Baby, it’s cold outside. PHO REALZ! (Yes, that’s right. I just said that.) Perhaps it has now become painfully obvious that I’ve spent the last six years working with teenagers as a teacher. As for the cold, it has been the most bitter winter I can recall. Like everyone I know, I just want to hibernate, wear my flannel pajamas and eat hot soup.
This past Christmas, I received a pair of onesie pajamas in the mail from my older sister. It was especially good timing because we were in the middle of a major ice storm. Many people across the province of Ontario were without power for days or almost weeks. It was during this time that I became hostage to the onesie for three (okay, four) straight days. I now realize that there is nothing attractive about a onesie (as my friends had no problem pointing this out to me. Wait. Was that an intervention?!) but let’s be honest here, there’s nothing sexy about minus 25 degree weather either. Almost every girl I know throws her sexiness straight out of the window as soon as she arrives home. Off comes the smart business apparel, heels or skin-tight leather leggings and on go the big, baggy sweat pants or pajama bottoms. Don’t deny it, you know you do it! Many of my male friends have also admitted to being just as guilty. However, staying warm and being comfortable makes way more sense than getting sick. A bowl of hot, steamy Pho can’t hurt either!
I have always loved Pho (a famous Vietnamese soup that consists of meat, rice noodles, spices and vegetables). Pho is a meal in itself. It’s the perfect balance of flavours and quick and easy to prepare. Once you acquire some of the key ingredients in your pantry, it may very well become a staple in your household like ours.
Although most Pho is traditionally prepared with thinly-sliced beef, I prefer shellfish in mine. I also like to add in less traditional ingredients like red radish and mushrooms. Have you ever tired Enoki mushrooms? The white, tiny, slender ones? They are now my favourite. They have a crisp texture and are nutty but light in flavour and they are terrific in a soup like Pho.
My advice, stay in tonight and stay warm with a bowl of delicious, fragrant Pho and enjoy hibernating while you have the excuse to.
My Version of Vietnamese Pho
Prep Time: 10 minutes Cook Time: 10 – 15 minutes Serves: 4 Author: Milk and Marigolds
9 cups of chicken or vegetable broth
454 g (16 oz.) of medium-thick vermicelli noodles
½ pound of ready-cooked shrimp (approximately 20 large shrimp)
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 ½ tablespoons of fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons of Gluten-free Hoisin sauce (essential!)
½ a large yellow onion, thinly-sliced
1 ½ tablespoons of honey
½ red onion, thinly-sliced
1 cup cilantro, roughly chopped
½ cup of fresh mint leaves
½ cup of fresh basil leaves
4 radishes, thinly-sliced
12 individual heads of baby bok choy (kept whole, cut off thin layer of the base)
4 green (spring) onions, thinly-sliced lengthwise
150 g (5.3 oz.) of Enoki mushrooms
2 small Thai red hot peppers (if you dare!), thinly-sliced, seeds removed (wear gloves)
Siracha Rooster hot sauce & Hoisin sauce for the table
4 – 5 lime wedges for the table
1. Defrost the shrimp under cool running water or overnight in the fridge.
2. Prepare a large pot of boiling water for the rice noodles.
3. In a large pot, begin by sautéing the fresh ginger and yellow onion in sesame oil at a medium heat for 5 minutes. Olive oil can be used as a substitute, although sesame allows for a lovely flavour.
4. Add broth to the ginger-infused pot. I personally prefer fresh stock from a leftover roast chicken but Gluten-Free cubes can be almost as tasty and is more time efficient. You will need 9 cups worth.
5. Add the fish sauce (found at most supermarkets or Asian speciality stores), lime juice, and Gluten-Free hoisin sauce and then allow the broth to simmer on medium heat (lid on to prevent reduction) for 5 – 10 minutes.
6. While the broth is simmering, prepare the garnish ingredients listed above.
7. Place the packet of rice noodles in the boiling water (not the broth). Lower heat and cook for no more than 2 minutes, attentively stirring to prevent sticking. Strain and set aside.
8. Ladle steaming hot broth into a large soup bowl, add noodles, shrimp and garnishes. I personally like to add the baby bok choy and enoki mushrooms raw as the hot broth tends to lightly cook the vegetables enough, while still allowing for tender crunch.
Keep noodles separate from the broth until serving. This prevents them from becoming overcooked and makes leftovers easier. Vegetarian? Use a vegetable-based stock instead and replace shell-fish with a veggie-friendly protein. While tasting your Pho, add more Hoisin and Siracha to your noodles and crisp vegetables for further flare.