Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Healthy Dinner Idea: Vietnamese Pho

If you've never had pho before, your taste buds are in for a flavor party!  Pho (pronounced "fuh") is the national soup of Vietnam and, while it can be made in a variety of ways, typically includes noodles, herbs, and some type of protein.  My husband used to go to pho restaurants all the time and although I love the soup, I actually have never been to a pho restaurant.  All my pho experiences have been with my own homemade version, which I've adapted from a recipe in the magazine Vegetarian Times.  This recipe is so flavorful, even my daughter loves it.  I modify it a little for her, chopping up the chicken and noodles and using less broth.  I give her a spoon and a straw (to slurp up the broth) and she goes to town!  Here is the recipe for your tasting pleasure!

Yes, there are a lot of ingredients.  Get ready:

3 large shallots (1 cup), sliced
1/2 cup dried shiitake mushrooms, coarsely chopped
10 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
3 tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
fresh ginger, sliced into 12 1/4-inch-thick coins
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp ground black pepper
2 cinnamon sticks
2 star anise
5-6 fresh basil stems
5-6 fresh cilantro stems
6 cups low-sodium vegetable broth

10 oz. package udon noodles (or rice noodles)
1 pound boneless/skinless chicken breast (or 1 pkg. Asian-flavor baked tofu, thinly sliced) - not pictured
2 cups soybean sprouts
4 green onions, sliced (1/4 cup)
1/2 cup chopped cilantro leaves
1 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
2 cups watercress (I hate this, but many people like it.  You will not see it here, but feel free to use it!)
2 limes, cut into wedges

1) To make the broth:  Add all the broth ingredients, shallots through cilantro stems, into a large pot.  Don't worry about how pretty you chop things up - it's going to get tossed later anyways.

2) Add 6 cups vegetable broth and 8 cups water to the pot.  Cover and bring to a boil.  When it begins to boil, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, for 1 hour.

3) While the broth is cooking, prepare the chicken.  Slice as thinly as possible into bite-sized pieces.  If your chicken is frozen, it's even easier to cut into thin slices.  Cover and place in the fridge until it's time to use.  If you are using tofu instead, read on to find out what to do.

4)  Cook the noodles according to the package.  These are udon noodles (I prefer these over rice noodles) which require you to cook in boiling water for about 5 minutes.  After they are cooked, rinse under cold water and set aside.  I'm not sure about how to cook the rice noodles, so make sure you read the package.

5)  After the broth has simmered for 1 hour, strain and discard the solids.  I placed a colander over a large bowl and poured.  You aren't going to use any of this stuff, so just throw it away (you were only using it to extract the flavors).  Put the broth back in the pot.

7)  If you are using tofu, skip this step and go to step 8.  If you are using chicken, read on.  Bring the strained broth back to a boil and add the raw chicken.  If you sliced it thinly, it should cook in about 4-5 minutes.  In fact, it will probably start to turn white as soon as it enters the broth.  When it is fully cooked, remove the chicken from the broth and set aside.

8)  Assemble your soup ingredients:  sprouts, chopped basil, cilantro, and green onions, cooked noodles, lime wedges, and cooked chicken (not pictured).  If you are using tofu, slice and place in a bowl as well.

9)  Assemble your pho:  In a large bowl, place noodles in the bottom of the bowl.  Ladle broth over the noodles and top with chicken/tofu, sprouts, green onions, basil, cilantro, and squeezed lime on top.  Of course, feel free to use as little or as much of each of these "toppers" as you like.  It's all up to you on how you want it to turn out.

This is a very slurpy soup, so grab a fork and a spoon (or a pair of chopsticks) and a big napkin.  And if your family members don't like the slurpy sounds of a happy pho eater, get them some earplugs, too.

I hope you enjoy this soup as much as I do and that you have a "pho"ntastic day!  :)

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