For my second soup I really wanted to, or rather needed to, start challenging myself in different ways. As a result, I wanted to find a soup recipe that was difficult in all aspects. I started to look at other online resources besides my go to websites/blogs: Pinterest, Rachael Ray, and Smitten Kitchen. I basically wanted to expand my horizons and look at other blogs and recipe guides. I was searching and searching for a few hours, but I couldn’t find anything that was challenging enough. Then it came to me. What if I made an international style soup? Majority of the time international foods are not that easy to assemble or make due to the fact that the ingredients are unique. Now the question was, what direction did I want to go? Asian? African? Middle Eastern? I have always loved Asian foods. The flavors and smells are so powerful that you savor every bite. I quickly typed in Asian soups into Google and what came up next was a smorgasbord of delicious options. Clicking the first link, I was quickly directed to this blog, titled The Kitchn. I scoured through the options and one soup really stood out to me. Having been to Vietnam and experiencing the culture firsthand, my mind was made up very quickly. This was definitely going to be challenging, but I was up for making Vegetarian Vietnamese Pho.
Now, I have heard that Pho is no joke. It is considered one of the most time consuming soups because you make the broth from scratch. However, in the end it is totally worth the time and energy because the aromas and flavor is incomparable. Before I started to attempt making this soup I wanted to make sure I knew everything that there was to know about Pho and this particular recipe. Just by looking at the recipe I knew I was going to have to do a lot of online learning before I could even begin to assemble the soup. But that is okay because I really wanted to be confident in what I was doing.
For starters, what exactly is Pho? Now I know that it is a soup, but what else can I find out about it. First off, Pho, pronounced “Fuh”, is a broth based noodle soup that features prominently in Vietnamese cuisine. It is stated in this particular online resource that Pho comes in several different variations, but the most common styles of broth are made from chicken, beef or seafood. Now I live in a house with a few vegetarians so obviously, the broth that I am making is made mainly from vegetables. The secret to Pho is really its broth, which sometimes takes up to 12 hours to make (this requires a lot of patience no doubt). To read more about Pho, the preparation, origin and history, I recommended reading this website.
Besides the broth, the second star of Pho is the noodles. The recipe that I am using calls for rice noodles, which is very common in Pho recipes. Now I have eaten rice noodles before but I have never actually cooked with them, so I needed to conduct some online learning to learn how to cook rice noodles. I didn’t have to look to far as the blog that I was looking at for the Pho recipe actually had a link on how to cook rice noodles, which was very helpful. One thing I didn’t know was that rice noodles are much more delicate and fragile than other wheat noodles, which actually makes them easier to prepare. Basically you attend to rice noodles that same way as you would with any other noodle: boil a good amount of water, place or pour the water over the noodles until they are submerged. It is very important, and this is good for me to know, to check on the noodles frequently because they will become mushy if they overcook. As well, rice noodles really only need about 5-8 minutes to cook all the way through so once they are tender drain and run them under cool water to stop the cooking. Here is a tip that I didn’t know, if you are not planning on using the noodles right away toss them in a bit of sesame oil to keep the noodles from sticking to each other. I will keep this note in mind when I am preparing my soup. Have you ever cooked with rice noodles? What was the recipe and how did they turn out?
So far I feel relatively comfortable with cutting various types of vegetables. However, after looking at this recipe I realized that I have never learned how to or attempted at cutting broccoli. This may sound very sad, but it is true! Broccoli is a tasty, healthy vegetable that can be added to or made as the base of many dishes. However, I cannot do anything with it until I know how to chop it! As a result, I needed to learn how. I found this video to be helpful because it showed how to cut broccoli for either salads or soups. Now she stated that the broccoli florets should be chopped smaller if you are going to add them into soups or salads because you want them to be bite size. I also found this website to be very helpful as it provided a step-by-step process with pictures on how to properly chop broccoli. I actually found this website to be more helpful then the video because it showed me exactly what to do. The video was still helpful but it only provided guidance really on the size of the florets. Step 5 was definitely the most useful, since I was interested in using the stalk in the soup for extra flavor and nutrients. Basically if you are deciding to use the stalk in your cooking take an ordinary vegetable peeler to remove any leaves and tough skin from the stalk and then simply just cut the stalk into equal sized pieces to add to your selected dish. One thing that I didn’t know was that if you are deciding to use the stalk make sure to chop it up into smaller pieces than the florets because the stalk will take longer to cook. After reading and going through the video I felt relatively confident about chopping broccoli; however, we will just have to wait and see.
