Pho’nomenal Soup

It’s been warm in North Carolina for several weeks, but recently the trees, flowers, and fauna have agreed to come alive and welcome Spring. The collective attitude of this area, the state, probably most of the country is lightened and optimistic, and everything seems fun and exciting. It’s almost hard to sit at home when you see the bright blue skies out of your window and know full well that the sun is warm and the breeze is light and soothing. I’m endlessly thankful that blending into life in Durham has been fluid and inspiring. It’s not without effort that I’ve made this community home, but the effort is easy to succumb when the opportunities are so prevalent. Durham shares features of Chicago that I loved, the primary being that it becomes so vibrant and positive in the warm weather. Everywhere it seems people are out, active, and socializing. Every restaurant and brewery offers the option to dine in the open air, and the myriad trails winding through this area are overflowing with people. It’s so fun to be happy and warm.

The above paragraph does not segue appropriately into the recipe at all. Rather, I’m blogging because I think I’ve exhausted my outdoor experiences for the weekend, and since the sun is setting, I find myself anxious for something new to do besides read quietly or numb to TV. So I’ll use this blog post as a way to believe I’m talking to someone since my dogs insist on napping and not engaging with me at all.

I want to call this recipe pho, because it is, I presume. However, I hesitate to comment on a culinary genre so profoundly outside of my personal experience and, in doing so, cheapen the years of creativity and influence that eventually inspired what is now appreciated as pho. It seems that in becoming a trendy- or at least well-known- food, there are of course a variety of manipulations that may stray egregiously from the original source. But I’ll attempt to throw my recipe into the forum, not to promise authenticity, but to encourage expansion of this beautiful and flavorful dish into even the most benign kitchens. This is truly one of the most straightforward meals I’ve made, with such outrageously delicious results. The ratio of effort to pay-off is trending towards infinity. So I call this soup, with a heavily obvious pun- pho’nomenal-  because it is phenomenal and it, for lack of a better descriptor, is pho!

Vegetarian Pho

Serves 2

(Inspired by this recipe)

Broth

  • 1 onion, cut in half
  • 1 large knob of ginger, cut in half
  • 2 stalks lemongrass
  • 3 cardamom pods
  • 1 tbsp whole coriander
  • 1 tbsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tbsp peppercorns
  • 1 tsp whole cloves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 tsp salt

Mix-ins

  • 1/2 block tofu, diced into 0.5 inch cubes
  • 1 tbsp. canola, sunflower, safflower, or other high-heat oil
  • 2 bunches bok choy
  • 1 jalapeno, sliced
  • 3-5 oz enoki (or other interesting) mushrooms
  • 3 oz rice noodles, prepared according to package directions

Sriracha and soy sauce to serve

To prepare the broth, halve the onion and ginger and place in the broiler. Broil until a dark golden color but not quite burnt. Flip and broil the opposite side. Watch carefully- this takes 2-3 minutes per side.

In a large stock pot, add the broiled onion and ginger, lemongrass, and whole spices. (Buyer’s note: I purchased all of these spices from the bulk bin at whole foods for approximately 25 cents… some were so light they were free! So don’t be discouraged by a long list of potentially expenses cabinet-dwellers… just buy what you need!). Add 6 cups of water to the pot and bring the mixture to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 90 minutes. I actually prepared the broth entirely ahead of time, cooled it, and stored prior to reheating when I was ready with the mix-ins the following night. But, alternately, prepare mix-ins while the broth is simmering. Once an appropriate amount of time has elapsed, strain the broth. It should be a deep, rich brown color. If needed, add a bit more salt.

Prepare the tofu by cubing, tossing with oil, and placing in the broiler for 5 minutes. Toss and continue to broil for 5-7 minutes longer, until lightly browned and crisped on the edges. While the tofu is cooking, prepare the rice noodles. Most packages ask for them to be added to boiling water then sit, covered, for about 10 minutes. Add the bok choy, mushrooms, and sliced jalapenos to the bowls. Once the tofu is done, add that as well. Top with the rice noodles.

