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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Mango Chicken

The trouble with life is that it keeps going. Sometimes you’d really benefit from punching life in the face, taking a nap for 2 weeks, then starting from a fresh place. But what actually happens is you get a flat tire in a snowstorm and then get in a car accident in a snow storm 4 days later and then have to go grocery shopping lest you live another week on Larabars and cafeteria soup. Sometimes life throws so many lemons at your face you feel like you’re in a lemon mountain, and you’re not quite sure if there’s anything more than lemons out there. These times call for a solid nap, a quiet place, a really interesting and captivating book, and a steaming hot and comforting meal. Maybe followed by wine; I won’t judge. It may be that you only get 24 hours before life demands you become productive again, but if you work at relaxing hard enough, you can come out almost like new. (I’ll take an interlude to say, what really would help me out is if someone could just fly me to Hawaii for a month long vacation, where sipping beach drinks and “surfing” are the only tasks required of me. I’d appreciate this trip for free, also). As I was driving home from the car service center, in my lovely new rental car for the week, I overwhelmingly began to crave my favorite dish from Rangoli, a truly beautiful and delicious Indian restaurant on the West side near my old apartment. Sitting in traffic, I knew there was absolutely no way I was taking a (probably) hour and a half detour just for dinner, as I had only eaten (the rest of my) yogurt and cereal as my meal for the day. However, I knew I needed groceries, so I convinced myself to drive home, grab groceries in under 30 minutes, and try my hand at my own version. This, as my luck would currently not have it, turned out amazingly well on the first try. I believe I may have perfectly replicated the recipe on a slightly-educated whim, as it turned out just as I remembered it. A rich, warm, definitely-spicy-but-slightly-sweet sauce surrounding juicy chicken breast and luscious mangoes. The sauce kicks at the end, thanks to a pretty heavy spice blend, but the mango cools at just the right time, ultimately encouraging you to eat way too fast and start to overheat a bit. I have to say, though, eating a fulfilling dinner, finally restocking my fridge, and looking forward to nothing but Internet browsing and Anna Karenina for the night, I feel as though I almost salvaged this Friday.

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Mango Chicken

Serves 4

1 cup brown rice

2 1/2 cups water

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 1 inch cubes

1 tbsp. grapeseed oil

1 yellow onion, chopped

1 jalapeno, minced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup roasted red and yellow peppers, chopped (or 1 raw bell pepper, chopped)

1 1/2 cups mango, fresh or frozen, chopped and divided

2 tsp. garam masala

1 tsp. chili powder

1/2 tsp. ground ginger

1/2 tsp. smoked paprika

1/4 tsp. cayenne

1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes

6 oz. can tomato paste

1 tbsp. sriracha

1 1/2 cups chicken stock

1/2 cup coconut milk

Salt & pepper, to taste

In a medium sauce pan, prepare brown rice by bringing about 2 1/2 cups water to a boil and adding 1 cup of rice (ratio depending on brand and style of rice; defer to package directions). Turn the heat to low, cover, and simmer brown rice for about 35 minutes, until water is absorbed and rice is fluffy. Season with salt and pepper and let rest, covered.

In a large sauté pan, preferably a few inches deep, heat grapeseed oil over medium heat. Add onions and sauté until translucent, about 4-5 minutes. Add jalapeno and garlic and sauté another 1-2 minutes, until fragrant. Add 1/2 cup of mango and stir to incorporate. Toss the spices over the vegetable mixture and cook for about 30 seconds. Add tomato paste and sriracha to the pan and cook for another 2 minutes. Deglaze the pan with chicken stock and stir until blended. Using an immersion blender, blender, or food processor, blend the sauce until smooth and creamy. Return the sauce to the pan and drop the heat to medium-low. Add coconut milk and stir into the sauce.

As the sauce gently simmers, add the chicken and remaining cup of mango to the pan. Cook the chicken in the sauce until it is cooked through, being careful not to overcook, for about 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once the chicken is cooked through, remove from heat.