The recipe that I was using also called for Bok Choy. Umm what? I have definitely eaten bok choy in Asian cuisine but I have never handled this particularly interesting vegetable. I needed to learn how to chop and handle bok choy before I could start assembling the Pho. I learned that Bok Choy is a crunchy, nutritious, fresh addition to any meal and is mainly found in Asian recipes. As well, I found both this video and website to be very helpful when it comes to learning how to chop bok choy for recipes. It is important to trim and discard the thick base of the bok choy as well as any leaves that are discolored or particularly tough. Then cut the stalks in half lengthwise, rinse with cold water, and slice into smaller pieces. I didn’t know this but both the stalks and leaves are edible, similar to broccoli.
As I was reading through the recipe once again, I felt pretty confident about the directions and ingredients. However, before I started to make this soup I wanted to learn about one more ingredient: Star Anise. I have heard about star anise before but I have never worked with it. From reading about star anise through this website, I learned that star anise is native to China and Vietnam. It is, as the name suggests, star shaped with between five and ten pointed boat-shaped sections called seedpods. Star anise has a powerful liquorice-like flavorful that can be seen as pungent and strong for some palettes. One thing that I didn’t know was that star anise actually has health benefits as it is seen as a digestive aid. Have you ever worked with star anise? If so, for what recipes?
After learning about all there is to know about Pho and this particular recipe (of which took me a few hours) I felt ready to tackle this soup recipe. However, there was one thing left to do: make sure I have all the ingredients. I already knew ahead of time that I was going to have to make a quick stop at the grocery store to pick up a few ingredients. As a result, with recipe in hand, I headed out into the cold to get a few items. I needed the following for sure: mushrooms, bok choy, Thai basil, and bean sprouts. Surprisingly, we already had star anise in the cupboard. While I was in superstore, I found everything that I needed except bean sprouts. Therefore, I trekked to Sobey’s, but no luck. I hauled to two more places, The Co-op and Safeway but neither had bean sprouts. What was I going to do? I couldn’t find one of the ingredients anywhere. Then I thought. Bean sprouts have a crunchy factor to them so I decide to substitute in snap peas instead.
Once I was home I assembled all of the ingredients together and got ready to make this delicious Pho.
Cooking rule #1: Make sure you have all the ingredients prior to cooking. CHECK
Cooking rule #2: Always read the proportions and directions carefully!! This is a must for this recipe, as I need to get the broth just right!
*The recipe is divided into different sections: Broth, noodles, toppings and garnishes
1 large onion, peeled and halved
2-inch piece fresh ginger root, peeled and halved
3 cinnamon sticks
1 star anise
¼ teaspoon of cloves
4 cups unsalted vegetable stock
2 teaspoons soy sauce
4 carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
½ pound of dried flat rice noodles (width can vary)
Protein such as fried or baked tofu
½ onion, very thinly sliced
2 green onions, thinly sliced
1 chili pepper, sliced (optional)
1 lime, cut into wedges
½ cup bean sprouts
Large handful of herbs: either cilantro or Thai basil
Hoisin sauce or sriracha (optional)
* The directions are also divided into sections: broth, noodles, toppings, and garnishes
For the broth:
Peel and halve the onion. Cut a 2-inch piece of ginger root and cut in half. Place both the halved onion and ginger on a baking sheet and place in the oven directly under a broiler until slightly blackened. Depending on how hot your oven gets the time will differ. It took about 5-8 minutes for the onions and ginger to slightly blacken. Once the time was up I removed the baking sheet from the oven, and I got to tell you the smell was very pungent (I could mostly smell the ginger).
While the onion and ginger is cooling, in a large pot, dry roast the cinnamon sticks, star anise, cloves and coriander over medium-low heat, stirring to prevent burning. It took a while for the spices to dry roast, but once they started to smoke the smell was unbelievable. It filled the house with the most amazing aroma! It was very warm and inviting. When the spices are aromatic, add vegetable stock, soy sauce, carrots, and charred onion and ginger.
Bring broth to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 30-45 minutes. Strain and keep hot until ready to serve. The longer you simmer the broth the more flavorful it becomes. I let the broth simmer for approximately 1 hour because I wanted it to be as flavorful as possible. After I drained the broth I let it simmer on very low heat until I was ready to assemble the soup in its entirety.