To serve this in a pretty way, present the bowls with mix-ins then pour the steaming broth over the top. (My photos look a little low on broth, and that’s because I split it into 3 servings so I could get more food out of it [still living cheap], but this would be more substantial/ characteristic of massive pho bowls just split into 2 servings). Top with as much sriracha as you dare, as well as a splash of soy sauce. Serve with large spoon and chopsticks!

Thai Dumpling Kale Salad

It may be a week until Christmas, but I’m already kind of done with the cookies. Maybe it’s because everyone’s Christmas parties start back into the beginning of December, or maybe it’s because I joined some friends in a cookie-baking-bonanza that resulted in a whole tin of cookies to myself. I kind of don’t want at all mashed potatoes or stuffing or ham or holiday comfort food. I’ve been jamming on avocados and goat cheese, and I got into my mind that I could really go for an Asian salad. You know the kind, the Americanized version with ginger and wontons.

Well, of course, I didn’t have the ingredients for the giant salad of my imagination (which mirrored that of California Pizza Kitchen fairly precisely), but I did recognize I had a bunch of kale, a threatening-to-die carrot, and maybe some impromptu dressing ingredients. Out of a basic pantry and sad representation of a refrigerator… I created the best dinner I have had in months.

No, really. Admittedly, I freaking love the dumplings from Trader Joe’s. I used to buy the pork gyoza all the time, but somehow hadn’t in awhile… maybe it was a grad school thing. But I don’t eat pork or pigs anymore, and the frozen isle caught my eye (I’ve been excessively lazy recently). I saw Thai gyoza and thought I’d give it a try. The dumplings, while absolutely important, sit atop a salad so flavorful and balanced, that the whole (giant) bowl just satisfies every salty, tangy, savory craving you didn’t even know you had. I was not at all a believer in kale salads; I usually sauté my kale or put it in soups (read: why I had kale in the first place… soup season). But by massaging in the dressing, the kale becomes perfectly crunchy with just the right bite to offset the soft, fluffy little dumplings. I must say, the fresh ginger makes it. Which I totally would not have had if Thanksgiving had not been so recent, but please buy some if you’re making this salad tomorrow (as you should).

And, so long as you have this, or just a normal bottle of Sriracha, you are totally ready to go.

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Thai Dumpling Kale Salad

Serves 1 hungry person (per usual); easily multiplied

Thai Peanut Dressing

½ tbsp. canola (or other mild-flavored) oil

½ tbsp. tamari or soy sauce

1 tsp. natural peanut butter (peanuts and salt)

1 tsp brown sugar

½ tsp. sriracha

2 inch ginger knob, peeled and grated finely, juice included, stringy remnants discarded

Dash crushed red pepper flake

Salad and Dumplings

2 cups organic curly kale, chopped finely

1 golden carrot, peeled and minced/ chopped finely

½ tbsp. canola oil

5 Thai vegetable (or shrimp) gyoza/ dumplings (from Trader Joe’s)

2 tbsp. roasted and salted peanuts

Sriracha to serve

In a large serving bowl, whisk together the dressing ingredients. Add the kale and toss, with your hands, massaging the dressing into the kale leaves. Set aside while you prepare the remaining ingredients (time is your friend).

Use a food processor to finely chop the carrot (or your own determination and knife) and add to the greens. Toss.

In a small, non-stick sauté pan, prepare the gyoza according to package directions, which I’ll include here. Heat the oil over medium high heat and add the gyoza to the pan. Cook for 3-4 minutes until the bottom is browning. Add ¼ cup of water to the pan and quickly cover with a lid. Steam for 4-5 minutes until the gyoza are softened and cooked through.

Sprinkle the peanuts over the top of the salad and place the gyoza on top. Drizzle Sriracha over everything.

Absolutely dig in.

