food52

Whisk in egg while it's still very hot, watch ribbons form and spin through the broth. Done.

Joanne Chang's Hot & Sour Soup from Food52  Joanne Chang's Hot and Sour Soup Recipe from Food52

So if your bones are cold: Make this soup. If the house is, suddenly, just a little too quiet: Make this soup. If you're looking for comfort and adrenaline and strength: Make this soup.

Joanne Chang's Hot and Sour Soup Recipe from Food52

Joanne Chang's Hot and Sour Soup

Adapted slightly from Flour, Too (Chronicle Books, 2013)

Serves 4 to 6

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 garlic clove, smashed and minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
4 scallions, white and green parts, minced, plus more for garnish
8 ounces ground pork
4 cups store-bought or homemade chicken stock
1 pound soft or firm tofu (not silken and not extra firm), cut into 1/2-inch cubes
4 or 5 medium button mushrooms, wiped clean and thinly sliced (or substitute dried, rehydrated wood ear mushrooms)
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
2/3 cup rice vinegar, or to taste
3 tablespoons soy sauce, or to taste
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
1 tablespoon sesame oil, plus more for garnish
1 tablespoon Sriracha sauce, or to taste
2 large eggs
White or black pepper for garnish

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by Mark Weinberg

Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected] 

The Genius Recipes cookbook is here! (Well, almost.) You can now pre-order it on Provisions to get a signed copy in April, plus 3 pretty recipe cards to wrap up in time for the holidays. Find out more about the book here!

Tags: joanne chang, everyday cooking, holiday, Chinese food, soup, winter