Mushroom Risotto

It’s been a little cool for Florida over the past few days. A few nights have gone down into the 40’s and 50’s here by the gulf. While it hurts my heart to say that I now consider this “cold”, it did make for a perfect excuse to making some more warm, homey dishes. We’ve had some Arborio rice knocking around in the cabinet for a minute now, and we had a half of a container of white button mushrooms in the fridge… Risotto night!

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Worth Every Second

 

Many people, including myself until recently, are intimidated by risotto. It requires a special rice. You need to watch it constantly. You need to add just the right amount of liquid at just the right time. It’s temperamental and can easily come out still crunchy or as a bowl of cream of wheat. You get the picture.

The truth is, if you have your mise en place and you keep your pairing / approach simplistic, this dish is extremely easy to prepare. Yes, this dish does require your attention. No, this is not a dish you can set-and-forget while you go about peeling, trimming and assembling an entire tray of micro-veg. Additionally, this is not a dish you should attempt to cook while your team is playing its top rival of the last five decades for that final playoff berth in the other room, or, while you are trying to catch up on the last week’s episode of “American Horror Story”. If you take your time to properly prepare your ingredients, plan or sequence all of the steps for your meal ahead of time, and put a little love into it, risotto can be an impressive recipe to add to your repertoire. Just make sure you have a playlist that you can leave alone for 45 minutes!

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Mushroom Risotto

(Serves 4)

  • 2 cups mushrooms, sliced (I used button mushrooms, but any variety will work)
  • 1/2 white onion, fine chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, fine minced
  • 1 1/4 cup Arborio rice
  • 32oz beef stock (homemade is preferable)
  • 3/4 cup of dry red wine (anything you would like a glass of while you’re cooking)
  • 3 tbsp EVOO
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2+ tbsp grated pecorino romano cheese
  • 3-5 sprigs of flat-leaf parsley, fine chopped

Before your do anything else, get your stock into a sauce pan and get in on the stove. You need this to be steaming hot before you start your onions. As you go through the cooking process, if you add cool or cold stock, water or wine to your pan, you will shock the rice, and you will absolutely interrupt the cooking process which can lead to problems.

Once the stock is on, prep your mushrooms, onions and garlic, then portion out the rice and wine. Now, heat 1 tbsp of EVOO in a large pan over med-high heat. Add your mushrooms and pinch of salt and saute until starting to brown. Remember, with mushrooms, if the pan is not hot enough or if you crowd the pan, you will wind up with steamed mushrooms… That said, if you need to cook the mushrooms one cup at a time, do so. Once you get a color you are happy with, remove the mushrooms to plate with a paper towel and set them aside.

You can either use a new pan, or clean and re-use the one you had the mushrooms in. Either way, this pan needs to be the largest you have. You are doing to want at least a 2″ – 3″ rim. Don’t forget, the 1 1/4 cups of rice will expand quite a bit, and you want the layer of rice to be as thin as possible in your pan throughout the whole cooking process. Bring your pan to medium heat and add the remaining 2 tbsp of EVOO. Add your onions and cook for 3 minutes, or until starting to turn translucent. Then, add your garlic and cook for another 2 minutes. You do NOT want the onions or garlic to take on any color, so watch them closely. About five minutes after you’ve started the onion, add the rice to the pan, stirring constantly for 1 minute. You need to stir the rice constantly because you do not want the rice to take on any color, and you also need to make sure that each grain of rice get coated in your EVOO and the oils from the onion and garlic. Getting them coated with fat will slow the release of their starch and will help ensure that you don’t end up with mush. After the rice has been on for 1 minute, add the wine and the first ladle of stock. Your stock should always be added at either 1/2 of 3/4 cup increments. This is not an exact science, so don’t stress about it. As long as you keep the rice wet but not drowning, you’ll be fine. Think of it this way: The rice needs to absorb liquid to expand and become tender (cook). You want to add just enough liquid so that the grains can ‘drink’, thereby absorbing the flavors you are adding to the pan. If you add too much liquid at once, the rice will not be able to absorb the flavor quickly enough and your liquid will start to simmer or boil. Now you are cooking the rice without the benefit of it absorbing flavor…. That’s the reason you want to take your time with risotto. You need to impart the flavor of the onion, garlic, leek, shallot, wine, stock, etc… into the rice. In some regions of Italy, risotto takes the place of pasta dishes. Think about the time and effort you put into your traditional red sauces… you want to put the same time and effort into this process. As the liquid is absorbed, add another ladle of stock to the pan. This process continues for up 30 minutes. As this is ongoing, it is crucial that your stir almost constantly. As you stir, you are accomplishing a few things. 1) you are making sure that all of the grains are getting the same amount of exposure to the stick as you add it. 2) you are creating friction between the grins which helps release the starches. The starch is what makes the risotto we all know and love so rich and creamy. Arborio rice has a higher starch content than other grains, which is why Arborio, in my opinion, is really the only rice to be used in a risotto (sorry, Baldo). Now, again, don’t stress out about the stirring. You have time to check get dishes organized, check on the other components of your meal, take photos for your blog, etc… as long as you are not leaving the rice sit for minutes at a time, you will be okay.