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Real question: should this blog be titled “Sriracha to serve”? Seems that’s at the end of every recipe. Also, I hate how dinner time in the winter means it’s pitch black outside. Try taking a good photo in your dark, poorly lit living room… sigh. At least dinner is good.

Pineapple Teriyaki Shrimp

This is my 52nd post for this blog. I didn’t realize the 50th was the 50th, and also missed noting the 51st, so here: I’m calling out my 52nd. My posting frequency has slowed some since the beginning, in part due to an exhausted schedule, in part due to more nights out on warm evenings. I have all of these things I wish to spotlight, and I keep pushing back recipes thinking they’ll be more fitting for another time. But I intend to keep this going, even if slowly, in expectation that with time I blog all I have to share. I am kind of curious if eventually I’ll run out of ideas, like maybe the 203rd post, and have to stop. Or does taste and experience change enough to keep a continuous fodder for this small, insignificant space? Maybe it’s more likely I run out of steam before I run out of ideas. Who’s to say.

I’m also very nearly approaching the time at which I can no longer say “From a Chicago Kitchen,” which makes me sad. I doubt I’ll change it; I’ll just take the route most Suburbanites take, who say they’re Chicagoans in a greater-Chicago perspective. I hope whatever kitchen I have next has good lighting.

Anyways, this recipe is a great one, I think, for the beginnings of summer. I probably prepared it a few weeks ago now, so I’d expect pineapples would be even more ripe and delicious. I admit I didn’t make my own Teriyaki sauce- I’ve never had a very comprehensive Asian pantry to make things from scratch on a whim- but I certainly didn’t just toss the shrimp with something out of a bottle. There were a few bottles involved! I also ran out of Sriracha (the most terrible of crimes), but I’m including it in the recipe because of course it should be included.

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Pineapple Teriyaki Shrimp

Serves 4

1 lb. raw shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 pineapple, prepared and chopped into 1 inch. cubes (about half of the fruit needed)

1 red bell pepper, roughly chopped

1 cup brown rice + 2 1/4 cups water

1/2 + 1/4 cup Teriyaki sauce, divided

1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce

1/4 cup water

1 tbsp. Sriracha

1 tbsp. corn starch

1 tbsp. coconut oil

Dash red chili flake

Prepare the shrimp and toss with 1/2 cup pineapple cubes and 1/2 cup Teriyaki sauce. Allow to marinade for 15-20 minutes.

Cook the brown rice according to package directions, usually 1 cup of brown rice to 2 1/4 cups water, cooked for about 30 minutes. Fluff and set aside.

Using a blender, mix together about 1/2 cup of pineapple cubes, 1/4 cup Teriyaki sauce, 1/4 cup soy sauce, 1/4 cup water, corn starch, and Sriracha. Blend until the pineapple is completely pureed into the mixture. Set aside.

In a large wok or non-stick skillet, melt coconut oil over medium high heat. Add the marinated shrimp (pineapple included), red bell pepper, and an additional 1 cup of chopped pineapple.  Cook the shrimp for about 3-4 minutes per side, until they are opaque. Once the shrimp is cooked and pineapple warm, pour the Teriyaki pineapple sauce over the shrimp. Stir frequently until the sauce coats the shrimp and thickens, about 2-3 minutes.

Serve rice and pineapple Teriyaki shrimp alongside each other. Be cautious with seasoning the rice- there is enough salt in the sauce without any additional salt added. Top with additional Sriracha as desired (you should always desire more Sriracha) and enjoy!

Glazed Tofu Banh Mi

When you’re living in a big city, you without intention are exposed to new ideas and cultures and references on an almost daily basis (depending on how much you go outside). One of the fantastic things about Chicago is its diversity, and the fact that the variability in culture penetrates even the most “gentrified” neighborhoods. Because even though I live in a high-rise full of more-often-than-not wealthy-ish older white people, I’m also steps from 4 Asian fusion, 1 upscale Mexican, 1 classic American, 1 Swedish brunch, 3 chain, and countless other restaurants. One of these includes a Vietnamese sandwich shop, known most for their banh mi sandwich. I coincidentally lived very near a Vietnamese sandwich place last year as well, so I’ve essentially passed by this delicious delicacy on an almost daily occasion for 2 years now. I don’t know why, but I’ll say it: I’ve never had a classic banh mi sandwich. Cue shame.

