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Tomato and Egg Soup (with Zhacai) 番茄鸡蛋榨菜汤

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It’s tomato soup in the summer, all over China. Here that usually means tomato and egg soup or tomato and tofu soup. This time of year, I make one or the other nearly every week. Both are easy, quick and delicious. Neither will break the bank.

 

Good tomatoes are key: It’s worth paying a little more for ones which are vine ripened and fresh. I look for ones sold by small-scale outdoor 露天 growers instead of ones produced in huge quantities inside large plastic Quonset hut tents 塑料大棚。(Please click the photos to enlarge them.)

 

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I buy from a seller who is proud of his wares, who will gladly give anyone a taste. My minor wrinkle is to eschew his huge red perfect beauties and take smaller tomatoes that are blemished instead. Don’t look as nice but taste every bit as fine. 7 Yuan per kilo instead of 10. If the big tomatoes don’t measure up, I select miniatures instead, even though they are a little more work.

 

 

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Cut a shallow “x” on the bottom of each tomato; plunge them in boiling water for less than a minute. Cool them quickly under cold running water or plunge them into an ice bath. Slip off the skin, remove the stem and core. Cut them into cubes; sprinkle them very lightly with salt. (Salt early and often but do it with a light hand; don’t just wait until the end.)

 

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Finely chop the white part of a medium scallion; mince two or three coin-sized rounds of ginger.

 

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Then turn your attention to the dark horse that is the surprise star of this dish: Fuling Zhacai 涪陵榨菜 pickled mustard tuber. It is well worth a short detour. 

 

Beyond any doubt, zhacai is China’s number one pickle. It’s as much a part of everyday life here as sauerkraut is in Germany. The best of it comes from Fuling District in Chongqing Municipality. If the name Fuling strikes a note, it could be you heard it before as the place where Peter Hessler’s book was set: “River Town; Two Years on the Yangtze.”

 

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At harvest, this knobby and fibrous section low on the stem of certain varieties of mustard plant is first strung like a string of pearls and hung to air dry for several months. Then it is pickled in brine, chilies and spices for several more months. After that it is slowly pressed to extrude most of its moisture (the name 榨 comes from the pressing.)

 

The best-known example of this condiment is made in Fuling, and that can be bought just about everywhere in cans, jars, or even small foil single-dose pouches. You may have had it served as part of an airplane meal to add a bit of spice to otherwise bland staples.

 

Here in Kunming, I buy some which is locally made from my spice seller. Today I bought 200 grams 二两for 5 Yuan. They are a husband and wife team who hand make all the regional classics from scratch. For example, they also do a great job of Pixian Douban Jiang 郫县豆瓣酱 (originally the pride of Sichuan.) 

 

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I quickly rinse a bit of this zhacai in a bowl of cool tap water to remove excess chili heat, though that is optional, not required. (I use it as is in other applications.) Chop it up to make it easier to eat. It retains a distinct crunch. No need to remind you how texture is valued here every bit as much as flavor.

 

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Ready to light the fire. Last minute check. What I usually do is run through the ingredients in the order I will need to add them to the skillet: Ginger, tomatoes, zhacai, scallions, water, eggs. I’m using a non-stick pan, so I oil it before it gets hot. One tablespoon of corn oil, swipe it around with a piece of kitchen towel. When my pan gets to medium, in goes the ginger.

 

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Never use more than medium heat with a non-stick pan; they just are not made for it. Don’t wait for the ginger to become brown; as soon as you smell its aroma, put in the tomatoes. Continue to work fast; these only need a minute or so to begin breaking down and releasing their juice.

 

Add new things to the center of the pan, just like you did with your wok. Next up is the zhacai. Let it heat, then spread it around. Mix everything well. Follow that with most of the spring onions. Hold back a few for garnish.

 

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Stir well and let the flavors blend. Add 500 ml to 750 ml of warm or hot water. I have kept the pot of hot water that I used for boiling the tomatoes to remove their skin. It’s off to one side. Sometimes I make this as a thin soup when the rest of the meal is filling and heavy. Other times I make it thicker so it can be a more central part of the meal. Add about ¼ teaspoon of chicken essence 鸡精。This contains some MSG, so skip it if you prefer. Taste the broth to see if any more salt is needed. (Remember the zhacai is salty.)

 

Now you are ready to add the eggs. Stir them a few times with your chopsticks and add a pinch of salt. Turn off the flame and pour them in gently without any stirring. If the soup is boiling hard or you stir vigorously, the raw eggs will break up and kind of disappear, just make the soup cloudy, failing to add an interesting texture contrast. 

 

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Now give it one or two slow stirs with a spoon. Once the eggs are evenly distributed, turn on the flame and bring the pan just to a boil. Immediately turn it off again, garnish with scallions and serve.

    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is one of those soups that I had mentally written off as "ho hum" until I personally tried making it a year or two ago. Didn’t expect it to be so interesting and complex. Today it has become one of the reasons I look forward to the arrival of premium tomatoes every summer. Can’t wait to get some home just for this very purpose.

 

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Hope you will try it and see what you think.  Here’s a condensed version of the recipe to help you along, in Chinese and in English. Tomato and egg soup – 番茄鸡蛋汤。(Click the "Reveal hidden contents" link below.)