After the rice has been on for approximately 15 minutes, add the mushrooms to the pan. Once these are stirred into the risotto, grab a spoon and check a few grains of rice for flavor and doneness. It will still have crunch to it, but it will give you a good benchmark as to how the dish has progressed over the last 15 minutes. Adjust seasoning as needed and continue with the stock-and-stir. After about 25 minutes of total cook time, it’s time for the spoon test. Take a clean spoon and, without pushing down on it, drag it across the top of your risotto. Check the bottom of the spoon. If you have a nice, creamy coating on the bottom of the spoon, you’ve done good work.

Clean spoon for the test

Clean spoon for the test

After the test

After the test

Continue to taste your risotto, checking for doneness, until you’ve reached your preferred level of al denteFor The Love Of All That Is Holy, Do Not Cook Until Soft And Mushy. You’ve invested too much love and effort into this to eat it any other way than how it was meant to be eaten… Once done, remove from the heat and add 2 tbsp of pecorino romano, stirring to incorporate.

Serve hot (within a few  minutes of removing it from the heat), spooning the desired amount onto plates and garnish with parsley and another pinch of cheese.

plates

 

I paired this risotto with some simple roasted carrots, tossed with EVOO, salt and pepper, a few whole garlic cloves and a few sprigs of thyme. Left in the oven at 350 F for 25-30 minutes. (prepped these prior to starting the risotto).

One of the beautiful things about risotto is that the only limit to it is your imagination. This being Fall, mushrooms were an easy choice. Also, as mushrooms are one of the more hearty vegetables, they stands up well to the robust flavor of the beef stock. I’ve always enjoyed the dark risottos to the lighter ones anyway…

As far as nutrition goes,the Arborio rice is not going to hurt you. With no fat to speak of, and as a good source of protein and dietary fiber, it’s not a bad choice for a side or a main. You will need to be careful about what you add to it. EVOO should be used sparingly. Most recipes you will see call for copious amounts of butter to be used. Obviously, I cut that out. Constantly stirring the rice, as well as adding the cheese at the end will give you the creaminess you are looking for. The vegetables and stocks you use in your risotto will make not only a big difference in your flavor, but in nutrition. Try risotto with vegetable stock and one of your favorite vegetables and see what you think! Be careful though, as fresher vegetables like peppers or peas should not be added until the last few minutes of cooking in order prevent them from breaking down.

I hope you make some room in your schedule one night soon and devote some time to making this. Forget that 5-minute rice in a box for a night, and roll your sleeves up. Taking the time to make this dish is relaxing as well as rewarding. Trust me, you’ll taste the love in it when you do it right.

ENJOY!

