Foraged Hot and Sour Soup

Winter in the Mid-Atlantic states has been even more erratic than usual. Which is saying a lot. The past week we’ve had snow and ice and temperatures in the teens; two weeks ago, the daily highs were in the 50s! During that warm spell, the ground thawed enough for me to forage some of the burdock (Arctium spp.) growing wild in our yard.

(Prefer to skip the backstory? You could always… Jump to Recipe)

Burdock (Arctium spp.) in the winter
Burdock (Arctium spp.) in the winter

Funny thing about burdock. It doesn’t want to be foraged. I should have dug deeper around the taproot, because each of them broke off very short when I tried prying them out of the mud. The tops of the taproots tend to be tougher; basically any piece of the root which has become hollow inside will you give you a week’s worth of dietary fiber in one bite!

A sad little burdock root harvest
A sad little burdock root harvest

Unfortunately, I didn’t realize my mistake until several days later, by which time the plummeting temperatures had refrozen the ground. I probably should have reserved the burdock for medicinal uses (a subject for another post), but I had already made up my mind to eat it. I settled on hot and sour soup for my meager harvest, since it showcases several other foraged ingredients as well: wood ear (Auricularia auricula-judae) and daylily (Hemerocallis spp.).

Well. Should have featured.

See, I had such a great mushrooming year, I neglected to harvest any wood ear. Why bother, when the woods are full of morels, honey mushrooms, dryad’s saddle, and oyster mushrooms? This is what the wood ear looked like back in June, when I should have gathered it, dried it and saved it for warm winter soup.

Soft and succulent wood ear in the summer
Soft and succulent wood ear in the summer

This is what it looks like now. Much less appetizing. I opted to skip it.

Wood ear is still around in winter, but much less appetizing
Wood ear is still around in winter, but much less appetizing

Instead, I got mushroomy goodness by way of oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus), which do grow in the winter around here. Though they are a bit challenging to harvest when frozen all the way through!

Oyster mushrooms also grow in the winter
Oyster mushrooms also grow in the winter

And then there were the daylilies. Which, for the record, weren’t technically foraged either. I might’ve purchased them at a local Asian market. Which is probably what I should have done with the burdock. But I digress.

There are many hot and sour soup recipes available out there, so this is just the one I used for my own personal preferences:

A) As many ingredients possible that were (or could have been) local – bonus points if I grew or foraged (or could have) the ingredients myself. Exotic / imported ingredients play seasoning roles.

B) No added sugar unless strictly necessary (hat tip to Dr. Robert Lustig). After consulting many, many, many recipes, brown sugar really did seem “required”.

C) No corn or wheat and minimal soy, since those represent the lion’s share of industrial agriculture and GMO products in our modern diet. I say “minimal” soy because it’s hard for me to envision a Chinese (inspired) soup without soy sauce (or in my case, tamari). You could use coconut aminos if you really wanted to avoid the soy.

But that’s just me! Feel free to swap in foraged ingredients in your own favorite hot and sour soup recipe!

Foraged hot and sour soup is a warming treat in the depths of winter
Foraged hot and sour soup is a warming treat in the depths of winter

Notes

If you use dried wood ear, rehydrate in warm water for about 20 minutes, and reserve the liquid to add to the soup broth. Same if you use dried shiitakes.

If you use dried daylily buds, rehydrate them in warm water separately for at least 20 minutes; do not save the liquid though.

If you use burdock, peel and slice thinly – in my case, I was going for something the size and shape of canned bamboo shoots (a traditional hot and sour soup ingredient). Burdock tends to be high in inulin, a prebiotic soluble fiber which is very healthy for your gut. But may produce unexpected noisy results the following day, similar to sunchokes (Helianthus tuberosus). Because inulin is soluble, that means soaking the chopped burdock root in water prior to cooking can help reduce the amount that remains in the food. I soaked my burdock for thirty minutes with one change of water, and suffered no ill effects. However, since mine was from the top, tough part of the tap roots, I should have boiled them a while to soften them prior to adding to the soup. Maybe 10 to 20 minutes, until they were soft enough to pierce with a fork.

If you use fresh mushrooms like oysters, you may want to sauté them separately ahead of time. This is a matter of personal preference.

The recipe below is “as made” – this is a very easy recipe to adapt to your own preferences as long as it includes the hot (chili paste), the sour (rice vinegar), and the pretty egg “petals”!

Foraged Hot and Sour Soup Print Recipe

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 4 ounces burdock root, peeled & sliced thin
  • 10 dried daylily buds
  • 1 Tbs sesame oil
  • 4 ounces fresh oyster mushrooms, sliced thin
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 cups broth or stock (chicken or vegetable, per your dietary inclinations)
  • 2 Tbs tamari (or soy sauce or coconut aminos – again, depending on your preferences)
  • 1 Tbs chili garlic sauce
  • 2 Tbs rice vinegar
  • 2 tsp brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp white pepper
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 green onions, chopped

Instructions

  1. If the burdock root appears tough, parboil the slices in water until tender enough to pierce easily with a fork. Otherwise, soak the slices for at least 30 minutes in enough water to cover. Drain.
  2. Rehydrate the daylily buds in warm water for 20 minutes. Drain.
  3. Sauté the mushrooms in sesame oil over medium heat for about five minutes. Add garlic and continue to cook for an additional 2 minutes. Remove pan from heat.
  4. Bring broth to a boil in a large pot, and reduce to a simmer. Add soy sauce, chili garlic, rice vinegar, brown sugar, and black pepper. Add rehydrated daylilies, mushrooms, and burdock root. Simmer for five minutes and adjust seasonings to taste: more chili garlic sauce for heat, or more rice vinegar for sour.
  5. Slowly add the beaten egg in a thin stream, pouring near the edge of the pan. When the “petals” float back up to the surface (which happens quickly), remove the pan from the heat. Do NOT stir the egg! Trust me on this one.
  6. Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with chopped green onions.
Foraged Hot and Sour Soup - a warming treat in the depths of winter
Foraged Hot and Sour Soup – a warming treat in the depths of winter

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