Today I began to take a more active role in the kitchen once agian. Not much more, because not being able to put weight on my foot and using crutches seriously impedes my progress, but little bits here and there-- drying and putting away non-breakable things like flatware and pans, wiping down the counters and cleaning the stove since I can grab the edges and hop as I clean, clustering all of the necessary refrigerator items onto one shelf (to avoid pre-meal scenes with Jack similar to “no, not that bottle, the one on the next shelf, on the left, no your other left, yeah, there, the one with the green cap, the bottle that says soy sauce”...).
For lunch, since it was a whopping 9 degrees out, we made pho. I have only 2 quarts of chicken stock remaining in the freezer, and parted with one of them for the broth. Adding flavorings of chili, fish sauce, and lime turned the stock into a fragrant base for the soup. Chicken breast was poached in the broth, then carrot, spinach, and red bell pepper was added. Soft vermicelli-style rice noodles were divided between two large bowls and the broth was poured over. It smelled delicious and tasted even better. Perfect for a cold winter day!
I had to omit a few ingredients from the recipe that I will post below because they were not on hand. Unfortunately, these are quite essential, but I wasn’t sending Jack to the grocery store in this weather! First, bean sprouts. Absolutely necessary for a textural crunch. Then fresh cilantro, mint, and Thai basil, which are vital for the complex blend of exotic flavors that makes this dish so delicious.
I shall call the version which I made today “Winter Pho”.
The fresh herbs are why I am in a conundrum about pho. The fact that it is a warming soup indicates that it should be eaten in the colder months. But the fresh herbs, all of which grow lushly in my garden in the summer, suggest that it should be a summer dish. It’s rather easy to buy fresh cilantro and mint at a grocery store in the winter, but difficult to find Thai basil and that is a taste for which there is no substitution.
To review, the pho without the bean sprouts and fresh herbs was still very good. An exotic, spicy version of chicken noodle soup, but it wasn’t really pho. I suppose that when I’m able to grocery shop again, I will take a trip to the Strip District and buy those fresh herbs at one of the Oriental markets to make real pho. By then it will be early spring, but still damp and cold here in southwestern
After the broth was ladled over the noodles, I realized that I had forgotten to add some fresh baby spinach which would have really helped in the photo. Oh well...
Prepare garnishes and place in small bowls:
fresh mint leaves, chopped if large
fresh Thai basil leaves, chopped if large
fresh cilantro leaves, chopped if large
fresh lime, quartered
In a 2-quart saucepan mix:
4 cups chicken broth
1” cinnamon stick
½” slice fresh gingerroot
½ teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon minced garlic
Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer together for 10 minutes.
Place a pot of water on to boil for the noodles while the broth is cooking.
Add to the broth:
6 ounces chicken breast, thinly sliced
Simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes.
*While the chicken is cooking, after the pot of water comes to a boil, add
4 ounces of rice vermicelli (thin) noodles
Stir, turn off heat, cover. Set timer to check noodles in 8-9 minutes. When soft, drain, then place in a large bowl of cool water to prevent sticking together.*
Add to the chicken and broth:
½ small red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 small carrot, coarsely shredded
¼ cup chopped sweet onion
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
½ teaspoon brown sugar
Cover and simmer for 5 minutes.
Remove cinnamon stick; add:
1 cup fresh bean sprouts
Stir well, turn off heat.
Drain noodles. Rinse with hot water. Shake off excess water. Divide among 4 shallow bowls. Ladle broth and chicken over each serving.
Serve with additional hot sauce, if desired.
Garnishes should be added to taste for each serving.