Sunday Salad

So, it’s late morning on a Sunday. Yesterday, you knocked out all of your chores for the weekend. The house is clean, the shopping is done for the week, the laundry is done (less the folding, because I’m fairly certain no one washes, dries AND folds their laundry all on the same day), and now, your Sunday can be devoted to whatever your heart desires. One problem; you may or may not have caved yesterday while at the store when you came face to face with a buy one, get one free deal on those wonderfully salty corn tortilla chips….the bite-size ones. With the Sunday “off”, those bags are now sitting in one of your cabinets, softly calling your name.
The good news is, you were able to walk by the display of buy one, get one free queso cheese dips that were only 8″ away from where the chips were. Nice Work. Still, you need to find something to pair with those chips that will help fill you up, because even though they give a “serving size” on the package, it’s impossible to read it without bursting into laughter.
I’m personally not a huge fan of canned foods. When I do buy them, I look for organic products, non-GMO, and packed with just salt and water. When I find these, regardless of the product, I usually grab a few cans and sock them away in the pantry. Today, that’s turned out to be a good practice. I took what I’ve saved in the pantry, plus what I had hanging on in the garden despite the cold-snap of the last few days, and here is what we have. I’ll call it a salad because it’s very good as a stand alone, but today, I have a date with those corn chips.

Mediterranean Style Salad
Serves 4

• 2 -5oz cans of wild caught tuna, strained and dried
• 1 -15oz cans of artichoke hearts, rinsed, dried and quartered
• 2 -15oz cans of black-eyed peas, rinsed, skins removed, dried
• 1/2 red onion, fine chopped
• 1 yellow pepper, fine chopped
• 2 cloves garlic, peeled and fine chopped
• 5 small / medium basil leaves, fine chopped
• 5 sprigs of Italian oregano, leaves separated from stems and fine chopped
• 2 tsp fresh cracked black pepper
• 3 tsp salt
• 2 tsp dill weed
• 1 tbsp EVOO
• 1 lime
Except for the lime, combine all of the above ingredients in a large bowl. Cover, and place in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to let all of the flavors meld. Once ready to serve, cut the lime into wedges and serve of the side so everyone can add their own splash of freshness. This salad (or dip) is packed with proteins. Also, black eyed peas, as with almost all legumes, are a great source of fiber. One serving of these can contain as much as 16% of your DV. Not only is fiber great for digestion and heart health, but it will also keep you feeling fuller, longer. Not a bad thing for a Sunday during football season!
ENJOY!

Sweet Potato Hash

Just as I suspected, a game of “what the hell can I make for dinner?” while looking into the fridge was exactly what I needed to break me out of yesterday’s day-long funk. And, if I may, the results were pretty fantastic! If you enjoy cooking and want to improve your ability to, and comfort level with, thinking outside of the box, I suggest playing this game as a once-a-week, clean out the fridge exercise. Not only will it keep you from wasting produce, but it will make you combine ingredients that you wouldn’t necessarily see paired during your 10-minute surf of Pinterest.

done2

Here is what I dug out of the fridge:

(makes up to 4 servings, just increase number of eggs):

  • 2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut to 3/4″ cubes
  • 1/2 head of cauliflower, broken down into 1/2″ – 3/4″ heads
  • 1/2 head red cabbage, rough chopped to about 1/2″ – 3/4″
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled, halved lengthwise and fine chopped
  • 1/4 white onion, peeled, fine chopped
  • 1 leek, green removed, stalk halved lengthwise and fine chopped
  • 5 green onion “greens”, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and fine chopped
  • 5 sprigs thyme, leaves removed and minced
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tbsp EVOO
  • 1/2 cup beef stock (low sodium)
  • salt & pepper
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 2 beers, consumed slowly, not at all used in the actual recipe
What Was Left

What Was Left

Bring 6-8 cups of salted water to a boil. While waiting, begin the prep of your vegetables, starting with the sweet potatoes. Once water boils, drop your sweet potatoes in (already cubed). Blanch for 3-5 minutes, then strain and rinse under cold water to stop cooking process. Set aside. Rinse out your pot, refill with fresh water and return to a boil.

