Traditional Chinese vegetarian soup recipes used a lot of mock meats which are often made of highly processed wheat. There are mock pork, mock duck, mock prawns, mock calamari, and etc. You name it and they will try to "mock" it.
Mock meats are basically made with either soy, wheat gluten or mushrooms. Many are highly processed and heavily flavoured with artificial additives.
I still remember drinking a Chinese vegetarian soup made up of mock prawns, calamari, fish and salted vegetables. I had severe indigestion after that and vowed never to touch mock seafood again. But mock foodstuffs are quite popular. Perhaps fans have very good digestive systems.
Many people turn vegetarian because of personal conviction. That killing animals for food is cruel. Eating mock meats make sense to them. However, those who become vegetarian for health reasons should avoid mock meats. Go 100% meat-free using fresh fruits and vegetables, legumes and fungus.
I have made some flavor-packed vegetarian soups with only vegetables, legumes and fungus. Here are some tips on cooking delicious vegetarian soups.
1. Use vegetarian soup stocks
One of the difficulties of finding truly vegetarian Chinese soups in restaurants is the soup stock used to prepare the soup. The ingredients in the soup could be all vegetables but the stock could have been made with chicken, pork or seafood.
What we need is a staple of good vegetable soup stocks.
Carrot, onion and celery are the 3 most common vegetables used to make stocks. Sometimes browning, frying or roasting the ingredients first instead of boiling them can intensify their flavour. Chinese mushrooms are usually indispensable too.
A common issue with a vegetarian diet is the lack of proteins. This can be quite easily solved by the addition of eggs and tofu.
If you are not a vegan, vegetarian egg drop soups are perfect for you, especially combined with fresh vegetables like sweet corn or tomato. Try this chinese sweet corn soup. This is a clear soup with fresh corn kernels. The recipe calls for chicken stock but if you replace it with a vegetable stock, it becomes vegetarian. I am tempted to add some chopped onions too. If you prefer the creamy version, you can use a stick blender to puree the corn.
Or these fresh tomato egg drop soups. Again, broths with beautiful strands of egg floating around. Red and yellow, such attractive appetizing colours.
A variety of tofu products can be used in vegetarian soups. Soft and firm tofu add bulk while tofu puffs add texture.
I love this tomato and silken tofu soup because it is so simple to make. I sometimes garnish it with chopped spring onion but it isn't necessary.
3. Try Chinese root vegetables
Root vegetables are popular with vegetarians. Besides the usual carrot and potato, Chinese also likes lotus root, arrowroot, taro, burdock, pumpkin and sweet potato. If you have gastric problems, these are really good comforting food.
4. Consider mushrooms and fungi
The Chinese also uses a wide variety of mushrooms to make vegetarian soups. Dried Chinese mushrooms have this intense flavour. Soak with water to rehydrate them. Strain the soaking water and add to the soup.
Fresh mushrooms are also popular. Use a variety of mushrooms such as enoki, Chinese, oyster, abalone, straw, button and shimeji.
The Chinese also uses a lot of fungi in our cooking. Wood ear, cloud ear, moss are some common ones.
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