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!

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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.