This week has been an interesting mix of stress and happiness. Nani (grandma) is still at home but with new test results coming through, she seems to be in the clear. This was a great sigh of relief for the whole family. Additionally, Andrew spent some time at home while I was at work but we did get to chill after I returned every evening. I showed him some of my favorite places in the city even though most people thought that me feeding him a pizza in Delhi was a waste. I doubt that he cared though, and I hope that he had fun. It was such a special surprise to see him. I am going to be honest, I didn’t think I would be physically seeing him this soon after college. We actually talked about it when he was here. We acknowledged how small the world is, and that this trend of seeing each other will be constant. I think what we realized was that life, unlike college, doesn’t have breaks. If you want to go see someone, you really can. It like isn’t hard.
Now, If you have noticed a trend with the recent posts I have been writing, they have been very seasonal. Hot, warm, hearty (aka fatty) recipes, which are things that make a winter just great. The one thing that I have stayed away from has been soup. No, not because they can be healthy, but because I really don’t like warm, pureed food. My philosophy has always been why puree food when you have teeth. Like I never got the fascination around soups. Then, I was introduced to pho. By far the only time I have found soups to be amazing has been when I ate pho or ramen. Fatty pieces of protein and veggies in a flavorful broth that wasn't boiling hot and just enough that it finished in tandem with all the other accompaniments that it came with. It was kinda perfect. Yen Anh, one of my closest friends introduced me to almost all Vietnamese food — something that I have talked about in length in my miso soup blog post which you can check out here (#shamelessplug). When I started searching for good pho recipes, I came across the second reason why I don’t like soup recipes - they all need a broth. And usually it's a veggie broth.
Now, I know that a lot of people love broth and some dishes (such as Ramen) are basically nothing without broth but it doesn’t mean everything needs to have it. There are plenty of dishes that can do with a slurry of over-salted bones in boiling water. In fact, I quite like what regular water can provide. Now, I know that the basic premise of pho is a bone broth base but I don't have the time to make that and there is no way I was going to put chicken cubes in water and have a swill of that. So, with some help from J-Kenji Lopez’s book Food Lab, I created a simple veggie broth. I took scraps of random veggies, two whole carrots, lots of spices, and garlic to make a broth in 45 minutes, that I then filtered and added by various components - poached prawns, rice noodles, bok choy, scallions, and red chillies. The real winners of the dish were the prawns, which even after being blanched in the broth, had a unique “ocean fresh” flavor to them; and the bok choy, which retained its firmness even while swimming in boiling water and soaking in all that broth-y goodness.
It was a simple dish, that can be complicated and also simplified at the same time. Please do give this a try as you go about choosing the next soup you want to make.
Preparation (Serves 4)
For the Veggie Broth
2 large carrots, quartered
2 large onions, quartered (no need to remove the papery peel either)
6 bulbs of garlic
2 teaspoons of cumin
2 teaspoons of whole black peppercorns
1 large bay leaf
2 dried chillies
For the Pho
500 grams of rice noodles, cooked according to package instructions
8 mushrooms, thinly sliced
5 scallions, greens sliced coarsely | Whites sliced thin
1 medium bok choy, leaves kept whole and stems quartered longitudinally
350 grams of prawns
In 750 ml of cold water, add all the broth ingredients and bring to a boil. Then, reduce the heat and let the broth cook slowly for 35 minutes. Once this time elapses, sieve through a cheesecloth.
In boiling water, add defrosted prawns for not more than 5 minutes or until the meat gets firm.
In a boiling cup of broth, add all your pho accompaniments. Serve with lime, and sriracha!