Monday, April 20, 2015

"The Brokeass Gourmet Cookbook" (Just in time for Tax Day) - Pork Pho (a Vietnamese noodle soup)

Date I made this recipe:  April 15, 2015 – Tax Day!

The Brokeass Gourmet Cookbook by Gabi Moskowitz
Published by:  Egg&Dart
ISBN:  978-0-9838595-1-2
Recipe:  Pork Pho (Vietnamese soup) – p. 66-67

So today is tax day and OF COURSE this was the perfect cookbook to use, amiright?  I don't know about you, but we definitely feel quite "brokeass" after tax season. (Self-employment taxes are just so fun!). 

A lot of cookbooks out there attempt to give you low-budget recipes but often the recipes fall flat on flavor.  This is not one of those books.  In fact, there were many, many "brokeass" recipes that sounded not only quite fancy for a budget-conscious cook but tasty, making the final selection somewhat difficult.  (For the record, we considered:  "Ginger-shrimp potstickers with chili-scallion dipping sauce p. 38-39; "Pea soup with scallions, basil , and parmesan" – p. 64; "white bean, leek, and bacon soup" – p. 65 and many, many others, including some I might make for my annual holiday party.)

In the end though, we decided on tonight's soup, Pork Pho a/k/a Vietnamese noodle soup.  Pho is one of my favorite take out items from a Vietnamese restaurant of which we have several in this area.  It's not for nothing that a St. Paul neighborhood along University Avenue is named "Little Mekong" (after the Mekong Delta in Vietnam) as the Twin Cities took in many Vietnamese and Hmong refuges after the Vietnam War ended.  Many of them launched their own restaurants and almost all of them have some version of pho (pronounced "fuh"—as in "huh" but with an "f") on the menu.

Restaurants serving pho usually slow simmer their pho broth in advance (often making it a day ahead), filling the pot with meat (mostly beef) and meat bones and other Asian spices that just give an incredible richness to the entire dish.  In my opinion, a good pho broth is what separates the men from the boys.  If you make this dish at home, try to make the broth in advance and let it refrigerate overnight (plus, leave in everything the recipe tells you to discard.)

The broth then, is the starting point to the soup to which you then add meat (if desired), rice noodles, and then a host of toppings including:  bean sprouts, Thai basil, jalapenos, hot sauce (e.g. Sriracha) and a lime (our author uses lemons but I don't think I've ever seen a lemon wedge on any of my orders; lime works best.)

When we get this dish to take out, all the above ingredients come in separate containers or bags and then I add in what I like.  I always get thinly sliced beef for my soup which comes raw; adding it to the hot broth cooks the meat.

In a word, this is perfection in a bowl.  I love pho.  Leftover pho is so awesome that sometimes I eat it cold just because I am too lazy to microwave it.  And frankly, if it's flavored properly, you don't need to.

While this recipe for Pork Pho didn't come close to what I take out (and I am blessed with numerous Vietnamese restaurants from which to chose), it was fine for a a made-at-home meal.  Like I said, if you get a chance to make the broth the night before, do so.  And if you want to, throw in some meat bones like the restaurants do to really add some flavor to the broth.  

So now that we've had our broth discussion, it's time to discuss the noodles.  Almost every package of noodles I've purchased said to cook them for 10 minutes and that is way too long.  Way.  I've tried 7-8 minutes and that is still too long and so next time around, I'm hoping "5" is my lucky number; I hate squishy noodles.  Lucky for me, packets of rice vermicelli noodles are cheap around these parts.  (There are several Asian grocery stores within a couple mile radius of my house.  Sweet!).

Okay, so, here is the order of assembly:  broth, noodles, meat, if you are adding it, bean sprouts (if desired), then cilantro (or Thai basil) and jalapenos if desired, then squeeze a lime (my preference) or lemon (as much or as little as you want) and then hoisin or hot sauce or both. (The author says to add thinly sliced red onion on top but I have never had pho served to me this way so it's up to you.)  Mix.  Eat.  Slurp.  Done!  I happen to be pretty handy with chop sticks so I eat the noodles with the chop sticks and the broth with a spoon but if you're not comfy with those two little sticks, it's best to use a fork to grab all the noodles.

Besides my overcooked rice noodles (sigh), the pork was also in danger of being overdone.  The recipe said to cook the pork slices for 10 minutes and just like the noodles, this is way too long.  I think I went about 2 minutes and then pulled them out.  Thinly sliced pork cooks pretty quickly and will be tasty if done right, shoe leather if it's not.  Personally, I like beef pho the best and in fact, don't know as I've ever seen pork pho on the menu.  Or maybe I don't look that far down the menu!