Now, in actuality, banh mi refers to a type of bread, not a specific sandwich. But in the westernized United States, it almost always refers to a baguette-type sandwich with roasted pork, pickled vegetables, chili sauce and/or mayonnaise, and cilantro. Variations come off of this base model, usually exchanging the pork for other meats or, in this case, vegetarian soy products (tofu!). Basically, this sandwich is a dream of beautifully combined products that promise to sooth and challenge all parts of your palate. But, probably, you’ve been passing it by, either literally or figuratively, without knowledge of its potential power over your sandwich cravings. I’m here to remedy that problem, by offering up a means to make this sandwich at home. I promise it is worth the (marginal) trouble to prepare each component, as it really takes about 45 minutes of time and is worth every second of the 2 minutes you’ll spend wolfing it down. Again, this is a tofu variety, which is quite easy to prepare, but you could certainly go traditional by preparing some pork or chicken (the same marinade can apply).

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Glazed Tofu Banh Mi

Makes 4 sandwiches

2 small baguettes (I used take and bake varieties, which freeze well)

1 cucumber, sliced

4 stalks green onion, sliced

Cilantro, chopped

Glazed tofu:

  • 1 block extra firm tofu
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. red pepper flake
  • 1/4 tsp. smoked paprika

Pickled vegetables

  • 5 small carrots, julienned
  • 1 bell pepper, sliced thinly
  • 1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
  • 3 tbsp. sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper

Sriracha cilantro mayonnaise

  • 2 tbsp. mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp. sriracha
  • 2 tbsp. cilantro, chopped

First, press the block of tofu (per this post) for at least 20 minutes. Once the tofu has been pressed, slice the tofu thinly into 16, 1/4 inch slices (or, slice into quarters, then slice each quarter into 4 slices). Whisk together the tofu marinade, then dip each slice of tofu into the marinade and allow to marinate in a large pan for 15-20 minutes.

While the tofu is pressing, prepare the pickled vegetables. Thinly slice, or julienne, the carrots and bell pepper and place in a dish (ideally that can be covered for later). Bring the rice wine vinegar, water, sugar, and S&P to a boil, until sugar has dissolved in the liquid. Pour the pickling liquid over the vegetables and allow to rest in the liquid for at least 30 minutes. You can store the remaining vegetables in the pickling liquid for several days (if these sandwiches will be prepared as “leftovers” as well later… a good idea).

Next, prepare the sriracha cilantro mayonnaise by combining the ingredients in a small bowl and mixing well. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Next, heat a griddle to 375 degrees Fahrenheit or a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add 1 tbsp. oil and the tofu to the pan (if using a sauté pan, this may require two batches). Heat the tofu for 3-5 minutes, until the first side is crisped and brown. Flip, then sauté the second side for an additional 3 minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Now, time to prepare the sandwich! Split the baguette in half and then slice longitudinally to make 2 sandwiches. Spread about 1 tbsp. of sriracha cilantro mayo on one side. Top with 4 slices of glazed tofu. Pile on as much of the pickled veggies as you’d like, then top with fresh cucumber, green onion, and cilantro.

