Tag Archives: hot and sour soup

Lummi Island Holiday, Howard, and Hot and Sour Soup

     What would Thanksgiving be without Hot and Sour Soup?  Such is the tradition in our family . . . 
     It’s funny how traditions get started and then how they get maintained.  As a family grows, you come to develop your own rituals and quirks.  We celebrate birthdays in the morning, for instance, by waking the birthday person up early singing and bearing tea, breakfast in bed and presents.  True – it is slightly tormenting – but sweet!  Over the years, when the kids were young and we were all living in the same state, we figured out how and where to celebrate different holidays, delegating Thanksgiving to Lummi Island at my in laws up on Lummi Island and Easter to Whidbey Island at my parents.  (Were we spoiled or what?!!) Both developed into unique and festive extended family occasions with certain ritual traditions.  Hot and Sour Soup on Thanksgiving Eve became one of those cherished traditions. 
     It was started many years ago by my father-in-law, Howard.  Howard had an interesting life, growing up one of 14 kids on a farm in Pennsylvania and ending up on six acres of forest on a tiny island, Lummi Island, in the Pacific Northwest.  He made his way on the island as handy man and house remodeler, and was plenty busy taking care of his customers, but he always a few other interests going as well, such as building his own home from the ground up, and he wasn’t afraid to start learning something new.  Well into his middle age he took up saxophone, for instance, and for a while studied and grew bonsai trees.  Then there was his stint as a volunteer fireman and his hobby for fixing up old cars, which ultimately led to converting an old shed to a complete paint shop and resulted in a gorgeous poppy orange fully converted 1965 mustang. 
     But the hobby I want to talk about, is the time he decided to learn how cook Chinese food and, in particular, his interest in perfecting Hot and Sour Soup.  It all culminated around Thanksgiving one year.  This particular year when we arrived on Lummi the evening before as we were inclined to do to prolong the holiday, we were greeted with a steaming bowl of homemade Hot and Sour Soup – oh my was that delicious after our longish drive with young kids!!–peppery hot, in a rich broth with soft bits and crunchy bits and all sorts of new and interesting flavors.  It was an instant hit.  “How did you make this?” we cried out – “it’s wonderful!”.  “Oh it’s no big deal,” he said, pleased that we appreciated it. “You just throw a bunch of ingredients into the pot.”  (yum, just my kind of meal!)
    And so it came to be that each year as we approached Thanksgiving, we’d beg Howard  “Please make Hot and Sour Soup again!!!!  We have to have it!!”  For truthfully, even though we would always also have a gorgeous traditional Thanksgiving feast – it was our secret favorite part.  Thanksgiving Eve had to start with Hot and Sour Soup and then after all the gorging was over, the perfect night cap was a little bowl of Hot and Sour Soup to end it all too.
     Howard passed away in August several years ago now (although he still visits me in my dreams from time to time), and I remember as we were approaching Thanksgiving that year, it suddenly dawned on me that he wouldn’t be there to make the Hot and Sour Soup! – a small thing, I know, but somehow important.  I realized that this had become a beloved tradition in our family and the baton had to be passed along.  If we waited too long, his recipe might be lost.
     I called Sandy on the spot and asked her did she know where Howard kept his recipe for Hot and Sour Soup because I wanted to carry on the tradition and make it.  She thought she did and hunted through the kitchen announcing she had it along with his notes from his different trials and errors.  She started reading and I realized I didn’t even have a paper and pen handy.  I grabbed the nearest thing I could find – a bank deposit envelope – and furiously began scribbling as Sandy looked through his books and notes.  I ran out of space and had to open the envelope up and keep writing on the other side.  Sandy and I cried as we interpreted and copied his notes, but it was a good cry . . .
