What gives you inspiration in the kitchen? Watching the food network, perusing the vegetable aisle at the supermarket, leafing through a food magazine, enjoying a potluck supper with friends, studying Instagram photos, dining at a hot new restaurant, sampling the wares at your local farmer’s market or reading a new cookbook?
Although I’ve been developing new recipes and cooking for decades, there are times when my culinary creativity needs some inspiration. The flavors of my food become stuck in a gastronomic rut; they taste too French or Italian, depending primarily on sugar, salt and fat. That’s when I like to indulge in the artistic passions of my friends; and read a good book.
The idea for Hot and Sour Vegetable Soup came from the cookbook “Vietnam Memories” by Bich Nga Burrill. A deeply personal story about celebrating everything with food, this book is written essentially as a memoir. The stories of her childhood and immigration to the United States are each followed with easy-to-read recipes that are the essence of Vietnamese Cuisine. One armchair visit, and you’ll be hooked!
Burrill’s named this recipe “Monster Soup”, for her daughter Amanda, who was a very large and strong baby, gifted athlete, and fearless dare devil. A case of this soup, prepared from freshly harvested vegetables and canned in jars, went with Amanda from Maine to Boston University; a family, fall ritual until graduation.
The gift of Bird’s Eye hot peppers, a new ingredient! , the last of the fall tomatoes, lush, fresh dill, and tender baby leeks were my garden vegetables; many items still available at local markets.
Not wanting to burn the mouths of my family and friends, I did a little research on the Bird’s Eye hot pepper. Because the heat of any pepper, (known as the scoville rating), depends upon many factors, including the soil, it is usually given in a range. Jalepeno peppers have a scoville rating of 2500 – 5000 units. Bird’s Eye peppers have a scoville rating of 50,000 – 100,000. This is the same amount of heat as the Thai Dragon pepper. Bird’s Eye peppers are common in Asian cuisine, and are often eaten raw.
Tasting is the key to preparation of hot and sour anything. To enjoy the full flavors, the palate needs to balance sweet, hot, spicy, salt, and sour. Taste your peppers and taste your soup!
This recipe prepares a large batch: 6 – pint jars. The only safe way to preserve the soup by canning it at home is in a pressure canner. The University of Maine cooperative extension service has an excellent resource on pressure canning: https://extension.umaine.edu/publications/4382e/
On a cold and blustery night, a piping hot bowl of this soup warms the soul. My thanks to Bich; her love of cooking and passion for good food is an inspiration.
Hot & Sour Vegetable Soup
- 3 tablespoons thinly sliced shallot
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic
- 2 tablespoons cooking oil
- 2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes or canned
- 4 cups corn kernels fresh or frozen
- 6 cups veggie or chicken stock
- 1 cup clam juice
- 1 – tablespoons fish sauce or more to taste
- 2–3 tablespoons white vinegar to taste
- 2 tablespoons honey more or less to taste
- 1–3 teaspoon tablespoons hot sauce to taste
- 1–5 Thai Dragon or Bird’s Eye red pepper thinly sliced
- ½ cup chopped scallions and dill or cilantro
- Sea salt and fresh pepper to taste
- Assemble ingredients and tools.
- Slice the shallots and chop the garlic. Chop the tomatoes and set aside.
- Chop the scallions and dill. Set aside.
- Slice the hot peppers. Set aside
- In a large, heavy soup pot heat the cooking oil. Add the sliced shallots and cook until translucent. Add the garlic and stir.
- Add the tomatoes and corn.
- Stir the veggies well and sauté for a few minutes, then add the stock and clam juice. Bring the mixture to a simmer.
- Taste the mixture, then add the fish sauce, white vinegar, honey and hot sauce. Season with care, and continue tasting until you have the right balance of hot, sweet and sour.
- Bring the mixture to a boil, then add the scallions, herbs and hot peppers.
- Spoon the soup into heated bowls to serve.
- To save for another time, spoon the soup into jars to store in the refrigerator.