Meanwhile, bring a large pan to medium heat and add 1 tbsp EVOO. Add your onions and leek to the pan with a pinch of salt and saute until just turning translucent, approximately 5 minutes. Once your onion and leek start to turn translucent and are aromatic, add your carrots and cauliflower to the pan and saute for another 5 minutes. Next, add your sweet potatoes and garlic. At this point, add the cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, a few pinches of salt and approx. 2 tsp of fresh-cracked black pepper, mixing throughout the ingredients. You may need to add a little more EVOO here to keep your potatoes from sticking as the first several ingredients will have absorbed much of the oil you originally added.

After your potatoes have been in the pan for approximately 10 minutes, add your red cabbage and combine. Simultaneously, add your thyme and beef stock. Let the stock simmer until almost completely absorbed / evaporated, then reduce the heat to simmer, put the lid on your pan, and let the flavors meld for up to 10 minutes.

hash

While your hash is busy getting delicious, it’s time to poach your eggs. There are several ways to poach an egg, and if you have a preferred method, please insert here.

If you have never tried to poach an egg, or have never done so successfully, this method is a pretty good one-  I used the water which I put on to boil after my potatoes were blanched, reducing the heat to low, letting the water settle to a simmer and adding a pinch of salt. Once that’s done, crack one of the eggs into a small dish or bowl (a tea-cup works well). Used a slotted spoon to swirl the water in the pot, creating a vortex. Then, use the bowl or cup and ‘lay’ the egg into the water. Using this method, you keep the egg whites tight. The vortex will cause the egg-whites to swirl and bind to themselves around the yolk, keeping them neat and compact. Repeat with the balance of the eggs. Leave the eggs alone while they are in the water! You don’t need to (or want to) do anything with them other than let the water cook them. Once the egg-whites begin to form a solid and the eggs begin float off the bottom of the pot, use a slotted spoon to remove them from the water and let them dry on a paper towel for a minute. DO NOT cook them longer than 3 minutes. If you wait until they are floating on the surface around minute 4 or 5, they will be cooked through and you will not have any of that beautiful, soft, silky yolk come running out when you cut into your egg.

To serve, spoon they hash onto a plate. Sprinkle your chopped green onions on top of the hash, then add your egg to the center of the hash. Dust the egg with a tiny amount of salt and pepper, and you are ready to eat!

done

 

The beauty of this dish, as with hash in general, is that your recipe does not need to be strict! Hash has traditionally been a “what do we have available to chop up and cook?” type of meal. That is what makes it perfect for using your odds and ends, similar to a stock or a soup. This recipe will take you about 45 minutes.

In regards to nutrition, depending on your serving size, you are getting anywhere from 1 to 3 servings of vegetables. Sweet potato is a HUGE source of Vitamin A, and contains 0.1g of fat. Other than your EVOO, there is not a high fat content ingredient in this meal. As for the egg, many people think egg and associate it with bad cholesterol. If you do a little bit of research on the nutrition of eggs, you will find approximately 5g of fat (with about 2g being monounsaturated fat vs. 1.5g saturated fat), as well as a high DV% of Vitamins A, D, B-6 and B-12. The one egg used in this dish is good source of proteins which a diet high in fruits and vegetables can lack. If you have an issue with your cholesterol, obviously the egg can be eliminated. To add the creaminess, a small amount of Greek yogurt can be used as an egg substitute. Lastly, you can easily eliminate the beef stock if you wish. For me, it added a great depth of flavor and really enriched the dish. A good, homemade vegetable stock can be used here.

As always, if you give this a try, I hope you like it and make sure to give me your feedback!

ENJOY!