Eat the sandwich! Bits will certainly fall off as you eat, but relish in your unstable sandwich, should-be-take-out glory. I absolutely loved these sandwiches for lunch the next day, prepared the night before then eaten cold. Once all the components are prepared, it’s quite quick to put together. I’d imagine if you used meat you could just hold onto some extras for leftover sandwiches as well. Now I’m off to try the sandwich shop next door, just to compare…

 

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Spicy Honey Soy Glazed Tofu Stir Fry

That title is a mouthful. And this dinner is a delicious mouthful! Easy puns. Tofu and vegetables, stir fried together in a sumptuous saucy glaze, are such a great, easy-yet-satisfying, healthy dinner. They don’t, however, photograph well. So while the images below may not entice you suddenly to purchase these ingredients and throw this together, I promise it’s actually one of the more delicious things I’ve made. The glaze is just the perfect combination of salty, sweet, and spicy, and the vegetables take to it perfectly, smothered yet crisp. I happen to love tofu, especially when pan fried, but I’m sure another protein would fit in this meal nicely as well. I thought about plating these components on a bed of rice, but, honestly, it’s really not necessary.

I loved this combination of vegetables because of their contrasting components, textures, and flavors, but, as a stir fry, substitutions are easy and not discouraged. Sometimes I think it’s fun just to browse the produce section and choose something different, which is why you won’t find snap peas or broccoli in this recipe. Whatever you want to try this week, whatever you’d like to experiment, pour this sauce over it and it’ll work out.

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Top left and clockwise: red pepper, bok choy, radish, carrots, cremini mushrooms

 

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Inside the mason jar: sauce that is amazing

 

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My favorite way to prepare tofu: lined up on a griddle, flip x 6

 

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Spicy Honey Soy Glazed Tofu Stir Fry

Serves 2-3

1 block extra firm tofu, pressed

2 tbsp. grapeseed (or other high heat) oil, divided

1/2 red bell pepper, diced

1 head bok choy, trimmed from the base and washed

5-6 medium radishes, sliced thinly

1-2 medium carrots, sliced into thin rounds

5 oz. cremini mushrooms, washed and sliced

Spicy Honey Soy Glaze:

  • 3 tbsp. soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp. grapeseed oil
  • 1 tbsp. honey
  • 1 tsp. sriracha
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. ground ginger
  • Pinch of red chili flake
  • Dash of cayenne pepper
  • 2 tbsp. diced shallot
  • 1 tbsp. cornstarch

Before cooking, prepare all of your ingredients and have ready. To prepare the tofu, open it from its package, drain the excess water, and place on a plate covered with a few paper towels. Top with more paper towels and weigh the tofu with another plate or medium-weight kitchen object. Let press for 15-30 minutes. Dice the tofu into about 1 inch cubes, depending somewhat on the size of the block (mine ended up more rectangular). Chop all of the vegetables according to the ingredients list.

Add the glaze ingredients to a mason jar and shake vigorously to combine. Set aside for later use.

I prepare the tofu separately, so that I can easily brown each side (which I find difficult in a standard sauté pan). You definitely don’t have to be so regimented- you could just as well brown in a sauté pan until seared to your liking- but I like every side to be crispy. So, either in your largest sauté pan or on a griddle, over medium-high heat or heated to 375 respectively, heat 1 tbsp. oil and place the tofu cubes in rows. Allow to cook for 1-3 minutes per side (I find the pan heats up over time, whereas a griddle is more consistent) until a light to medium brown is achieved. Once to tofu is sautéed, set aside.

In the same large sauté pan, wok, or other pan, heat the remaining tbsp. of oil over high heat. Add the carrots and bell pepper and cook for 2-3 minutes, until just softening. Add the bok choy and cook for another 2 minutes, until the leaves are just beginning to wilt. Add the mushrooms to the pan and allow to brown, cooking just until the juices are releasing, about 3 minutes. Add the radishes and toss (I add at the end so they maintain some crispness). As the juices from the mushrooms boils off, add the tofu to the pan and mix. Lightly (lightly!) season with salt and pepper. Next, add the spicy honey soy glaze to the pan. It will bubble violently and thicken, so stir vigorously until all vegetables and tofu are coated evenly. Remove from heat and serve.

 

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And, as always, top with sriracha. It may not be the most beautiful, but this is better than take-out. Much, much healthier too.