If you believe that soups have no place in summer, you might want to rethink that once you read today’s recipe. Soups generally fall into two main categories (I am sure you can think of more) – creamy soups and lighter broth-like soups. While the thicker and creamier soups made with melons, tubers and other winter root vegetables are best enjoyed with some crusty bread on a cold winter evening, clear soups really have no season. If it weren’t true, South Asian countries like Thailand and Vietnam wouldn’t be such soup-loving cultures. And I firmly believe that the best soups come from these places.
They have aromatic broths, a wide selection of noodles, succulent vegetables and meat and a host of other simple, but delicious goodness in their soup bowls.
I have heard only good things about the Vietnamese pho. A rich broth poured over noodles, vegetables, cooked beef, chilies and a host of other good stuff, it is the perfect cure for an empty stomach or an empty soul. Trying out authentic pho has always been on my bucket list, but I must admit, I am not a big fan of red meat in my soup. So like everything else I do, I decided to put my own spin to it. That’s why I call it a pho-inspired soup. At the very basic level, this is a noodle soup with Asian flavors.
It starts with some homemade broth. And not just any broth, but one flavored with aromatics like cinnamon, star anise, cardamom, black pepper, onions and ginger. You can add vegetables to make a vegetable broth. Or you can add a few bone-in chicken pieces to make chicken broth. Better yet, you can follow the currently hot trend of making bone broth. It’s your call. I added a large chicken thigh to make chicken broth. To season the broth, I used a touch of soy sauce and fish sauce. Once the broth was done, I shredded the chicken and added it to the soup bowls as well. One chicken thigh was just enough for two bowls of soup. Next time, I will attempt to boil a whole bird and freeze the extra broth. It’s going to be worth it.
Any broth gets better after simmering for a long time. It also helps if you can make it ahead, like a couple of days ahead. Time only makes homemade broth taste better. Trust me on this. The very first time I came up with this recipe, I had the broth sitting in the refrigerator for 3 days before I finally got around to making the soup. Let it come to a rolling boil before ladling over your noodles and vegetables.
Now, a word about the noodles. The kind of noodles used is a matter of personal preference. You can sort of get away with using Italian pasta instead of Asian noodles. But you better make that trip to your friendly neighborhood Asian store. The sheer variety of noodles on display will at first shock you, and then, entice you. Just go with it and pick something that catches your eye. Fresh noodles or dried, rice or wheat, it’s your call. I used dried egg noodles here, so they needed to be cooked in boiling water for roughly 4 minutes. If you use rice noodles, it may only require a quick hot water bath to soften it.
Now we get to the vegetables. We have onions and ginger in the broth, of course. I also added some carrots to up the nutrition quotient. Once the broth was done, I fished them all out and used the carrots in another recipe. While serving the soup, you may use mushrooms, bean sprouts or bok choy. Bok choy is a robust leafy vegetable and it takes well to being grilled with just a touch of oil, salt and pepper. That makes for an amazing side as such and a very interesting add-in in this soup bowl.
Once you have a heaping portion of noodles, vegetables and chicken in your bowl, pour the piping hot broth over them and top with some thinly sliced onions, ginger, chilies and fresh cilantro. Serve with fresh lime for squeezing on top and your favorite sauces. I used hot sriracha here. You can use any kind of chili sauce, chili oil, hoisin sauce, vinegars, etc. And once you’ve settled down with the soup and your favorite condiments, it’s time to go to slurpville!
PHO-INSPIRED ASIAN NOODLE SOUP (WITH CHICKEN AND VEGETABLES)
You will need: (Makes 3-4 hearty soup bowls)
- Oil – 2 tsp (I use sesame oil, you can use any kind)
- Whole spices – 2″ piece of cinnamon, 3-4 cloves, 1 star anise, 8-10 black pepper corns
- Onion – 1, roughly chopped
- Ginger – 2″ piece, roughly chopped
- Carrots – 1-2, diced
- Chicken thighs – 1-2 (bone-in preferred)
- Water – 6-7 cups
- Soy sauce – 2 tbsp
- Fish sauce – 2-3 tsp
- Mushrooms – 1/2 lb, chopped
- Baby bok choy – 2-3 stalks, halved
- Noodles – 1/2 lb
- Salt and pepper – to taste
To garnish/top the noodle bowls,
- Red onion – 1 small, thinly sliced
- Ginger – a few thin slices
- Thai chilies – 3, cut into thin rounds
- Cilantro leaves – a few stalks, roughly torn
- Lime – 1, cut into thin slices or wedges
- Sriracha, chili sauce, chili oil, etc – as needed
- Begin by making the broth. In a large pot, heat oil and lightly saute the whole spices, onions and ginger till onions are translucent and spices are aromatic. Then add the carrots and chicken. Add water (6-7 cups or as much as to comfortable submerge the pot contents), soy sauce and fish sauce. Bring to a rolling boil and continue for 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low and simmer covered for at least an hour.
- Remove the cooked chicken thighs to a plate. Shred the chicken meat and set aside. Strain the broth to remove the spices and vegetables. Discard the spices, but retain the vegetables to be consumed along with the soup or later.
- Return broth to the pot and continue simmering. Add the chopped mushrooms and cook till they are just softened. Check and adjust seasoning now.
- While broth is simmering, prepare the bok choy by charring them on a grill pan or skillet over high heat. Toss with salt, pepper and a touch of oil. Set aside.
- Also, heat a large pot of water and cook noodles as per package instructions. Drain and toss with a teaspoon of sesame oil. Set aside.
- Once you have the broth, vegetables and noodles, it is time to assemble the soup bowls. Divide the shredded chicken equally among the bowls. Top with cooked noodles and bok choy. Ladle hot broth over this. Top with some red onion slices, ginger, chilies, cilantro and lime wedges. Serve immediately with your favorite condiments on the side. Enjoy!
- Traditionally, pho is flavored with way more star anise and other spices than is mentioned here. But I personally like only a mild flavor in my soup. Feel free to add more if you want to.
- The onions and ginger are charred on a grill or open flame before adding to the broth. But I have simply sauteed them as a shortcut.
- It goes without saying that if you were to use red meat, the broth cooking times will need to be adjusted.
- Use your favorite noodles in this recipe. The cooking method will vary depending on whether you use rice noodles or egg noodles or any other kind. But remember to cook the noodles just before you are ready to serve the soup. The broth can be reheated before pouring over the noodles and meat.
- Feel free to add more vegetables like bean sprouts, tender bamboo shoots, etc. I happened to use bok choy this time.
I cannot even begin to tell you how much we love this soup. It is so easily customizable as well. For the little guy here, I sometimes leave out the onions and ginger and just serve it with some chicken and vegetables. It has actually become a regular fixture at our house. Do give it a try!
So, tell me, do you think soups are a winter-only meal? Or does it find a spot on your table throughout the year? Do you like Asian noodle soup bowls? Have you tried pho? Do share.
I am sharing this over at Angie’s amazing blog link party at The Novice Gardener.