 

Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Apple and Onion

On Sunday night, my wife and I finally watched “Chef” with Jon Favreau. I won’t spoil the movie for you (it’s a fantastic movie and you should check it out, especially if you love cooking / food!), but in it, quite a bit of time is spent showing them producing dozens of Cuban sandwiches. This of course got me on a pork kick. While my new diet eliminated red meat, white meat is fair game. Of the white meats, pork is by far my favorite. A lean pork tenderloin is not a bad option at all when it comes to keeping meat protein in your diet, as long as you keep health in mind as you prepare it. With that, after daydreaming through my work day yesterday, I got to the market, grabbed two pork loins, then rushed to the kitchen.

serve

I love honey mustard with pork, but I’m trying to, wherever possible, avoid the over-processing of the commercially produced brands. With that, I wanted to see what I could come up with. I did end up using some of the organic dijon mustard I had in the fridge because, well, I had it, dammit.

Mustard Glaze
1 tbsp crushed mustard seed
1 tbsp ground yellow mustard
1 tbsp organic dijon mustard
1/3 cup organic apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup organic honey
Single pinch of salt
Combine all ingredients in a glass bowl. Whisk until fully combined. Taste and add honey or ground mustard to taste. Put in the refrigerator to set up until ready to use.
Pork Tenderloin with Apples and Onions
(Makes up to 6 servings)
2 pork tenderloins, cleaned, washed and dried
2 large Fuji apples, cored and cut into eighths
2 large white onions, peeled, ends removed, then cut into eighths
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 bundle thyme sprigs
1 tbsp ground cumin
1/2 cup organic apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 cups vegetable stock
2 bay leaves
1+ tbsp flour
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
salt and pepper
Assorted greens for a side salad
First, prep your apples and onions. Place in a bowl and have ready to go off to the side.
Set your oven to 375 F.
Next, remove the tenderloins from their package and remove any unwanted fat. Be sure to remove any silverskin. This silverskin (also known as elastin) is a tough connective tissue that will not break down through the cooking process. Not only will it impact the cooking process (can cause the the loin to curl as the tendon tightens due to heat), but is also unpleasant to chew in the final product. Most butchers will get this removed, but some portions may be left on where the silverskin runs up under the “cap” (at large end of the tenderloin) so as not detach the cap. This silverskin can be removed with your paring knife. Once you are able to grip the end of this tissue, you will be able to pull it from the loin, using the knife blade to separate it from the meat as you pull.
Silverskin removed from the first loin, still intact on the second.

Silverskin removed from the first loin, still intact on the second.

Once the silverskin is removed, wash and dry the loins. Once dried (drying is a must if you want to achieve a good, juice-retaining sear and a beautiful brown color), salt and pepper the loin to taste. Heat 1 tbsp EVOO to med-high heat in a large, oven-safe pan with a good size rim (for retaining liquid later). Add the tenderloin to heated oil and sear on all sides, allowing approximately 3 minutes per side. YOU ARE NOT COOKING THE MEAT THROUGH; all you want to do is lock in the flavor. Once you get the loin seared on all sides, remove from the heat and let them rest on a plate.

Using the same pan (keep that fond!), reduce the heat to medium and add another tbsp of EVOO to the pan. Add apples and onions to pan and season with double pinch of salt and your 1 tbsp cumin. Stir frequently to prevent burning the smaller pieces of onion. Eight minutes after starting the apple and onions (onions just starting to become translucent and apples starting to soften and brown), add the garlic, apple cider vinegar, vegetable stock, bay leaves, leaves from three sprigs of thyme, and three whole sprigs of thyme to the pan. Stir to combine, scraping the bottom of the pan to degalze. Turn heat to high and bring to boil. This only needs to boil for 2-3 minutes.

Fond

Fond

boil

 

While waiting for the liquids to come to a boil, take your mustard glaze out of the fridge and glaze the pork (just drizzle on the top and spread with your spoon), reserving some for a dressing for your greens later. Return the tenderloins to the pan, setting them on top apple and onion mixture. Remove the pan from the heat and place in the oven. Cook time will vary anywhere from 15-25 minutes. This is dependent on the size of the loin, how much cooking takes place as you are searing the meat, and the temperature of your oven. With your meat thermometer (if you don’t have one but are serious about making good food at home, you should invest in one), check the largest diameter portion of each tenderloin. The established “safe zone” for pork is 145 F and above. Do not go too far above 145-155 F as you will begin drying out the meat above that point. You are going to remove the pan from the oven when the pork’s internal temperature reaches 140 F. The internal temperature will continue to rise, even after you remove the meat from the heat source. I pulled mine at 142 F and it rose to 153 F in 5 minutes of resting.

