Of things to know about me – I’m not good at being sick. My life is usually so busy that sick days don’t really fit into my schedule and even if they do, I’m the type that has a hard time resting for long. Sure I might sleep in or maybe even take an afternoon nap, but most likely I’ll try to fight through it.
This past week, perhaps as punishment for a particularly fun St. Paddy’s Day Saturday with friends, I was walloped by a cold, the kind that strikes you down hard despite the fact you were feeling energetic and full of life just a day before. So I did what I always do – popped some Zinc and drank some orange juice with a bit of cold medicine here and there. But mostly, I just tried to soldier on as usual. Clearly it hasn’t been working as today – officially day eight – I still have said cold.
I decided it was time to pull out the big guns – soup. Yes, pleasantly (but not too) salty, noodle-filled soup. You know, the kind you’re supposed to crave when you’re sick. I know for most people this soup is chicken noodle, but chicken not being one of my favorite foods I knew I needed my own twist. In the past few years I’ve been a huge fan of Pho, so I knew it would serve as the perfect muse. This is my take.
I’m sure my version is anything but traditional. My experience is that most versions are lacking on the vegetable front, so I adapted mine to accommodate this, including celery and carrots for textural contrast and nutritional star power. I also added in some baby bella mushrooms so I could up the meatiness factor of this soup without overdoing it on the pork. All this goodness gets simmered in a mix of water and stock along with soy sauce, sherry, cinnamon sticks, star anise, and ginger for some Pho-like flavor. This combo really does make the best broth. It’s nuanced and complex, yet deliciously subtle. And down’t let all the sugar fool you, it adds a subtle caramel flavor in the background, but doesn’t really make the soup sweet. It’s well balanced by everything else.
But as great as all that is, what makes the soup really shine are the garnishes. I like to top mine with cilantro and basil leaves (whole are prettier, but I find that cutting them into thin ribbons is more palate-friendly), thinly sliced green onions, a generous squeeze of lime juice, and a little Chile Crunch. I’ve also seen bean sprouts and watercress as toppers for Pho so you could include those as well, though not being fans of either myself, I chose to omit them. If you were making this for a crowd you could even put the toppers out in little bowls and allow everyone to garnish themselves.
But regardless of what you top yours with, this is worth making. The flavors meld together nicely and after slow simmering for an hour and a half the of texture the pork really breaks down and becomes beautifully tender. I’ve enjoyed eating it in slow slurps, so much so that it was almost worth getting sick to have the excuse to make it.
Inspired by Vegetarian Times and Gourmet
-1 tablespoon canola oil
-1 ½ lbs boneless pork shoulder, trimmed of excess fat and cut into ½-inch pieces
-8 ounces sliced baby bella mushrooms
-6 cups water
-2 cups chicken stock
-2/3 cup low sodium soy sauce
-2/3 cup medium-dry Sherry
-3 (3-inch) cinnamon sticks
-1 whole star anise
-1 head garlic, sliced crosswise
-1/4 cup dark brown sugar
-10 ¼-inch-thick coins fresh ginger
-2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced
-1 rib celery, sliced
-4 ounces bean thread noodles, soaked according to package directions, rinsed and drained
Heat a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add oil and swirl to coat. Add pork and sauté for 5 minutes, turning to brown the meat on all sides. Remove from the pan.
Add the mushrooms to the pan and sauté until they have darkened in color, about 3-5 minutes. Return pork to the pan and add the water through ginger.
Bring mixture to a boil, and then reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and let mixture simmer for 1 hour, skimming off any fat as necessary.
Add carrots and celery to the pot, cover again, and let it simmer for another 30 minutes or until pork and vegetables are tender.
Remove the spices, garlic and ginger. Add noodles and cook until they are translucent and tender.*
*Note: If you are planning on storing this as leftovers, I recommend cooking the noodles separately according to the package, tossing them with a little bit of vegetable oil to prevent them from sticking together, and adding them to the soup just before you eat it. While cooking them in the pot saves you from dirtying another, they soak up a lot of broth when the soup sits overnight.