Chinese Soul Food
Chinese Soul Food


Hsiao-Ching Chou writes about simple Chinese cooking and life as a working mom.

She also teaches cooking at Hot Stove Society in Seattle. Upcoming classes include:

July 8 – Weeknight Wokking

July 15 – Red Braising

Aug. 14 – Pu Pu Platter

Aug. 22 – Soup Dumpling Love – and Potstickers, too

Sept. 2 – Weeknight Wokking (registration not open yet)

Oct. – Potstickers and Fried Spring Rolls (date to come)



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Wonton Soup

The wonton soup you love so much at your neighborhood Chinese restaurant probably isn't all that good.

Back when my family had a Chinese restaurant in Missouri, wonton soup was a popular item. But there was nothing to it. It had been "dumbed down" to make it faster and cheaper to produce. The wontons were made in-house, but the amount of filling was probably half of what we'd include if we were to make them for ourselves. The soup was water-based instead of stock-based, so there wasn't much depth to the flavor. We weren't trying to dupe the customers. It was more a function of our trying to meet expectations that Chinese food should be cheap and fast. People were willing to wait 30 minutes for their Domino's pizza, but they scowled if they had to wait more than a few minutes for their order from us.

But that was the middle of the Midwest back in the '80s and '90s. If I were to run a Chinese restaurant today with what I have learned about restaurants through my work as a newspaper food writer, it would be a different animal: I would love it if the Chinese equivalent to La Carta de Oaxaca existed in Seattle. For about a split second after the first time I ate at La Carta, I thought about getting back into the biz. The simple sophistication of food and atmosphere at La Carta inspired me. But then I came to my senses.

In a way, this blog is the manifestation of that initial desire to share the kind of Chinese cooking I make at home. In fact, I purchased the domain name just after my revelatory dinner at La Carta some four years ago and I'm only now putting it to use. Better late than never, right?

Homestyle wonton soup for me involves, more often than not, scratch chicken broth. If I have the time, I make the broth from a whole chicken with ginger, shiitake mushrooms, maybe a stalk of green onion, soy sauce and a splash of white wine. It simmers for a couple of hours to develop that richness from the chicken and from the shiitakes. The wontons themselves take very little time to make, especially considering I made all the wontons that were sold in the restaurant from the time I was 8 years old until I left for my first newspaper job at The Denver Post when I was 24. Long time. Many, many, many wontons. I basically could make 108 wontons, which is how many fit on a tray, in about 7 minutes, or 6 seconds per wonton.

If I don't have the time, I might make a celery broth. My mom did this and, even though I didn't like to eat celery back in the day, I loved the flavor it imparted. Now I use Chinese celery, which you can find in an Asian grocery store. It resembles its Western counterpart in color and general shape, but the stalks are longer and much thinner. The flavor is more aromatic than regular celery. I stir-fry the chopped celery in some soy sauce, add water, let simmer and build the flavor from there with the addition of white pepper, maybe a splash of white wine and some sliced shiitakes. (Next time I make the celery broth, I'll jot down a more explicit recipe to share.)

The other time-saving and budget option is to make broth from chicken bones, which I can buy from  Uwajimaya for less than $2.50 for a pack of four breast frames. I simmer the bones in water with sliced ginger in a lidded pot and I can get a light broth within an hour -- in which time I can multitask and make the wontons while dealing with my toddler, checking my email (or Facebook and Twitter) and putzing in the kitchen.

I mentioned the other day that I own several OXO kitchen utensils that were designed specifically for the Japanese market. One of the pieces is a skimmer, which deftly does the trick of removing the foam from the surface of the bubbling liquid. I checked with my friend who works at OXO and the Japanese line is indeed available only in Japan. So if you want these tools you have ask someone who lives there to send some or try to get them off Amazon Japan -- though I'm not sure if and how that works.

Wontons are easier to make than potstickers, for sure. But there's still some dexterity involved. If you've ever made tortellini, though, this will be easy. (Sorry about the fuzzy focus. My hubby the TV producer wasn't home yet to help with shooting the video.)


