Earlier this week my Father began a long flight from Houston to Beijing. Naturally, this left me fraught with jealousy and nostalgia. Oh, the food. Oh, the madness. I loved living in China, and will always feel a pinch of regret that we ended up leaving way too soon. It's a life goal to live abroad again at some point. Being an ex-pat is marvelously romantic. Even when daily life kicks your ass, it feels worthwhile, more like an adventure than a hassle.
Scott and I spent three months there back in 2009, almost totally broke, and for the most part, alone. Having very little money, and a tenuous (at best) grasp of the language, our day to day culinary experience was unique for most Westerners. We couldn't afford to eat at places with English menus or tamed versions of the local food. Instead, we frequented local hole-in-the-wall restaurants and learned to say a few basic food words.
With some occasional help from a Chinese friend we would perfect the name of a particular dish, and then be able to order it again and again. One of my personal favorites was Egg and Tomato Soup, an egg drop soup flavored with scallions, sesame, and garlic. The place around the corner from our apartment also added egg noodles and baby bok choy to their version, so that's how I've emulated it since then.
Chinese home cooking is flexible by nature. Home cooks all over the world make use of what they have, and it's no different in China. So if you have bok choy, give it a chop and a saute, and have at it. If not, try using baby spinach, amaranth, kale, or whatever green you might have handy. The same goes for the noodles in this recipe. I used big fat egg noodles this time around, but this soup tastes just as good with skinny egg noodles, udon noodles, ramen, or even spaghetti.
P.S. If you prefer your egg-drop soup thick and gooey, try adding a few tablespoons of cornstarch (mixed with a little water) to the stock after it comes to a boil. Let it simmer for a minute or two with the starch before adding your eggs.
Beijing Style Egg & Tomato Soup
Makes about four big servings
- 8 ounces Egg Noodles
- 4 tomatoes
- 6 cups stock or water (chicken is the traditional choice, but you try using veggie stock or Vegetarian Chicken Broth )
- 4 teaspoons sesame oil, divided
- 2 teaspoons cooking oil, any kind
- 2 or 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 4 eggs
- 2 cups baby spinach
- 1 bunch scallions, sliced or shredded
- salt and pepper, to taste
- Start by preheating the oven to 400 degrees. Meanwhile, put a large pot of salted water on to boil.
- Cut the tomatoes in half, and remove the seeds. Cut each half into four pieces, then toss with 2 teaspoons of sesame oil and a pinch of salt and pepper. Spread the tomatoes over a lined baking sheet, and roast for twenty minutes.
- When the water comes to a boil, cook the egg noodles according to package directions. Drain, and immediately rinse with cold water to stop cooking.
- In a soup pot, heat the remaining sesame oil and cooking oil. Add the garlic, and fry for about 2 minutes. Add the crushed red pepper and ginger, and cook for another thirty seconds. Add the stock or water. Bring the pot to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Taste, and add salt if needed. (If you are using unsalted stock or water, you will definitely need salt.)
- Scramble the eggs, adding a pinch of salt and pepper for flavor. Slowly drizzle the scrambled eggs into the simmering stock. Stir gently, then add the spinach, and stir again.
- Add the tomatoes and noodles, then serve right away. Top with scallions (and a plop of Sriracha if you'd like to kick up the spice factor.)
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