To serve, pile some brown rice onto your plate. Top with chicken and mango in sauce. If you had some cilantro, that would pair nicely here. I served this with some roasted broccoli to get a bit more green with my dinner, which I’d recommend as it was absolutely delicious doused in spicy mango sauce.

After dinner, feel free to relax and dream of vacations passed, like maybe when you were in Charleston last weekend and everything was perfect. Maybe sun would solve all of our problems; maybe I should move back south.

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Brunching at beautiful Poogan’s Porch in Charleston, SC

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Just dreaming of life at 75 and sunny.* Indian food will have to suffice for now.

*I don’t know that old man.

Spicy Lime Shrimp with Mango Coconut Brown Rice

I don’t have a lot to say; my brain is tired; my commute was long. I came home from work (or, really, I got out of my car an hour and a half later and came inside), and I was starving. I bought a mango and some accompaniments  a few days ago in thoughts of preparing a summer rice bowl full of spicy grilled shrimp, and then the week passed and all the components rested comfortably in my vegetable drawer. I guess it seemed like too much chopping. But, without much else to go on besides cereal, and knowing those vegetables would soften unappealingly while I spent a (hopefully) fantastic weekend away, I dove in to the prep work. I may work fast in the kitchen, but this recipe is the definition of a 30-minute-meal. It seriously all comes together in the time it takes to simmer brown rice, which is nice because once the timer goes off I am suddenly very impatient to eat. I topped my plate with this steamy, spicy concoction with a cleaned kitchen at the outcome, thanks to some quick swipes of the counter and the clean-as-you-go method. This means I can sit on the couch now and recuperate when I should be packing. How else do 25-year-olds live? Oh wait…

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*Chop, chop, chop*

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Spicy Lime Shrimp with Mango Coconut Brown Rice

Serves 2

20 frozen shrimp, raw, peeled and deveined

Spicy Lime Marinade:

  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 1 tbsp. grapeseed oil
  • 1 tsp. honey
  • 1 tsp. barbecue sauce
  • 1/2 tsp. sriracha
  • 1/4 tsp. chili powder
  • 1/4 tsp. smoked paprika
  • Dash of cayenne

1/2 cup brown rice

3/4 cup light coconut milk

1/2 cup water

2 tbsp. grapeseed oil, divided

1 mango, diced

1 red bell pepper, diced

1/2 red onion, diced

Salt & pepper, to taste

First, heat a saucepan over medium-high heat and add coconut milk and water. Once boiling, add brown rice, lower heat to low, and simmer, covered, for 30-35 minutes, until rice is tender and liquid is almost entirely absorbed.

To defrost the shrimp, add shrimp to a colander inside a large bowl. Fill the bowl with chilled water and let soak for 2-3 minutes. Empty the water and replace, and repeat the soaking process. Toss the shrimp in the colander under running water and set aside in a new clean bowl.

Mix the spicy lime marinade by shaking in a jar or whisking to combine. Pour the marinade over the shrimp and toss. Set aside for now (allowing to marinate for about 20 minutes).

Dice the mango and vegetables. In a sauté pan, heat 1 tbsp. grapeseed oil over medium-high heat. Add the bell pepper and onion, season lightly with salt, and sauté until the onion is translucent and the vegetables have softened. Remove vegetables from the pan and set aside.

In the previously used sauté pan, heat 1 tbsp. grapeseed oil over medium-high heat. Add shrimp to the pan, leaving most of the marinade in the bowl. Cook shrimp until pink and cooked through, about 3 minutes. Remove shrimp from the pan and set aside.

By this time, the rice should be done cooking. Add the sautéed vegetables and mango to the coconut rice and season with salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly to combine. Plate the coconut mango rice and top with shrimp.

Pour the remaining marinade into the sauté pan and simmer over medium heat until reduced and thickened, about 1-2 minutes. Pour marinade over plated shrimp and rice.

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Add Sriracha to serve, possibly with another squeeze of lime juice. A sprinkle of cilantro might be nice. Or maybe even a margarita on the side (not for you, Brian). Regardless, this was good. Creamy coconut milk, sweet mango, acidic lime and onion, and succulent and spicy shrimp are magic companions. Soon it will be summer and this meal will fit right in.