 

Spoiler

Tomato and egg soup – 番茄鸡蛋汤

 

Main Ingredients – 材料

1.    2 large ripe tomatoes – 番茄/西红柿

2.    2 large free-range chicken eggs – 鸡蛋

3.    2 generous tablespoons of picked mustard tuber, rinsed – 涪陵榨菜

 

Supplementary Ingredients – 辅料

1.    White part of one medium spring onion, chopped fine – 葱花

2.    Ginger, two coin-sized pieces, minced fine –

3.    Chicken essence1/4 teaspoon – 鸡精

4.    Cooking salt – 食盐

5.    Cooking oil – 玉米油

 

Method 做法

1.   Cut a shallow x on the bottom of each tomato. Drop them into boiling water for a scant minute. Lift out and cool quickly under running water or in an ice bath. Slide off the skin, core them, slice into small cubes. Salt them lightly.  番茄表面划十字入滚水烫1分钟,捞起放入凉水中,番茄剥皮去籽,切块, 加少许食盐,备用。

2.   Break and gently mix the eggs. Add a pinch of salt. Set them aside. 鸡蛋打散,加少许盐备用。

3.   Rinse the pickled mustard tuber, coarsely chop it. 吧榨菜洗净,切碎。

4.   Bring a wok to medium heat, add a tablespoon of oil. Fry the tomatoes and pickle a few seconds. Add half the scallions and about a quarter teaspoon of chicken essence. Pour in about half a liter of water, bring it to the boil, adjust seasoning. 锅热油至7-8分熟,倒入切好的番茄,榨菜翻炒片刻 和少许鸡精,然后倒入适量清水烧开,加入少许盐如果觉得需要。

5.    Bring the soup to a boil, slowly pour in the eggs but don’t stir them. After the eggs are set, stir the soup once or twice very gently. Sprinkle with cut scallions when ready to serve. 汤汁烧开,把蛋液慢慢地倒入汤中,当时不要搅拌,待鸡蛋成蛋花状后再轻轻搅匀,食用时撒上葱花即可。

 

 

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ChTTay

Nice recipe again! 

 

Never seen this with pickle in. Is this version local to Yunnan or am I just usually get a cheaper abridged version usually?  

 

I like that this soup often looks very different depending on who makes it even though they’re not really many ingredients. And they’re all counted as egg drop soup. 

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abcdefg

Thanks @ChTTay -- Pretty sure that adding zhacai is a Sichuan/Yunnan/Guizhou wrinkle. The soup is also good without it. The real key is ripe, flavorful tomatoes. 

 

When I order this soup in a restaurant, it most often arrives without the pickle even here in Kunming. But I've taken to adding it when I make my "house version" because I find the flavors go well together and I enjoy the added crunch. More often than not, my (local Chinese) guests are surprised at first, then they agree it's a winner and ask for seconds. 

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Bibu

@abcdefg so nice to have this very familiar family dish in Sunday morning , all sweet memories!

 

It is a pity in big cities , it not popular as before, it used to be the soup by default for a daily meal, or a quick soup  in a busy workday.

 

it remind me of one poem 寄至味于淡泊..

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abcdefg
14 minutes ago, Bibu said:

it remind me of one poem 寄至味于淡泊..

 

Thanks @Bibu -- Agree about "living the simple life."

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somethingfunny

Very interesting.  I make egg and tomato soup at least once a week, but it is literally just eggs and tomato with salt for flavouring.

 

I don't peel my tomatoes and prefer to fry them for longer than a minute - I find this means they go really soft, but the skin prevents them from completely disintegrating.

 

I'm also surprised by the inclusion of ginger.  Lots to think about...

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ChTTay

@somethingfunny

 

I also make mine differently ... but there is no right way I think!

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abcdefg
6 hours ago, somethingfunny said:

I make egg and tomato soup at least once a week, but it is literally just eggs and tomato with salt for flavouring.

 

I like it plain and simple like that too. Today's recipe was a little more elaborate since it showcased the zhacai 榨菜。

 

As to the ginger, honestly I could have left it out. Next time I probably will. Don't think it added anything essential. 

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Publius

Ha, everyone does it differently. I don't fry or peel the tomatoes. I slice them up and add them last.

My secret ingredient is a teaspoon of starch, pre-mixed with water, so it's actually 水淀粉. It prevents the egg from breaking up and cloudying the water.

Here's how I make the soup:

葱、姜炝锅

加水

加盐、水淀粉,搅匀(如果高兴还可以放几滴料酒)

至水微开,调小火,用勺将打好的蛋液(不放盐)呈弧形找空隙撇入锅内

火开大,令蛋花稍成型,下入切好的西红柿

煮到差不多熟了,加味精,出锅 :D

 

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abcdefg
8 hours ago, Publius said:

My secret ingredient is a teaspoon of starch, pre-mixed with water, so it's actually 水淀粉. It prevents the egg from breaking up and cloudying the water.

 

Excellent trick. I use 水淀粉 in other settings, but have not tried it here to help keep the egg from breaking up when poured into the soup. Found a few on-line recipes that called for a very small amount of 料酒 for the same reason, and I see you have mentioned it too. 

 

This has been an interesting discussion! All these versions make good sense. In coming weeks I will try following some of these tips and will post the results. 

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Michaelyus

My family was always a fan of 紫菜 in egg and tomato soup. 

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abcdefg
1 hour ago, Michaelyus said:

My family was always a fan of 紫菜 in egg and tomato soup. 

 

I haven't tried that. (But I will.) 

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ChTTay
2 hours ago, Michaelyus said:

My family was always a fan of 紫菜 in egg and tomato soup

 

That’s how we make.

 

Stock of some sort, bring to boil, add the 紫菜, add egg, make an S shape with chopsticks, lastly add thin slices of tomato. Salt to taste. Put sesame oil in the boil (just because), pour the soup into the bowl. 

 

Don't use vinegar or corn flour. Might try and see. 

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