As though writing a cookbook and trying to stay on top of a second grader’s homework and extracurriculars is not enough, we’re planning a long overdue and major kitchen renovation this summer. When I say long overdue, I am not exaggerating one bit, as we haven’t put a hammer or paintbrush to the kitchen in the thirteen years of living in this house. Something has always topped it on the priority list, which, I know, sounds crazy considering what I do.
Our kitchen is nicely sized and sunny, but has many questionable and outdated details from the 90s along with badly aging countertops, the layout needs improvement, and there is a low hanging ceiling in an otherwise high ceilinged house. There’s lots of unearthed potential, and we are finally coming around to letting it free. To me, this is extremely exciting – the kitchen is my office, the place where the family eats, and also happens to be the central hangout spot in the house.
Somehow, we’ve managed to put ourselves onto a very tight schedule – the book manuscript is due June 30th, and the kitchen is being knocked down July 1st, the next day!
For now, I’m planning and gathering ideas, scouting Craigslist and Pinterest, and picking up old pieces of driftwood off the beach – who knows when I’ll need them.
Hot soup has always been my ultimate comfort food, and I know I will be needing lots of it in the months to come. Vietnamese pho is king when it comes to soups that warm you from the core, and I’ve been experimenting with vegetarian pho recipes during the past couple of weeks. The main component of any pho, but especially vegetarian pho, is the broth. This pho broth is first and foremost based on toasted spices – star anise, cinnamon, coriander, cardamom, peppercorn, and clove – each bringing its individual character to the flavor profile. I’m not normally the biggest fan of cinnamon in savory dishes, but in this broth it balances with tamari, brown rice vinegar and chili to create a fragrant and deeply nourishing broth.
I bought a few too many sweet potatoes from my favorite local farm and they made it into the pho in place of rice noodles, truly hitting the spot. This soup is all I want to eat right now. It’s warming, spicy and substantial, but also loaded with springy, crunchy vegetables and tons of herbs – the perfect balance, if you ask me.
Ciao Italian readers! Our book The Vibrant Table is now available in Italian, and you can order it here.
Vegetarian Spring Pho with Sweet Potato Noodles and Heirloom Beans
Note: I noticed that making the broth the night before lends the best flavor, so if you have time, let the aromatics sit in the broth for a night.
2 star anise
2 cinnamon sticks
1 teaspoon whole coriander seeds
1 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorn
5 whole cloves
3 cardamom pods – green shells removed
1 medium onion – sliced into 8 wedges
3 garlic cloves – crushed with a knife
1-inch piece ginger, sliced and crushed with a knife
1/2 lb shiitake – hard stems removed, caps sliced
6 cups purified water
3 1/2 tablespoons tamari
1 tablespoon brown rice vinegar
1/4 teaspoon sriracha
1 1/2 cup cooked beans (I used these beautiful ones)
2 medium sweet potatoes – spiralized (I use this spiralizer)
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 small or 1/2 large broccoli head – cut into florets
2 baby bok choy or 1 regular bok choy – sliced
handful mung bean sprouts
juice of 1 lime, plus more for serving
handful each cilantro, basil and mint leaves
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1. Warm dried spices in a medium soup pot over medium heat, stir around until toasted and fragrant, for about 2-3 minutes. Add onion, garlic and ginger and toast for another couple of minutes, until fragrant and onion begins to get some colour. Carefully add water (it may splatter) and shiitake stems, followed by tamari, brown rice vinegar and sriracha. Bring to a boil, lower the heat to simmer and cook, covered, for 30 minutes. Remove from heat and let infuse further for at least 30 minutes or as long as you have time (overnight is best). Strain, discard solids.
2. Warm the coconut oil in a medium saute pan over medium heat, add broccoli and bok choy and saute for about 3-4 minutes, until they turn bright green in color. Set aside. This step can be eliminated and you can add broccoli and bok choy directly to the broth, along with the sweet potato noodles or later, together with mung bean sprouts, if you want to keep the greens extra crunchy.
3. In the meantime, bring the broth back to a boil, add cooked beans, sweet potato noodles and sliced shiitake caps. Adjust the heat to a simmer and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, depending on the type of spiralizer used. Mine makes very thin threads, so 3 minutes is enough time, while other spiralizers produce much thicker noodles, which need longer cooking time. Add sauteed broccoli and bok choy to the broth, followed by mung bean sprouts.
4. Remove pho from heat, add lime juice, herbs and sesame seeds. Serve warm with more lime juice and/or fresh herbs.