BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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It’s What’s Pho Dinner

Would a noodle soup by any other name be less soul-soothing? Pho may be a relative newcomer to the American melting pot, but a craving for those distinctive flavors paired with slippery rice noodles has quickly taken hold of the nation’s appetite. Redolent of exotic spices with a certain savory richness ever-present in the background, it’s traditionally meat that brings the umami element to the party, but vegan alternatives abound. The largest stumbling block for recreating this unfamiliar flavor profile in my own kitchen was one simple spice: Anise. A lovely, licorice-like, naturally sweet warmth, by no means is it a despised ingredient in my eyes, but I can’t help but approach it with great hesitation. A powerful component of any dish, it can quickly overwhelm, even when added with the lightest hand. No matter how I tried to trust the plentiful online recipes, I couldn’t bring myself to attempt them faithfully.

For the pho-fearing, there is at last an easy, approachable answer. Pacific Natural Foods, purveyor of a whole world of soups and stocks, has just unveiled their new Vegetarian Pho Soup Base, a blank canvas for your very own Vietnamese noodle soup masterpiece. Built upon a foundation of mushroom broth, it has savory flavor to spare, with comforting, familiar undertones capable of supporting any combination of toppings and hearty additions.

What really makes most servings of pho, however, is the myriad condiments that you choose to complete your bowl. Aside from noodles and tofu, chilies, hot sauce, lime juice, beansprouts, mint, basil, cilantro, green onions, and/or shallots are all fair game, depending only on a matter of taste. Taking a more sparing route to better taste the broth in question, there was nothing to obstruct the unique seasoning of this surprising soup. Immediately struck by the clear anise essence, at first, it was just as I had feared. Within a few worrisome moments however, it transformed into something entirely new to my palate, a highly nuanced and complex amalgamation of both sweet and hot spices. Not for the timid, it was somewhat sharp upon my initial slurp, but still nothing to dive into a bucket of non-dairy milk over. Impressively fearless for a commercially available packaged offering, regardless of authenticity, I was thrilled to get such a bright, bold kick right from the first spoonful.

Forget about that plain Jane “chicken” noodle next time you’re craving comfort; Pho delivers all that heart-warming familiarity, plus an exciting bouquet of delicate but highly flavorful Vietnamese seasoning all in the same bowl.


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Back to Reality, and Tomato Soup

After a long weekend at Vida Vegan, with nothing but the best catering options and free-flowing coconut milk beverage all day long, supportive and smiling faces everywhere you look, and let’s not forget the communal nooch bowl, the transition back into the real world would have been challenging in the best of circumstances. That was a given for everyone who participated in this shared dream of a blogger meetup. What I wasn’t prepared for was the rough landing back at home, and I don’t mean on the airplane. Pitch black, shockingly frigid for a late August day, a vacant house with no electricity sat waiting where I remember leaving my welcoming, loving home. A shell of what it should have been, fallen trees had cut the mainline; the patient had long bled out and died on the spot. We could only pick up the pieces now.

All the reports indicated that Irene was largely over-hyped, there was little serious damage, and so why should I have expected anything else? No one was hurt, no windows broken, and only minor flooding to be found, but the real devastation remained silently waiting in the kitchen- more precisely, the fridge.

Working up my courage, and with one deep breath, I yanked open the fridge door as fast as possible, like tearing off a stubbornly adhered bandage. Puddles of water accumulated on the floor in seconds, and immediately a rancid odor polluted the air. Spoiled. Rotted. Beyond saving. Anything perishable, had clearly passed on long ago.

Notable exceptions were found, after sifting through the wreckage. Glorious heirloom tomatoes stuffed hastily in the fruit bin remained blemish-free, and a few heartier veg also miraculously survived. With a few solid pantry staples and a trusty gas stove, my mission was clear: electricity or no, there was soup to be made.

Generous spices amped up this ordinary offering, lending a warmth that higher temperatures couldn’t deliver alone. Ordinary, unremarkable, but so incredibly comforting when the very ground itself seems to be shifting underfoot. Moroccan seasonings were the inspiration, but only in a very loose interpretation did they emerge in the final dish. Measurements for those spices are approximate, so taste frequently as the soup bubbles along.

Such a small effort served us all well; I had a big bowlful right then and there, and later on in the day, my mom dished it up as a sauce over pasta.

Thankfully, the power did finally go on yesterday afternoon, and normalcy is slowly returning to the everyday routine. I’m still mourning the loss of no less than eight homemade ice creams, but if that’s the worst of it, I’d say we got off pretty easy on this natural disaster.

