A STORY OF FOUR MEALS AT OUR HOUSE ———–OR
HOW I LEARNED TO MAKE QUICK AND QUICKER VIETNAMESE NOODLE SOUP WITH FRESH HERBS AND GREENS…………

Do you want your mouth to sing? What melody (or harmony?) would you like?

If you like to frequent places called things like

Restaurant Saigon or
Vietnamese Café……..

and haven’t a clue from where those flavors come (but wish you did or want to know how to get them in your mouth totally fast……)
————————————————- then this blog is for you.

I really like cooking things I’ve never cooked before. I also really like (and my husband is crazy about) Vietnamese food, at least the sort of Vietnamese food found in Vietnamese restaurants in the United States. Give me a bun (bowl), an intensely fragrant soup showered with or poured over herbs and greens and I am in a happy land. If it’s the burn the skin off the roof of your mouth variety, I’m outa there. This soup, however, is breathable love.

I recently made THE SPLENDID TABLE’S (of NPR fame) version called “Pho,” pronounced “fuh.” We were tantalized. Harmonized. Unable to speak for eating. So, I made it again and again… Each time in a simpler version. Maybe better.

Here’s the story:

Meal #1: SPLENDID TABLES’ —PHO:
(This is from their book, HOW TO COOK DINNER- published last year.)

The method was a kinda shortened version of the real deal Asian noodle chefs make, which is a long process. The synopsis might read like the following:

Broil, yep, broil a sliced onion, a bruised (I pounded mine with a chef’s knife?) star anise, a few sliced garlic cloves, a couple of grinds of pepper, 6 whole cloves and 2-3” of thinly sliced ginger on a large, rimmed baking sheet or heavy-duty foil. Scrape all that in a small pot of chicken stock with some fish sauce and sugar; cook 20 min. Fix some rice noodles (let sit in very hot water; drain).

To the BIG bowls out of which you’ll be eating , add raw, thinly sliced top round. and divide the noodles between the big bowls

—————-Yes, this really does work. Even at altitude.

Pour the very hot, boiling soup over the noodles and raw beef. Serve with a “table salad” plateful of…

cilantro — mint — fresh basil—— bean sprouts and—— so on

Folks can choose the greens they want; you can ad lib. I used some spinach for nutritional value.

Sauces at the table would be:

–Hoisin and/or –Hot Sauce

Please buy the cookbook for the great, full version and all the rest of the super stuff in it. After another summer in Minnesota, I’m absolutely addicted to “Splendid Table.” On at 10am-Sundays- on NPR (91.5) here in Co. Springs.

——-The little black things are broiled whole cloves and pieces of star anise.

Meal Number 2: OUR AMENDED CHICKEN VERSION:

NOW THEN, we liked this so much, we fixed it another night with some boneless chicken thighs (the recipe said you could), but we had to throw the whole mess back in the pot to cook the chicken. It wouldn’t cook in the bowls. Insert appropriate lovely language here. We’re at altitude. It was a great idea because we had all of these herbs, etc, sitting in the frig. I was thinking we needed to do this when we had a garden; there were nearly $12 worth of fresh herbs for this soup…so———anyway—– Why not try it again?
(We should have used boneless breasts—afterthought. They cook faster than thighs, which are dark meat.)

Well— We adored it. Except for having to cook it in the pot. In fact, we liked it better the second night.

(What I’m not saying is how good this soup made us feel. It was delicious, tummy-warming, mouth-humming, filling, nutritious, not fattening….)

Meal #3 : Grilled Chicken Thighs with Zucchini and Mushrooms

At that point, said dinner partner went on a business trip leaving me with a few uncooked chicken thighs and some zucchini and mushrooms in the frig. I grilled the chicken and sautéed the veg and ate it all with a nice Australian Shiraz and a captivating book (THE HELP) and thoroughly enjoyed a night all by myself.
Ok, this is nothing earth-shattering, but it was quite tasty!

Next day , I spent doing household chores and sipping hot tea while a winter storm raged. Half-way through the blustery hours of short daylight, I decided to make a big pot of chili and freeze it for Halloween, when our grandson and his parents were coming for dinner and trick or treating. Why not get it done early? Meantime, I got hungry and the chili was not ready to eat. What for lunch? Why not a REALLY quick version of PHO, using my leftover grilled chicken and veg? It worked like a charm and here is how I did it. You can now do it, too. You could use leftover rotisserie chicken from the deli; it would be fine. Enjoy it soon. Tell me about it. I’m thinking of trying shrimp next.

Meal #4 PHO —ALYCE’S VERY FAST, THANK YOU VERSION
serves 2

Ingredients:

1 thinly sliced onion
1 star anise
6 cloves
2 garlic cloves, sliced
2” fresh ginger, sliced thinly
Several grind of black pepper

Box of chicken stock
2 t fish sauce (bottled Asian condiment)
2T sugar

½ box rice-wheat Udon noodles (or whole-wheat linguine)

2-3 chicken thighs, cooked and thinly sliced (or any cooked chicken–perhaps

think left-over turkey Thanksgiving weekend)

You can ad lib herbs and greens, even using chopped iceberg, as some restaurants do, but I used:

Cilantro, Basil, Mint (all fresh and chopped or whole, as desired)
Thinly sliced scallions
2 cups fresh spinach
¼ c alfalfa sprouts
2 slices fresh lime

At table:
Hoisin Sauce, (another bottled Asian condiment)
Tabasco (if desired)

Directions:

In the bottom of a 4-qt. saucepan, place everything in the first group of ingredients (onion-ground pepper), heat pan over medium heat, stirring ingredients nearly constantly. You must do this carefully as there is NO fat in this pan. Turn heat off when edges of onion are blackened. Add chicken stock (careful!), fish sauce and sugar. Bring to boil; cover and lower heat to simmer for 7 minutes. Add noodles and stir. Cook another 6 minutes or so until noodles are done (whole wheat linguine will take more time; you might want to break it in half).

To each serving (big) bowl, add 1 c fresh spinach and some cooked chicken. Divide broth and noodles between the bowls and top with desired herbs/greens. Add sauce(s) if desired and squeeze lime over all.

What NEW song is your mouth singing?

Alyce