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Xi Shi Tofu Soup

Xi Shi Tofu Soup
Laura McCandlish for NPR

Xi Shi is one of the four beauties of ancient China who lived near Hangzhou in Zhuji. Legend has it that Hangzhou's spectacular West Lake is the incarnation of this belle. Like many seemingly "vegetarian" dishes in China, this soup is flavored with a bit of meat -- shrimp and pork -- used as a condiment. To make Chinese stock, boil chicken with ginger, green onion, white pepper and even country ham, for extra flavor. Feel free to improvise with the vegetables, but don't substitute firm for velvety soft tofu. This recipe is adapted from Hangzhou TV chef Chen Leilei.

Makes 4 servings

6 ounces boneless country-style pork rib (or piece of pork shoulder)

1/3 pound peeled, deveined raw shrimp

4 tablespoons Shaoxing* (Chinese rice wine), divided

1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste at end

1 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger

1 teaspoon cornstarch, diluted with two teaspoons water, separated

1/2 cup chopped green beans or peas

1 cup fresh corn kernels (sliced off the cob)

1 cup slivered shiitake mushrooms

1 cup diced carrots

One 14-ounce package soft tofu, drained and cubed

4 scallions chopped, white ends and green stalks separated

2 tablespoons canola oil, divided

2 teaspoons minced ginger, divided

4 cups chicken stock (or up to 6 cups if you want a more brothy soup)

4 ounces bamboo shoots, drained (half a can)

Sesame oil

White pepper

*Available at Asian markets. Buy the cheap kind for cooking. Substitute dry sherry if it's not available.

Chop the pork and shrimp into half-inch pieces and put in separate bowls. Add 1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon sugar, 1/4 teaspoon powdered ginger and half the cornstarch solution to each bowl and stir to combine. Let marinate for at least 15 minutes.

Dice all of the vegetables and tofu into 1/2-inch pieces. Set aside.

Fire up a wok over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon canola oil, and when glistening, add a teaspoon of minced ginger and the chopped white ends of the scallions (about 1 tablespoon) and stir-fry until fragrant, about a minute. Add chopped pork and saute until mostly cooked, about 2 minutes. Add shrimp and saute until just pink, about 1 minute. Remove meat mixture from wok and set aside.

Heat the remaining tablespoon of canola oil in the wok. Add the second teaspoon of minced ginger. Add the beans and carrots and saute 1 minute, then add the corn, mushrooms and 1 tablespoon of chopped green onion, stir-frying 2 to 3 minutes, until coated with oil and starting to get tender. Splash on remaining 2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine to deglaze the pan.

Add chicken stock and bamboo shoots; cover and bring soup to a boil. Boil about a minute and then turn heat down, simmering a few minutes until the vegetables are done. Return cooked pork and shrimp to the pan. Add the cubed soft tofu and the remaining chopped green parts of the scallions (measuring about 1/3 cup), gently stirring once or twice to combine. Taste broth and add salt, if necessary.

Ladle into bowls. Garnish with a drizzle of sesame oil, a pinch of white pepper and more chopped scallions, if desired.

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