Ready for the oven

Ready for the oven

Remove the pork to a serving platter and allow to rest for ten minutes. Spoon the vegetables around the pork. While the pork rests, take the liquid remaining in the pan and ladle it into a saucepan. Set the saucepan on high heat and bring to a boil. As the liquid begins to boil, add your foul to the liquid and whisk as the mixture reduces. Once your flour is completely combined and liquid has reduced by 1/3, you should have a sauce that is viscous enough to coat the back of a spoon. Once ready, place this to a gravy bowl, and you’re ready to eat! Serve this with a side salad of leafy greens, topped with the reserved mustard glaze or a light poppy seed dressing to bring the whole dish together.

serve

plated

Nutrition:
The pork, if trimmed properly and not cooked in excessive fat, is a great protein source. The apples are a good source of Vitamins A and C, and the onions are also good for Vitamin C as well as dietary fiber. The homemade honey mustard is a terrific option due to the surprisingly high amount of omega-3 fats (heart healthy) in the mustard seeds. The side salad of mixed leafy greens speaks for itself. The more dark, leafy greens you can get in your diet, the better off you are.
I hope that you enjoy this recipe as much as my wife and I did! If you decide to try it, please let me know your thoughts; I’d love to hear your opinions!
ENJOY!

Sunday Breakfast Sandwich

Fried egg sandwich with tomato, basil, sauted onion, avocado and roasted garlic

Fried egg sandwich with tomato, basil, sauted onion, avocado and roasted garlic

Happy Sunday!

I woke up early this morning and, surprisingly, was hungry. I’m still trying to get used to waking up hungry. I went for almost five years not having breakfast. I ate so much for dinner the night before (none of which was remotely healthy or easy for my body to digest) that I would just wake up and go about my day. Breakfast is still a new and wonderful concept to me! Anyway, woke up hungry. I put on water for tea and turned on the coffee maker. Once I smelled coffee the brain began to function, so I took a quick inventory of what edibles we had in the house. This was interrupted by an impromptu game of “here’s my rope dad, pay attention to me!” with my 18 month-old Rottweiler, Rosie. We both lost interest after about 8 minutes, so it was back to the task at hand.

Egg Sandwich
(makes two sandwiches)
2 English Muffins
2 large organic eggs
1/2 tomato, cut into four 1/8″ slices
2 or 3 basil leaves, rough chopped
1/4 onion, halved and thinly sliced
1/2 avocado, cut into four wedges
2 garlic clove, lightly crushed and peeled
1-1/2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
salt & pepper

Pre-heat the oven the 300 F. Take your garlic cloves and crush them just enough to release the clove from its shell, then cut the ‘stem” off. Place the garlic on a small oven-safe dish or pan, drizzle a small amount of EVOO on each clove, and place in the oven for 15-20 minutes. You’ll need to check these every so often to ensure that you are getting a good color while not burning or charring them. The end result you want is to get a light caramel color and to be able to easily pierce the cloves with your chef’s knife. At the same time you place your garlic in the oven, go ahead and separate your English Muffin halves and place them in the oven as well. I left these in for as long as I roasted the garlic, but personal preference reigns here. Just keep in mind, the muffin is your only ‘crunch’ element.
Next, prep your tomato, basil, onion, but NOT the avocado (you don’t want discoloration for the final product). Pre-heat a large pan to medium heat, and bring 1 tbsp EVOO to temp. Add your onions to the pan and hit them with a pinch of salt to kick-off the caramelization process. The onions will take approximately 10 minutes to finish. When the onions are almost done, go ahead and get the eggs in the pan. Salt & pepper to taste. I went with soft-fried eggs because the creaminess of the yolk paired with the creaminess of the avocado was just…..yes.
When you flip your eggs, add the tomato slices to the pan. Just 10-15 seconds on each side. You see here why I said a large pan; you’ll have the eggs, tomato and onions on the heat simultaneously.

