Quick Light Chicken Pho

 In gluten free, main, special diet

Vietnamese-style chicken noodle soup with fresh herbs

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I was obsessed with Vietnam for a while when I was younger. I read Vietnamese authors, watched movies set in Vietnam (all those French movies like Scent of a Green Papaya, Indochine). There was something about those saturated tropical colors and mood and fruits and vegetables that seemed familiar to my own homeland so that I almost felt nostalgic, yet was foreign and different enough to seem mysterious. It’s not that far from Bangladesh, technically we are separated by just two countries – you could cross the border from Bangladesh to Myanmar, to Laos, and then to Vietnam. But it’s a very different country of course despite our mutual culinary love of rice-based dishes.

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It’s beautiful, and the landscape varies quite dramatically in a relatively short amount of space. Halong Bay is one of the most stunning places I’ve been to in  my travels around the world. Shadowy layers of limestone formations appeared out of the mist as we traveled around the South China Sea on a boat. The cities were fascinating too. Hanoi was lovely old-world charm, Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City vibrant and chaotic. Everyone seemed to be riding either bicycles or motor-scooters, and carrying everything possible on them – trees, chickens, we even saw the cutest little kitten being taken somewhere – I managed to take a pic of that. 

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And there was food everywhere. People cooked on the streetside, they had entire impressive mini kitchens set up on the sidewalk – including bunches of fresh herbs and sauces neatly arranged in bowls and containers.

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Vietnamese food is among my top favorite of cuisines. A lot of it is so fresh and light, feels healthy, and is so tasty too. Of course living in New York City, I’m spoiled by the variety of amazing Vietnamese restaurants we have here, and one could just eat out at or order in from these restaurants all the time. But even so, there’s one dish I like to make at home. Pho.

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If you don’t know it, pho could be simply described as noodles with broth and fresh herbs. But that doesn’t do justice to the taste, the wonderful mix of flavors and textures. True pho is a bit complicated, and when I make it at home I make an easy light simple version that’s ready in less than 30 minutes. My recipe here is not authentic pho, it’s inspired by pho, but I love it still. I use store-bought chicken broth as the base instead of the traditional beef made-from-scratch broth – it’s probably blasphemous to even call this pho! I also substitute rice vermicelli for the traditional flat rice noodles. It turns out delicious though, and is perfect for hot days, cold days, lunch or dinner. Don’t be intimidated by the number of steps here, this dish is very easy and quick to prepare.

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Quick Light Chicken Pho | Vietnamese-style chicken noodle soup with fresh herbs

SERVES: 2

INGREDIENTS

Chicken

  • 3/4 pound skinless boneless chicken breast, cut into thin slices
  • 2 whole star anise
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 1 and 1/4 inch piece ginger, cut into slices, each slice smashed
  • 2 scallions, white parts only, smashed
  • 1/2 cup water

Broth

  • 3 cups chicken broth + 1/2 cup water
  • 2-3 teaspoons fish sauce (or to taste)

Garnish

  • 1/4 cup fresh thai basil leaves, destemmed
  • 1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, destemmed
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves, destemmed
  • 2 scallions, green parts only, chopped (use green parts of the same scallions from earlier)
  • 2 green chilies deseeded and chopped
  • 2 lime slices
  • fried shallots (see below)

Crispy fried shallots

  • 1 shallot, very thinly sliced
  • 5 tablespoons vegetable oil (you can save and reuse most of this flavored oil later)

Noodles

  • 2 servings of dried rice vermicelli, cook according to package directions (I use brown rice vermicelli)

METHOD

  1. Make the fried shallots and set aside (click here for my recipe on this blog for how to make fried shallots).
  2. Peel and slice the ginger into flat pieces and smash them with the back of your knife. Take the white parts of the 2 scallions, and smash them too.
  3. Heat a heavy bottomed pot over medium heat for about 2 minutes (if you’re using a thin pot, it will heat faster, so you’ll need to reduce the time). Add star anise and cloves and dry-roast until fragrant, about a minute.
  4. Add the smashed ginger and scallions to the pot and stir-fry for about a minute.
  5. Add the chicken slices and lightly brown on both sides, about a minute.
  6. Add 1/2 cup water to the pot. When it starts boiling, cover pot, reduce heat to low and cook for about 5-7 minutes.
  7. In the meantime, make the chicken stock in another pot, and add fish sauce to it when done.
  8. When the chicken slices are cooked (if you’re using thin slices, they’ll be done in about 5 minutes), remove from the pot to a plate and cool (reserve the liquid in the pot). Shred the cooled chicken using a fork or your fingers.
  9. To the reserved liquid in the pot that the chicken had been cooking in, add the stock. Cover and cook on medium heat for about 8 minutes
  10. In the meantime, cook the rice noodles and when ready put into bowls.
  11. Prepare garnish – wash and destem basil, mint cilantro leaves and arrange on a plate. Chop the green parts left of the 2 scallions. Deseed and chop the green chilies.
  12. To serve, put shredded chicken on top on the noodles in the bowls. Add broth (remove the star anise and whole cloves from the broth). Add the garnish, squeeze lime juice, and sprinkle with fried shallots. And enjoy!
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