Chicken Noodle Pho


It’s that time of year. The time of year when we’re either sick, or we’re engaged in trying to one-up each other with stories about being sick. I should know: I’ve already been on the phone twice today with sick relatives. Not having the grace to allow them their moment of misery, I was quick to counter with stories of a sick spouse and a sick kid. With three kids the same age in one house, I have a good chance of winning this competition.

I’ve decided to put my energy into one-upping the basic chicken soup recipe instead. Pho holds a position of great acclaim in our house. It’s not because we have wise Vietnamese grandmothers whose centuries-old recipes were passed down through generations. No, it has great acclaim because for many years, I refused to try it. My husband would scream at me, “What’s wrong with you? It’s just Chicken Noodle Soup!”

You know how this story ends. I tried it, I loved it, I want to eat it all the time, and I suffer consistent humiliation from my husband as a result of how slow to warm I was to the idea of trying it.

I love many types of ethnic foods, but often I don’t cook them because I don’t have certain ingredients on hand. The only way I can manage raising triplets and cooking homemade meals is to make dishes that don’t require extra trips to the market. My solution is usually to alter traditional recipes just enough to keep the food delicious, and keep the supply list simple. I use basic angel hair pasta as the noodle, I keep ginger root wrapped up in a baggie in the freezer rather than buying it fresh each time, and I sometimes use lemon wedges instead of lime, since I’m more likely to have them around.

One of the reasons this recipe competes nicely with any traditional Chicken Noodle Soup is the unique extras it contains that help manage the symptoms of winter colds and flus. There’s hot pepper to open the sinuses, there’s ginger to fight inflammation and there’s bok choy to help keep the immune system strong. All of this, and at its humble heart, as I was once scolded, “It’s just Chicken Noodle Soup.”

makes six servings

4-6 chicken thighs

1 onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

2 32-ounce containers chicken broth

2 cups water

2 carrots, chopped

2 stalks celery, chopped

4 scallions, chopped

5-6 mushrooms (button, cremini, etc.), chopped

1 batch bok choy, chopped

1 jalapeño pepper, sliced

½ bunch cilantro, chopped

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon pepper

2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 teaspoons ginger, grated

½ package angel hair pasta

Wash chicken and chop into bite-sized pieces. Sauté chicken in oil in a large soup pot. Add onion, garlic, carrots and celery. Continue sautéing for several minutes. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Break the angel hair pasta into half and add to pot. Simmer for 30 minutes and serve with any garnishes you like: lime wedges, basil, sprouts, jalapeño slices, hot sauce, etc. This soup recipe is very forgiving. You can adjust levels of salt, soy sauce and ginger to your individual tastes. When I don’t have a sick husband or kid waiting for the soup, I like to take the time to slice the carrots and celery into pretty julienned strips, and cut the scallion at an angle, but this recipe works perfectly with all the vegetables simply rough-chopped. If I want to make a vegetarian version, I replace the chicken with fried tofu pieces, or just omit it. If I have water chestnuts or baby corn on hand, I add them as well.

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