Time to assemble the sandwich:
Place your muffin on the plate. Next, layer your tomato slices, basil, egg and onion. Now cut your avocado and place two of the four wedges on top of the onion. Lastly, take your garlic cloves (which you have removed from the oven and let cool for a few minutes) and spread a clove of garlic on the top half of each muffin as if it were butter. Gently press the top half of the muffin with the garlic spread onto your avocado, breaking the egg yolk and letting the flavors meld. Time To Eat!

Start to finish, this will take you 25-30 minutes. While perhaps not the quickest breakfast for a weekday, I hope you give it a try the next time you find yourself with a couple extra minutes in your morning routine!

ENJOY!

Vegetarian Pho (Pho Chay)

One of the main commonalities of the Blue Zones is that vegetables make up a significant percentage of their resident’s diet. While I am in NO WAY ready to make the leap into becoming a vegetarian, one of my goals is to limit my intake of meats (including fish) to a handful of meals per week. I’ll need to consume meat often enough to where it does not ‘interrupt’ my digestive process every time I eat it, but still keep it minimal enough to allow for healthier options.

I’m 99.78% certain that tonight (Friday) is going to involve the consumption of copious amounts of alcohol, accompanied by a case of the late-night munchies, and as Sarasota, FL, is not necessarily known for its late night vegetarian chow-houses, I decided to skip the meat last night.
Pho Chay (simply, pho with a vegetable-based stock and with no meat toppings) is something I have wanted to make for a while now. I looked at a couple of recipes, but could not settle on one that made me want to fire up the burner. So, I took a few basic concepts, headed to the market, and had fun with it (essential to cooking!).
Here is what I came away with:
First, the broth for the pho chay~
2 kohlrabi bulbs, peeled and rough chopped
1 yellow onion, cut into eighths with skins left on
4 cloves of garlic, smashed and peeled
2 carrots, washed and rough chopped
2 stalks of celery, washed and rough chopped (get rid of the leaves as they are too bitter for the broth)
1 dacon radish, peeled and rough chopped
2 knobs of ginger, washed and rough chopped
1 fuji apple, cut into eighths with core removed
2 sticks cinnamon
1 tbsp star anise seed (placed in a tea bag and tied shut with twine)
2 tsp ground cardamom
8-10 cloves
1 tbsp sea salt
fresh cracked black pepper to taste
14 cups cold water
pho stock
Pre-heat your oven to 450-500 degrees. Take the above ingredients and spread them around in an oven-safe pan or tray (at least a 2″ rim), drizzle with about 1 tbsp of EVOO (extra virgin olive oil), toss to coat evenly, and place in the oven. What you are looking for here is to start the aroma, to start the release of the juices / oils, and to get a little bit of color. Keep them on the top rack and check them every 8-10 minutes to ensure that you are not getting any burning / charring. The reason I chose to roast the vegetables rather than dropping them directly into the pot is that, due to the fact that this pho has had the typical beef bones / ox tail eliminated from the broth making process, we want a little bit of color as well as a little more depth of flavor. Roasting helps to ‘deepen’ your vegetables.
While the magic is happening in the oven, get two cinnamon sticks, 2 tsp of ground cardamom, 8-10 cloves, and 1 tbsp of anise seed (place these in a tea bag or you’ll end up picking them out of your teeth later) and set aside.
stock roasted
Once you feel your work in the oven is done (there is no set time because all ovens are slightly different, so follow to what your eyes and your nose are telling you), take your tray out of the oven and dump the contents into a large stock pot. VERY IMPORTANT: take the now empty and still hot pan or tray over to the sink and run about a cup of water into it. Then, take a wooden spoon and gently scrape (deglaze) all of the brown bits (fond) and oils off of the bottom and the sides of your tray. You will see how dark and rich the water becomes as you do this. Once your pan / tray is deglazed, take the gold you’ve just created and drop it right into your pot. Follow that with the spices that you set aside, plus one large tbsp of sea salt and a few twists of fresh cracked black pepper. Then, fill the pot with 14 cups of cold water. Bring this to the cusp of boiling, then drop it down to simmer and keep the bubbles coming on the slow and gentle side for about 50-60 minutes, stirring every 15-20 minutes.