Making the broth was a challenge in and of itself. There were so many steps that it definitely took lots of patience and time. However, after I drained the broth I tasted it and WOW! It actually tasted really good! It was extremely flavorful.
For the noodles:
While the broth is simmering, place the rice noodles in a large pot and cover with hot boiling water. Cook the noodles until they are tender but still chewy, approximately 10 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking and prevent from becoming mushy. I really had to watch the noodles because I didn’t want them to overcook. Also, it may be a good idea to not cook the noodles until the soup is almost finished.
For the toppings (optional):
While the broth is simmering, prepare toppings as desired. Toppings should be unseasoned or only lightly seasoned so as not to interfere with the flavor of the broth. I decided to include mushrooms, broccoli, bok choy, and carrots as toppings within the soup. Chopping the carrots was easy as I am very comfortable with this vegetable from previous recipes. The mushrooms were already sliced so that was awesome, as I just needed to slice them smaller and clean them up. Once I got to the broccoli I was a little scared. The video and website that I looked at earlier seemed reasonable but once I was in the moment of putting those skills into practice I got scared because the broccoli that I was dealing with was larger than normal. I was basically afraid of cutting myself with the knife. However, I was not going to walk away from it. I took it slow and it was a little difficult at first, but I eventually got the hang of it. It was a little rough obviously for my first time, but at least I accomplished it. Next time, will hopefully be easier. Handling the Bok Choy was actually easier than I thought it would be. I rinsed it under cold water to remove any dirt, discarded the ends and any discolored leaves like the website stated, sliced it down the middle and then coarsely chopped it up into reasonable sized pieces. I realized that it was okay if the bok choy was chopped bigger because it was going to wilt once it cooked through in the broth. As I was chopping up the vegetables I realized that my knife holding skills were on point! I was extremely proud of myself because I did not have to correct myself once! I am really starting to get the hang of things. I am learning.
Once all the veggies have been chopped, add them into the broth to cook. It is wise to place the vegetables that will cook the longest in first, such as carrots, before adding the others. You could have cooked the veggies separately and then added them afterward into the broth, but I wanted the veggies to soak up all the flavor.
While the veggies are cooking, prepare the garnishes on a plate. Chop up green onions, lime, herbs, chili (optional), and bean sprouts. As mentioned before, I decided to substitute in snap peas for bean sprouts because I could not find bean sprouts anywhere. I cut off the ends of the peas and washed then thoroughly under cold water. There were a few options for herbs. My family does not really like cilantro, so I decided to go with Thai basil instead. Plus, Thai basil is such a nice herb.
Place a handful of noodles in the bottom of your bowl. Ladle about 2 cups of broth and veggies over the noodles, and add your choice of garnishes to the soup. I added all of the garnishes in mine because I wanted the real deal. Serve hot and enjoy.
I am very impressed with myself. In total, this soup took me about 5 hours to prepare/make, and it tasted really good. Obviously, it was not real authentic Pho, but the flavor and presentation was all there. The assortment of vegetables, garnishes, broth and noodles is a wonderful interplay of textures and flavors. As well, it was warm and very healthy considering all the vegetables that went into the soup. The broth was really something else. Who knew broth made from scratch could taste that amazing. I am just imagining now what actual Pho tastes like. YUM! I still can’t get over the fact that I made this. It was so good! However, the vegetables were overcooked…Ooops. I probably should have had a timer on. My family really enjoyed it to. My mom personally gave me a 9/10 because the vegetables were overcooked and she felt like it could also use some salt and pepper. I personally would not change anything about this recipe. It was great. Yes, this recipe takes a lot of time and energy but it is definitely worth it. The flavors and textures will not disappoint. Give it a go!
I am very glad that I spent the few hours learning about Pho and this particular recipe. If I didn’t take the time to learn how to chop broccoli or bok choy or how to cook rice noodles, I definitely would not be as confident and the result would probably not have been as great. I am definitely seeing the potentials of technology as I continue with my learning project. There are countless resources to assist people like me in discovery and opportunities. I am looking forward to seeing what else is out there.
Next week I begin the next category: meatless mains. Living in a house of basically vegetarians it should not be very difficult to find a satisfying recipe. Stay tuned.
Catch ya’ll ladle.