So. I looked at a bunch of recipes Chinese Spicy Hot And Sour Soup, Hot and Sour Soup, Hot and Sour Soup and so on. Gave me a little to work with.
A trip to United Noodle (and much help from the friendly but almost non-English speaking staff) garnered rice vinegar, several types of dried seaweed, dried mushroom, dried fungus, some extra-firm tofu, scallions and canned bamboo shoots. The hardest ingredient The hardest ingredient to find was "tiger lily buds". This confused several staffers, one of whom finally led me to dried lily flower, which is as close as I got.
However, all the recipes call for salt, and I'm still trying to avoid that. I asked for favorite hot and sour recipes on Facebook, and got one reply from someone who suggested I make beef stock and braise garlic. If I used kosher sea salt, it was close to the recipe he used at a kosher deli. Still, even he said salt was necessary.
After United Noodle I went to the Teppanyaki Grill to sample their hot and sour soup. Good, but salty. At least I had a baseline taste. I went to a non-oriental store and got more mushrooms and the beef with a bone in it.
Boiling the beef for a while made a decent stock. I noticed the marrow had come out of the bone, so after I was finished, I just ate it. Mostly boiled out, but still a quick treat.
Took the bone out, cut as much fat off the beef as possible and made smaller chunks. Cut up some of the fresh mushrooms and scallions. To the stock, I added chili oil, chili paste (which has some salt), sesame oil (even though I haven't been using "bad" lipids that are made with a heat process), a splash of the vinegar, ginger powder and a bunch of minced garlic. (Update: And vinegar and white pepper.) Threw in the dried stuff, let simmer for a while. Added tofu. Eventually added the fresh mushrooms and scallions.
Tasted: Not quite right. Grudgingly, I added three teaspoons of corn starch to the six-quart pot (update: and ground some black pepper in). And finally, I broke down and added some fish sauce (basically anchovy sauce); not too much, but enough. More minced garlic and some garlic powder and more ginger.
Finally: whipped three eggs and added them to the mix.
Result: Pretty good, but clearly (to my taste) missing an ingredient. After a few tastes, I came to the conclusion that the missing taste was salt, and I didn't mind that. Both Carole and I declared it a success. Even dipping buttered wheat toast into the soup worked well.
All the dried ingredients came in what look like small packages but you only need a little from each. I now have enough fungus and seaweed to impair my stick shaking endeavors. I even have some unused ingredients, including an unused fungus and a small box of auricula (which promises "yields ten times after reconstitute in water").
Next time: Try a different stock (I still have a lot of bouillon) and maybe add some cilantro (which one of the recipes mentions).
Suggestions? Other variants?