Second, the toppings for your pho chay~
12oz package of extra firm tofu (pressed or un-pressed)
6-8 shiitake mushrooms
6-8 baby portobello mushrooms
1 jalapeno, chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 bag of your favorite bean sprouts
1 red bell pepper, chopped into bite-sized pieces
1/2 bunch of green onions, fine chopped
6 medium / large basil leaves, rough chopped
1 box of your preferred rice noodles
salt / pepper
Now, take your favorite tofu (or, if you are brand new to this whole tofu thing, a 12oz block of extra-firm tofu) and cut it into slabs about 1/4″ thick. Heat 1 tbsp EVOO in a large pan over medium heat, and pan-fry the tofu until golden brown on both sides. Browning time will depend on moisture content. Remove from heat, and cut into bite-size pieces, then hit them with a pinch of salt and pepper.
tofu
Clean your pan, then heat another 1 tbsp of EVOO over med-low to medium heat. To the pan, add you favorite mushrooms. I went with shiitake and baby portobellos. Saute these until lightly browned, hitting with salt and pepper about a minute after they hit the pan. You want to keep the heat relatively low, because you want the mushrooms to be cooked, but also to remain meaty. Don’t over cook! Once done, place mushrooms on a paper towel to get any extra EVOO off the finished product.
Set the mushrooms and tofu aside for now.
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil (volume of water per the instructions for your selected rice noodles). While that process is under way, prepare the balance of your toppings. This phase is really up to personal preference. We went with a jalapeno, basil, bean sprouts, green onion, and a red bell pepper. The only real key here is, whatever toppings you choose, keep them bite-sized.
Once your water boils, drop the noodles and cook to preference; for us this means slightly al dente. Once ready, strain the noodles and rinse with cold water to prevent sticking. Set aside. Now, strain your broth into a large bowl. I prefer lining a colander with cheese cloth to remove the tiny bits. Remove the vegetables from your stock pot, return the broth to the pot, and return to the pot to the burner on low heat.
pho toppings
At last, we assemble. Grab a bowl (the deeper the better), place a serving of rice noodles in the bowl, assemble your desired amount of tofu and mushrooms on top of the noodles, then, sprinkle on whatever other toppings you’ve selected. To finish, ladle your broth onto the contents of your bowl. Keep in mind that the broth is what is going to heat (or reheat) your other ingredients, so use enough to make your toppings swim. Grab your chopsticks, a spoon, and enjoy!
pho 2
This was a lot of fun to make! There are so many options as far as what you can do with toppings that you can practically have a new product each time you make it, even when reusing the same broth recipe. That said, I recommend you make yourself a large pot of the broth, strain it, put it in containers and freeze it. You’ve now cut that hour off of your next pho chay craving; just heat up your broth!
Nutrition:
The only thing you need to watch here is how much EVOO you use to saute with. Oil is fat, and while fat is usually flavor, part of this for me is finding the flavor in your other ingredients and not relying on the fat to sum up your dish. EVOO loses much of its heart-health benefits once it’s heated, so be easy with how much you use here.
Vegetable stock or broth does not provide you with much in the way of vitamins, but it does usually contain much less fat that meat-based broths. Also, making your own vegetable broth, as we did here, allows you to control the amount of sodium in the finished product, which is typically the biggest concern with store-bought products. Also, if you are trying to limit your use of canned products, you may want to have broth / stock making become a regular activity. (Also, it makes your whole house smell amazing!)
If you have any questions or comments, don’t forget to contact me. I’d love to hear your feedback if you decide to try a bowl of this pho chay!
ENJOY!