Spicy Tomato and Chickpea Soup

1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1/2 Large Yellow Onion, Diced
2 Cloves Garlic, Finely Minced
1 Stalk Celery, Finely Diced
3 Large Tomatoes, About 3 Cups Diced
1 1/2 Cups Water or Vegetable Stock
1 2.8-Ounce Tube Sun-Dried Tomato Paste
1 Tablespoon Soy Sauce or Tamari
1 15-Ounce Can Chickpeas, Drained
1 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
3/4 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Coriander
1/4 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
1 Teaspoon Dried Parsley
1/2 Teaspoon Dried Rosemary, Crumbled
1/4 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
1/4 Teaspoon Dried Basil
Salt and Pepper, to Taste

Standard soup procedure here: Heat the oil in a medium-sized stock pot, and add in the onions and garlic first. Saute for about 5 minutes, until softened and translucent, and add in the chopped celery and tomatoes. Cook for 5 more minutes before adding in the water or stock. Stir in the tomato paste, soy sauce, chickpeas, and all of the spices and herbs until thoroughly combined. Allow the mixture to simmer away, melding the flavors and concentrating the tomato-y goodness, for 45 – 60 minutes. It’s perfectly edible once merely heated through, but given enough time to mature, the flavor improves noticeably. Finish with enough salt and pepper to satisfy your own personal preference.

Serves 2 – 4

Printable Recipe


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Soup Kitchen

Left alone and given half a chance, my daily personal menu could easily be reduced to little more than soups and stews. Quite frankly, it’s incredibly that there’s any savory food that makes it onto this blog besides those more liquid edibles, for as much as I make and eat them! Perhaps its the fact that they often defy recipes, one of their most attractive features in the first place, that my love for soup isn’t properly documented. Experience has shown that whatever you’ve got lying around in the fridge, waiting to be used up, is what tastes best in soup. Truly! The more desperate it is to be used, the smaller the scraps that can find no other culinary destination, they are what you should put in you soup right this moment. Besides, how many people need to be told how to put a mirepoix, some beans, and a handful of spices into a big pot with plenty of water? Even the most inexperienced and reluctant cooks can figure that procedure out, no recipe required. It feels silly to spell it out, and yet, there are some creations that beg to be recorded and shared.

An unlikely combination even in my eyes, I didn’t expect that leftover can of coconut milk to embrace the green, vegetal flavor of asparagus nearly so harmoniously. Brightened with zippy bites of lemon, ginger, and pepper, it’s a departure from my standard soup spicing, and just the breath of fresh air I so deeply needed in my soup routine. Although it may still be fairly basic, I’ve conquered my resistance to sharing what seems simple; A recipe needn’t be complicated to be worth talking about.

Asparagus and Coconut Soup

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 Medium Leeks, Sliced Lengthwise, Chopped, and Thoroughly Cleaned*
1 Inch Fresh Ginger, Peeled and Finely Minced
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
12 – 16 Ounces Trimmed Fresh Asparagus, Roughly Chopped (About 1 Bunch)
2 Cups Vegetable Stock
4 Ounces Spinach or Other Leafy Greens (Such as Kale, Collards, etc)
1 Cup Coconut Milk (Full Fat, Don’t Skimp!)
Zest of 1 Lemon
Freshly Ground Black Pepper, to Taste

1/4 Cup Finely Fresh Chives and Chive Blossoms, or Scallions
Avocado Oil or Extra-Virgin Olive Oil for Garnish (Optional)

*Typically, I slit my leeks down the center and then shake them out under cold water until clean, but these were particularly dirty. Thus, I fully sliced them and placed them in a colander with fairly large holes. Tossing them around in the colander under cold water, more of the inner leek was exposed, and I could wash away the excess dirt more easily. Whatever you do, be thorough! These unsuspecting alliums can hold on to a ton of grit, and that will not make for the most pleasant soup.

Pour the oil into the bottom of a medium soup pot and set it over moderate heat on the stove. Once the oil is hot, add in the leeks and ginger, and sauté for about 5 minutes, until the leeks are soft and the ginger is aromatic. Sprinkle in the salt, followed by the asparagus and stock. Bring the brothy soup to a boil, then reduce the heat so that it’s at a gentle simmer. Cover the pot and let cook until the asparagus is tender and bright green; about 8 – 10 minutes. Add the spinach or other greens, and continue to cook just until wilted, only 2 – 4 minutes more should do it.

Turn off the heat and finally incorporate the coconut milk, lemon zest, and pepper. Working in batches if necessary, transfer soup to your blender and thoroughly puree until smooth completely. Alternately, hit it with an immersion blender while still in the pot. You can either serve the soup right away while still hot, or chill it for at least two hours for a more refreshing blend. Top individual bowls with chives, chive blossoms, and a tiny drizzle of oil, if desired.

Serves 2 – 4

Printable Recipe

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