Sunday, January 30, 2011


It's sort of been a day of frustrated plans.  Of course the day I'd planned to go to the zoo with Amanda and then take someone else to a biergarten would be the one rainy day in weeks.  But more than with my own frivolity being thwarted, my thoughts are with my brother, who today made the decision to leave Cairo, where he's been living and studying Arabic.  Although I cannot WAIT to hear that he's made it out of the country (his apartment is within a mile of some of the most intense protesting), I know it's got to be disappointing, having moved out of his apartment in the US, sold his car, paid for his tuition and living expenses in Egypt, etc., to be coming back to the US, at least temporarily.  (edit 1/31: Now he's considering staying...)

If rainy weather is good for anything, it's for soup.  I will avoid the seemingly inevitable puns that LA restaurants seem to require, and simply say that I made pho.  Pho the first time ever (oops).

Also, I got to go to the Natural History Museum instead, and then the sun came out and I got to go to the biergarten after all. 

Pho (pre-condiment), with sesame kale in the background

Apparently, some of the appeal of pho, which is a bit lost when you're cooking for one, is that there are all these condiments-- you can kind of make it whatever you want!  Pictured below: mint, cilantro, epazote (still masquerading as basil), lime, tamari, chili-garlic paste, jalapenos.

The broth is really unique-- cinnamon, cardamom, and fennel/anise add new dimensions.  I was worried about my broth being flavorful enough, especially skipping the dried mushrooms, so I also used a little stock paste.

And the finished product looks really pretty.


1 onion, peeled and quartered
2" piece ginger, thickly sliced
4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
12 c water (I subbed in a bit of stock)
4 pods cardamon, crushed or 1/4 tsp ground
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
5 whole star anise pods (I used 2 tsp fennel seed instead)
6 whole cloves
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt, plus more to taste
    2 carrots, coarsely chopped
large handful dried shiitake mushrooms, optional (I skipped this)
1 1/2-2 cups fresh shiitake or portobello mushrooms, sliced (I used cremini)
protein--about 1/3 cup per bowl, bite sized (I used firm tofu, fried)
2-3 cups fresh mung bean sprouts (I omitted this)
bunch fresh basil (I substituted epazote)
bunch fresh mint
1 jalapeno, thinly sliced
small bunch fresh cilantro
2 limes, cut in half and quartered
hoisin sauce, optional (omitted)
sriracha or red chili paste
13 oz package rice noodles

1. Place the onion, garlic and ginger on a cookie sheet and broil under direct heat until lightly charred.
2. In a large pot, bring the water to a boil over high heat. Add the charred ingredients, the spices, sugar, salt, carrots and dried mushrooms, if using. Cover the pot and let the broth cook over medium high heat(rolling boil) for 30-45 minutes.
3. While the broth is cooking, prepare the noodles as directed on your package, rinse 'em well with cold water and set aside.
4. Prepare the herbs by giving 'em a good bath and drying them well. The fun part of eating pho is each diner gets to assemble and season their own bowls. So, you can pile "the accessories" onto one platter to be shared by the table, or arrange 'em into individual bowls for each person. Make neat but separate piles of the sprouts, basil, mint, cilantro and limes. Leave the leaves on the herbs, and let folks rip them off into their own bowls at the table.
5. Strain the broth to remove all solids, rinse out the pot and return the broth. Bring back to a soft boil and add the fresh mushrooms. Cook until the mushrooms are soft, about 5 minutes, then remove from heat. Season to taste lightly with salt.
6. To serve: divide the noodles evenly between 4 deep bowls. Top with your protein choice, then fill up with broth. Let each person season their bowls to taste with freshly torn herbs, sprouts, lime juice, jalapenos, wheat-free tamari, Sriracha and hoisin sauce.  Serves at least 4.

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