     That year, and every year since, I’ve made Howard’s Hot and Sour Soup–adding a couple touches of my own and now making a vegetarian version too.  I keep thinking I should transcribe the notes I took that day – but I can never do it.  I love that tear water and food stained bank envelope.  It captures perfectly that moment of realizing we had to continue Howard’s tradition and invites me to intentionally pause to remember all the little things about him and about that era when the whole extended family got together – before we got relocated across the country, before the kids grew up and went away to college, before Howard died.
     So, as a prelude to some recipes from the rest of our equally unusual Thanksgiving Feast– which this year will be Meat Free, Wheat Free, and Sugar Free . . . I share with you my favorite part of the annual feast:
Howard’s Hot and Sour Thanksgiving Eve Soup 
(serves 6 as is – but we usually triple it)
    Howard’s version                                                My vegetarian adaptations and notes:
6 cups chicken broth
6 cups vegetable broth
2 – 3” squares of firm tofu (1 package)
Note:  cut these in matchsticks
½ lb pork – cut in 1/8” wide strips
Tofu/Pork marinade:
        1 tsp soy sauce
I use wheat free tamari
        1 tsp rice wine vinegar
        ½ tsp cornstarch
        ¼ tsp dark sesame oil
6 dried Chinese black mushrooms or shiitake 
Note:  soak these for 15 – 30 minutes in very hot water , drain and shred 
10 wood ears
Note:  soak these in a different bowl in very hot water, cut off hard edges and shred 
8 Tiger Lily buds ( I add these)
2/3 small can bamboo shoots
Note: drained and slivered
One small can water chestnuts
Note:  drained and sliced
   3 ½ Tbl cornstarch and 7 Tbl water
   3 Tbl soy sauce
I use wheat free tamari
   3 Tbl rice wine vinegar
   3 Tbl minced ginger
   2 Tbl minced scallions
   2 tsp sesame oil
   1 tsp pepper (or to taste)
Note:  sometimes I use white pepper too
2 large eggs beaten lightly
1 tsp each salt and sugar
(I don’t worry about this much sugar)
2 Tbl rice wine vinegar
Green onions minced for garnish
     A note about the ingredients in this recipe.  There are really only 3 unusual ingredients in this recipe:  chinese black mushrooms or shiitake, wood ears (another mushroom) and Tiger Lily buds all of which you can find at an asian grocery.  Tiger Lily’s are the only ingredient that you probably have to go to an oriental grocery store for.  Usually you can find the dried black mushrooms or shiitake and the wood ears at a store like Whole Foods.  You can make this without the Tiger Lily buds.
     You will need several bowls for combining different portions of this recipe.
In bowl #1 combine:
  • 1 tsp soy sauce (tamari)
  • 1 tsp rice wine/vinegar
  • ½ tsp cornstarch
  • ¼ tsp sesame oil
  • pork slices. 
  • Set aside for 25 minutes
Note:  I don’t use pork so I marinade my tofu in this mixture – adding more in the proper ratio if needed
In bowl #2 soak:
  • 6 dried Chinese black mushrooms in very hot water for about 15 minutes, then drain and shred
In bowl #3 soak:
  • 10 wood ear in very hot water – cut off hard edges and shred
In bowl #4 combine:
  • 3 Tbl soy sauce (tamari)
  • 3 Tbl rice wine vinegar
  • 3 Tbl minced ginger
  • 2 Tbl minced scallions
  • 2 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp pepper (you may add more later to taste)
In a large pot bring the following to a boil:
  • 6 cups of broth (you may choose to add more later)
  • 1 tsp each sugar and salt
  • 2 Tbl rice wine vinegar (or a little less)


  •      Pork mixture
  •      Tofu (cut into matchsticks)
  •      Black Mushrooms, Wood Ear and Tiger Lily buds
  •      Bamboo shoots
  •      Water chestnuts

Bring back to boil then skim off froth and add: 

  • Cornstarch mixture (3 ½ Tbl cornstarch + 7 Tbl water) to large pot

Cook 1 minute to thicken, then remove from heat and add:

  • 2 large beaten eggs by stirring them into the big pot with a chopstick
  • Soy sauce (tamari) mixture from bowl #4
Taste and determine if more rice vinegar or pepper is needed
     And here, capturing my own wabi sabi method for preserving recipes, the bank envelope on which I furiously scribbled Howard’s recipe:

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