As some of you may know, I’ve been traveling a lot. A lot of traveling means a lot of eating out. And a lot of eating out means a deluge of recipe ideas, of which I am always in need. So much inspiration has been taken away from the take-aways and cafés, and all the gorgeous menus my eyes have devoured. It is fun in a way to have an excuse to sit in a restaurant, eat a gorgeous meal, chat with the servers and cooks, all the while ideas firing off in my brain like fireworks.
This happened not long ago while I was in Berlin. There was a Vietnamese place just downstairs from where I was staying and I tell you the food was really tasty. So much so that I ate there more than once – a rare act for me in a city full of places I’ve never eaten before!
The only association I have with Viatnamese food was back in high school, suffering through bowls of poorly made pho. For some reason it became very cool to eat this meal when I was 16 or so, but mostly because it required my friends and I to go to Chinatown – about as far away from our neighborhood and our parents as we could get. This made the act of going to get pho cool, the soup itself I thought, was totally boring.
Putting all traumatizing memories aside, I decided to give this whole pho business another shot after hearing some recommendations from friends. I was pleasantly surprised, like really. I chose the vegetarian version, as classic pho is made with beef or chicken stock. The broth was light and fragrant and full of greens. The rice noodles were perfectly cooked. It was piled high with bean sprouts, thai basil and spring onion. Totally fresh, totally gorgeous!
This week I was home for thirty seconds to catch my breath. All I wanted was clean, nourishing food that was easy to make. My memory fell to the pho. It was time to try recreating the multi-layered dance of this beguiling soup.
Buckwheat can’t be beat!
If you are gluten intolerant or just trying to find some variety in your diet, buckwheat and products made with buckwheat flour are a delicious treat. Despite its rather confusing name, buckwheat has no relation to the wheat family of grains. In fact, it is not a grain at all, but the seed of a plant related to rhubarb.
You can find buckwheat in its whole form at natural food stores. It has a greenish hue and a distinctive, triangular shape. It is possible to cook buckwheat whole to create a creamy porridge for breakfast. You can also crisp it up in the oven and sprinkle it on oats, salads or even desserts.
Buckwheat flour is also becoming more widely available. Most people have heard of it in relation to crepes or blinis, but there are many other uses. Because of its strong flavour, buckwheat flour is often cut with wheat or other mild-tasting flour. It is not to everyone’s liking, but I find it delicious. Earthy, nutty, assertive!
Buckwheat has a high protein content, and contains all essential amino acids, making it an excellent choice for vegans and vegetarians. It is high in magnesium, a mineral which has a pleasant muscle-relaxing effect. Side-note for the ladies: eating magnesium-rich foods before your period will help ease cramping, headaches and back pain.
One of my favorite ways of eating buckwheat is in the form of soba noodles. I keep a package of them on hand at all times because they make a wonderful meal base when I am pressed for time. Looking for fast food at home? Soba noodles cook up in a bout 7 minutes.
Soba noodles can be found at natural food stores, and with Asian grocers. Definitely check the ingredient list to make sure that they contain 100% buckwheat flour, especially if you are sensitive to gluten. Some soba brands use more wheat than buckwheat in their flour blends.
Although it is more traditional to use rice noodles in pho, I had soba noodles in my pantry and prefer their flavour and texture to plain rice noodles. If you’ve never tried soba before, I think this would be a great initiation.
Fragrant Pho Noodle Bowl
2 lbs. / 1 kg onion (white, yellow, red…)
1.5 oz / 50g fresh ginger
1 Tbsp. fennel seeds
3 black cardamom pods (green cardamom also works)
3 star anise
5 whole cloves
½ tsp. black peppercorns
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp. coriander seeds
½ Tbsp. sea salt
6 cups / 1.5 liters water
1. Peel and roughly chop onions. Wash ginger and slice, leaving the skin on.
2. To the pot of water add all spices, onions, ginger and salt. Bring to a boil and let simmer for one hour or more with the lid on. You can also boil for thirty minutes, turn off the heat and let the broth steep until you are ready to eat.
3. Strain broth through a sieve into another pot and discard all solids.
Noodle Bowl Suggested Ingredients
Noodles: soba or rice (cook according to package directions)
Greens: bok choy, spinach, swiss chard,
Cruciferous veggies: broccoli, romanesco, cauliflower, cabbage (raw or lightly steamed)
Other veg: mung bean sprouts, carrot, bell pepper, mushrooms
Garnishes: lime, toasted sesame seeds, Thai basil, spring onion, sriracha, tamari
1. In very large bowls place some roughly chopped greens. Ladle in the hot broth, which will quickly wilt the greens.
2. Add noodles, all veggies and top with the garnishes. Thai basil may be hard to find but it is worth the search! Makes all the difference. Serve hot. Enjoy.
Through all the travels and restaurants and madcap adventures lately, I must say that the best place to be is just home. Cooking in my kitchen is the most grounding and beautiful experience, especially when it means I can call up a friend at the last minute to come share pumpkin pie minis with me, or to sit down with my man after a long flight over a bowl of soup.
When I served this to my husband the other night, the first thing he said was how delicious it was, and after the second slurp he looked up and exclaimed: “this is just like restaurant food!” It was the biggest compliment he could give me, and all I could do was laugh.