Finally, should you be unable to find ground star anise (I found plenty of whole star anise but not ground), you can substitute Chinese Five-Spice powder.

Two other things before I go:  First, although you could just head to a favorite Asian market (as our author suggested), I am picky about where I buy things and so I got my pork tenderloin from Target, some of my groceries from Rainbow, a grocery store that used to have an awesome Asian section – no more, and the rest, including the rice vermicelli noodles, from Shuang Hur, an Asian market located on University Ave near Dale.  The last stop yielded the cheapest ingredients.

Second, although our taxes are not that complicated, last year, I inadvertently put something on the wrong line and ended up having to go in person to the local IRS office to get it straightened out – twice!  The first time I went, the experience was so hilarious that I included the story in my annual holiday letter. Let's just say that when an IRS agent opens with "I don't know what that line is used for," it's never a good sign!  The "line" she's referring to is where I put some of my income as per the IRS instruction booklet! was hilarious and after all was said and done, I actually ended up with a refund.  Yes, that's right, a refund.  Reeee-FUND!  The chances of that happening twice (as in this year) as slim to none so I'm back to my brokeass status.  Bummer, that.

 So take the sting off your own "brokeass" status post-tax day and make the Pork Pho!

Pork Pho – Serves 2-3 people (Her total cost?  $11.75.  My cost?  *$.9.32.)
1 pound pork tenderloin, half chopped coarsely, half thinly chopped.  Her cost (and she's dreaming)? $2.  My cost?  $5.49.
5 cloves garlic, finely minced.  Her cost? $0 – pantry item.  My cost?  $0 – pantry item
1 small piece ginger, finely minced.  Her cost?  $0.50.  My cost?  $.0.03.
1 teaspoon ground star anise.  Her cost?  $1.50 for 1 ounce.  My cost?  $0 – I substituted Chinese 5-spice powder, found in my pantry.
2 stalks lemongrass, chopped.  Her cost?  $1.  My cost?  (for 3 stalks) $0.24.
1 tablespoon brown sugar.  Her cost?  $0 – pantry item.  My cost?  $0 – pantry item.
1 tablespoon salt.  Her cost?  $0 – pantry item.  My cost?  $0 – pantry item.
Freshly ground pepper.  Her cost?  $0 – pantry item.  My cost?  $0 – pantry item.
1 bunch cilantro, stems removed and reserved.  Her cost? $1.  My cost? $0.79.
1 red onion, half chopped coarsely, half thinly sliced.  Her cost? $0.50.  My cost?  $0.64.
1 pound rice vermicelli noodles.  Her cost? $1.  My cost? $0.79.
1 lemon, cut into wedges.  Her cost? $0.50.  My cost (for a lime)? $0.44.
1 green jalapeno, sliced into rings.  Her cost?  $0.25.  My cost? $0.05.
2 cups mung bean sprouts.  Her cost?  $1.  My cost? $0.85.
Hoisin sauce.  Her cost?  $2 for 8 ounces.  My cost?  $0 – pantry item.
Asian chili sauce or Sriracha.  Her cost? $2 for 12 ounces.  My cost?  $0 – pantry item.

*With tax (ahem) and license, I saved $2.43 off her already low cost to make this dish. 

Fill a pot with 3 quarts water.  Add coarsely chopped pork, garlic, ginger, star anise, lemongrass, brown sugar, slat, pepper, cilantro stems, and coarsely chopped onion.  Cover, bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.  Allow to simmer for 45 minutes up to two hours.  Strain broth, discard solids, and return broth to pot.  Ann's Note:  If you have time, I suggest refrigerate the broth, without straining (or maybe strain half) over night to improve the flavors.

In a separate bowl, cook noodles according to package directions.  Ann's Note:  Nope. I guarantee you will have mushy noodles.  Try 5 minutes and see what you think. Drain and rinse.

Bring broth to a boil and add thinly sliced pork.  Cook until pork is no longer pink, about 10 minutes.  Ann's Note:  two-three minutes is best or you will have overdone pork.

To serve, use a ladle to portion broth into bowls.  Use tongs to add noodles and pork to bowls.  Serve with cilantro leaves, sliced red onion, lemon wedges, jalapeno, bean sprouts, hoisin sauce and chili sauce or Sriracha to add in.

No comments: