West Lake Beef Soup (西湖牛肉羹 Xi Hu Niu Rou Geng)
October 16, 2021  Print
West Lake Beef Soup, also known as West Lake Minced Beef Soup, is a common household soup from Southern China. Like many other household recipes, every household has its own version. The soup has a delicate savory flavor. It’s great as an appetizer as it’s very light and refreshing. The soup is also super easy and versatile. In fact, I tend to make this soup when I have scraps leftover from making other dishes, such as mushrooms, tofu, and cilantro because West Lake Beef Soup only takes little ingredients.
Where does West Lake Soup get its name from? There are actually several different stories about the soup’s origin. One is that the soup originated in the city of Hong Zhou where the famous West Lake resides. Another story is that the cilantro and egg white with the help of starch creates a look that resembles the ripples in the West Lake. Another one is that the soup’s texture is similar to a “thin mush” (稀糊). but calling it “Thin Mush Beef Soup” would not sound appetizing at all, so people used its glorified homonym “West Lake” (西湖) as a more appropriate (and appealing) name for the soup. No matter the story, the soup does resemble ripples with its lacy egg whites floating in and out of the semi-transparent soup.
West Lake Beef Soup is extremely versatile. The more generic ingredients include shiitake mushrooms, tofu, minced or ground beef, cilantro, and egg white. But you can use other types of mushrooms, forgo tofu, replace beef with minced chicken (or skip the meat altogether), and use whole eggs instead of egg whites. If you are not a fan of cilantro, you can even use Italian flat parsley instead.
Probably the most important step for successfully making the West Lake Beef Soup is blanching the minced or ground beef first. While blanching, the minced or ground beef needs to be separated into individual pieces so there are no clumps. This step kills two birds with one stone. Blanching help to remove any scum from the beef so the soup will have a clear and clean look. At the same time, separating the beef into tiny pieces ensures the consistency and the texture of the soup.
If you like West Lake Beef Soup, you might like my Chicken Corn Egg Drop Soup, which has a sweet delicate flavor and similar consistency. I also have a collection of soups using pork bone stock as the base.
Gluten Free, Low Carb
Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Servings: 4 people
- 1/4 lb (~100g) minced or ground beef 1
- 1/4 lg (~100g) silk or soft tofu
- 3 large or 5 small fresh shiitake mushrooms 2
- 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro leaves
- 2 egg whites
- ~4 cups water
- 2 tablespoons corn starch 3
- pinch of ground white pepper
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt (or 1/2 teaspoon table salt)
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt (or 1/8 teaspoon table salt)
- 1/2 teaspoon Chinese cooking wine
- 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger or 3 ginger slices4
- 1 tablespoon water if using ground beef
- Add 1/4 teaspoon of kosher salt, 1/2 teaspoon of Chinese cooking wine, and 1/4 teaspoon of ground ginger to the 1/4 lb (100g) of minced or ground beef and mix thoroughly. Let it marinate for at least 10 minutes.
- While marinating the beef, prepare the other ingredients. Cut the 1/4 lb (100g) of tofu into small cubes. Chop the shiitake mushrooms into small pieces as well. Make starch water by mixing the 2 tablespoons of corn starch with 2 to 3 tablespoons of water. Beat the egg whites to prevent big lumps.
- Heat a medium sauce pan filled with the ~4 cups of water under medium-high heat. Then heat another small sauce pan filled with water. When water in the small sauce pan starts boiling, turn the heat to medium. Transfer the beef to a strainer first, then lower the strainer into the water (of the small sauce pan) to blanch the beef. Use a fork or spoon to separate the beef so it is not clumped together. Take the strainer out once the beef has separated.
- When the water in the medium sauce pan boils, add the tofu and shiitake mushrooms. When water boils again, lower the heat to medium. Add the blanched beef, the pinch of ground white pepper, and the 1 teaspoon of kosher salt, stirring to mix. Let the soup cook for another minute or two, then slowly pour in the starch water one half at a time3 while gently stirring (begin stirring the starch water before pouring).
- When the soup thickens to your desired level, pour the egg white into the thickened soup, while stirring simultaneously. Turn off the heat. Add the 2 tablespoons of cilantro leaves to the soup and mix well. Add more salt to taste. Enjoy!
- If you have some left over beef fillet or steak, you can make your own minced beef. First cut it into thin strips. Then rotate the strips 90° degrees and cut them into tiny pieces.
- I prefer fresh shiitake mushrooms to dried shiitake mushrooms. The fresh ones add more texture. But you can certainly use dried shiitake mushrooms. Make sure to re-hydrate the mushrooms before using (it takes anywhere between 15 mins – 1 hour in hot water to re-hydrate dried shiitake mushrooms). You can also use other types of mushrooms, such as white button or cremini mushrooms.
- It really depends on the type of corn starch and how much water you add. I don’t normally use the entire amount starch water this recipe calls for. But it might also take you more starch water to thicken the soup.
- If using ginger slices, make sure you remove them before blanching the beef.
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