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Low sodium hot and sour soup

Updated: Mar 1, 2023

Chinese food gets a bad rap for being extra salty. Soy sauce is probably off limits for most people on a low sodium diet, but that doesn't mean you can't have amazing Chinese food like this low sodium hot and sour soup. Don't be intimidated by the long ingredient list. It's a very forgiving and flexible recipe, and the actual cooking time is just about 20 minutes. Adapted from the Woks of Life hot and sour soup recipe.

Servings: Makes about 10 cups Sodium: 44 mg sodium per cup Time: 1 hour, plus about 2 hours to rehydrate dry ingredients


1-2 dried chili peppers (optional)

1/2 ounce dried lily flower

1/2 ounce dried wood ear mushroom

6-7 dried shiitake mushrooms

4 ounces firm tofu, diced small

4 ounces unsalted bamboo shoots, julienned

1 slice of ginger (optional)


For the pork:

4 ounces pork shoulder, julienned

1 tsp molasses

1 tsp unseasoned rice vinegar

2 tsp oil (canola, vegetable, or peanut)

1 tsp cornstarch


For the cornstarch slurry:

1/4 cup cornstarch

1/4 cup water


4 cups unsalted chicken broth

1 1/2 cups low sodium soy sauce substitute

2 1/2 cups water


1 large egg

1/4 cup of vinegar (use any combination of sherry, red wine, white distilled, balsamic, or white wine--see notes below)

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1 teaspoon ground white pepper, plus more for serving

3-4 scallions, sliced thin for garnish

1 cup chopped cilantro, for garnish

This is the recipe I use when I'm making this for a nice weekend dinner or for guests. For a quicker version I often skip the meat, combine the chicken broth and soy sauce substitute (or whatever you can use for soy sauce), throw in some variety of mushrooms and tofu, bring that to a boil and add the egg then cornstarch slurry. Serve with vinegars, white pepper, scallions and cilantro. That takes about 20 minutes because there's not a lot of prepping or chopping or rehydrating involved. Read on for the more detailed recipe.

1) Rehydrate the dried ingredients: soak the chili peppers, dried lily flower, dried wood ear mushrooms, and dried shiitake mushrooms in separate bowls with 2-3 cups of water until soft. This takes about 2 hours with room temperature water, about 45 minutes with warm/hot water.

Half an ounce of dried lily flower and wood ear mushrooms is about a handful, you can just eyeball it rather than weigh. I buy mine at my local Ranch 99 market and they have 0 mg sodium. The wood ear mushrooms come sliced (like the ones pictured below) or whole. If you buy them whole, rehydrate and then slice thin. For the shiitake mushrooms, make sure you soak them with the caps up so the stems are fully submerged in water because they're the toughest parts and will be dry otherwise.

2) Prepare the remaining ingredients: this soup cooks pretty fast, so you want to have all your ingredients cut and ready to go before you start cooking.

A) Once the dried ingredients are rehydrated, cut off any hard ends and slice the mushrooms thin. Julienne the bamboo shoots, dice the tofu small, and peel a thin slice of ginger. I dice the tofu rather than cut them in strips because they end up breaking in the soup anyways, so I'd rather have them in neat diced chunks than broken strips. I also cut the lily flowers in half so they're about 2 inches long so they're easier to eat.

I put the mushrooms, bamboo, chili peppers, and ginger in one bowl (the "mushroom bowl") and the tofu and lily flowers in a separate bowl. I'll add the mushroom bowl to the soup first, and the lily flower bowl later because if the lily flowers cook too long they get frayed and don't look good. If that doesn't bother you, throw them all in the same bowl and add them all to the soup at the same time.

B) In a small bowl, add the pork, 1 tsp molasses, 1 tsp unseasoned rice vinegar, 2 tsp oil (canola, vegetable, or peanut), and 1 tsp cornstarch and mix until combined. Set aside.

C) In a small bowl, mix 1/4 cup cornstarch with 1/4 cup water and stir to create a slurry. Set aside. Beat the egg in a small bowl and set aside.

3) In a large pot (at least 3 quarts, 4 is better), add the chicken broth, 2 1/2 cups water, soy sauce substitute, and the mushroom bowl (mushrooms, ginger, bamboo, chili peppers). Cook over high heat and bring the soup to a boil.

I used a 3 quart pot because I was too lazy to wash my bigger pots that were sitting in the sink and you can see how full it gets once the soup is done.

4) While you're waiting for the soup to boil, heat a small nonstick pan with a thin layer of oil and quickly sauté the marinated pork for 2-3 minutes. The pork should mostly be cooked, but may be pink in some areas and that's fine. Set aside in a small bowl. I like to get all the little bits from the pan by deglazing with a spoonful of soup, and then adding that liquid back into the soup pot.

5) Once the soup is boiling, add the lily flowers and tofu and reduce the heat to a simmer. Give the cornstarch slurry a stir to make sure the cornstarch hasn't settled to the bottom, and slowly stir half of it into the soup. When you do this, keep stirring the soup as you drizzle the cornstarch slurry in so that it thickens the soup without forming clumps. Once you get the first half in, stir in the second half in the same way.

6) Bring the thickened soup back to a soft boil and start to drizzle in the beaten egg slowly while constantly stirring the soup in the same direction. The stirring helps you get nice ribbons of egg rather than big clumps. If the soup isn't hot enough, the soup will just get cloudy and you also won't get nice ribbons.

7) Turn off the heat and add the pork, sesame oil, vinegars, and white pepper and stir to combine. I like a combination of vinegar so I use 1 tablespoon of white distilled, red wine, sherry, and balsamic. You can use any combination of these (and white wine vinegar), I just wouldn't add more than 2 tablespoons of balsamic. For any of the other vinegars, use as little or as much as you like. One teaspoon of white pepper is just hot enough for me, but I serve the soup with additional white pepper to add at the table. Serve hot with scallions and cilantro.


-I find that the hot and sour flavor of the soup mellows out over time so if you're making this in advance and intend to reheat it, I would just cook the soup through step 4. Then just before you're read to serve, proceed with steps 5-7 which should be really quick. The soup tastes best if the vinegar and pepper are added just before serving.

-If you can tolerate more sodium, use whatever soy sauce fits into your diet. My low sodium soy sauce substitute has only 5 mg of sodium per tablespoon, so it's not meant to be a 1:1 substitute for any other kind of soy sauce. You want 8 cups of liquid total for step 3 of this recipe (the soup base), so you can increase the sodium by using all chicken broth rather than water, and then adding a little bit of store bought soy sauce or coconut aminos. Chicken stock also has more sodium than chicken broth, so that's another possible substitution.

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