The best part about this recipe is that the ingredients cost me less than $10.


Serves 4


4 chicken breast frames

2 1/2 quarts water

4 slices ginger (about 2 inches long, 1/8 inch thick)

6 dried shiitake mushrooms

1/4 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup white wine

1/4 of Chinese cabbage, sliced (about 4 cups)


1/2 pound ground chicken

1 stalk green onion, finely chopped

1 tablespoon soy sauce or salt to taste

1/8 teaspoon white pepper

1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

1 egg, beaten

1 package wonton wrappers

To serve (optional):

Chopped cilantro

Chili sauce

Broth: Combine the chicken breast frames with the water and ginger. Bring to a boil then turn down heat to medium. Start skimming the scum off the top. After about 20 minutes and a final skimming, add the soy sauce, shiitakes and wine. Cover pot with lid and let simmer for another 20 minutes, adjusting the heat as necessary so the pot doesn't boil over. Taste the broth and add some salt, if needed. Remove the bones and discard. Add the cabbage, replace the lid and continue to simmer on low until ready to serve.

Wontons: In the meantime, combine the ground chicken, green onions, soy sauce, white pepper and sesame oil in a bowl. Mix well. Place about a teaspoon of the chicken filling on the corner of a wonton wrapper and roll it up a third of the way and then use a little bit of beaten egg to help seal the wonton. (See the video for a demonstration of the folding technique.) Repeat until finished with the wrappers. There are about 40-45 wrappers in a package. Bring a pot of water to boil and cook the wontons for about 5 minutes. Strain and transfer the wontons to the soup and let simmer for a few minutes. Taste the soup again and adjust the seasoning, if needed.

Serve immediately with optional cilantro and chili sauce.

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Reader Comments (19)

108 wontons in about 7 minutes? You're my hero!
Love the background music on the video. Makes me wish I were folding wontons in the kitchen with you:-)

February 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTea

I will attempt this recipe...

February 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJR

I love homemade wonton soup! Now, I just need to learn how to make wontons as fast as you, and I'll be golden. :)
I'll definitely be trying this recipe ASAP.

By the way, love the blog!

February 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterClare

oooooh I want wonton soup RIGHT NOW.

ok, going to store after kids' Tae Kwon Do and getting ingredients!

Love that Oxo skimmer. We need to get it here in the US!

February 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJaden, Steamy Kitchen

If I simmered the chicken bones longer than an hour, would I have a richer flavored broth?

October 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMichele

I did try simmering it longer...for almost 3 hours, I added the celery, ginger & chicken frames which the entire family raved about! My husband even requested that I make it again next week and he'd love to bring it to work to share. WOW!

I'm not sure if I'd use Sake again as opposed to the white wine.

October 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMichele

Ive got this darn flu and all i want is a quart of wonton soup but the closest restaurant is 40+ miles! I have some left over dim sum fillings that i think will suffice to make wonton filling and my dear husband is going to try making this broth with lots of veggies and roast pork for me. Thank you. the addition of shitakes and celery and ginger should make a wonderful broth.

October 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAlthea

By coincidence I am cooking your wonton soup recipe exactly one year later from your posting the recipe on your blog site! I would love to have your longer time version of it with the Chinese celery.


February 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMichele

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March 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCarlyCross22

I found this from a link in Tea & Cookie's blog, and I'm going to have to make this... I haven't had Wonton Soup in sooooo long (it was a staple in my diet in Singapore - it was one of the few things I recognized!).

June 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJenna

Great recipe thanks, I would make my dumplings a little meatier though...

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Hi! I appreciate you posting this authentic wonton soup recipe, but I am really interested in the cheaper-faster recipe since I'm single and elaborate recipes are daunting for me. I hope I dont offend you with this request but I would greatly appreciate the restaurant version of the recipe! If you would be willing to provide it for me, my email is

January 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLauren

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