I had grand intentions for my January first. There would be a fire in the fireplace, a copy of the Sunday NYT to peruse. I would make pho, slowly, cooking in the way that I used to cook when it was just for me, totally private and selfish and gratifying and calm. There would be an array of tools to buffer me in my day of looking back and looking forward, considering all that had transpired in 2012 and all that I might hope for in 2013.
None of that happened. I still have not sat down to give a deep think about 2012, though I know that it was both the most challenging and the most rewarding year of my life. One doesn’t come without the other, it seems.
Instead, I browsed magazines, listened to some of The Happiness Project. (I highly recommend it!) In the afternoon I met up with friends, ambling along quiet blocks that gave way to a surprisingly bustling Valencia street. In the evening I ducked into Bi-Rite and it was packed. It felt like the holidays were not quite done yet. It felt cozy.
Still, I love the quiet of January. It’s a month made for celebrating the quiet things: snow, grey skies, root vegetables, long-cooked soups and braises and roasted things.
I made this pho for my parents the day after Christmas. It was exactly what we all needed: something flavorful, simple, nourishing and warming. And I made it again last week. It’s pretty stellar: the elements that give pho its fragrance and complexity are intact, but the hours spent making the stock from scratch are thankfully nixed. I could see this becoming a winter staple.
PHO WITH TOFU AND GREENS
adapted from Healthy Green Kitchen
Yield: 2-3 servings
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
1 cinnamon stick
2-3 star anise pods (use about 1 teaspoon fennel seeds if no star anise on hand)
2 black cardamom pods (optional)
1 quart chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
3-4 tablespoons fish sauce (use soy sauce to make it veg; start with 1 Tbsp and adjust to taste)
1 3-inch knob of fresh ginger, smashed with the back of a wooden spoon
1 bunch green onions, separated: whites thinly sliced; greens coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic, smashed
1 tablespoon brown sugar
4 ounces brown rice spaghetti or similar
8 ounces firm tofu, pressed and drained, cubed
1 cup baby broccoli florets, chopped
1 cup sturdy winter greens, such as arugula, dandelion or mustard greens
In a large stock pot over medium heat, toast the dry spices until fragrant, about 3-4 minutes. Stir to keep from burning.
Add the chicken stock, fish sauce, ginger, green parts of the green onions, garlic and brown sugar.
Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and simmer over low heat for about twenty minutes. Skim as needed.
While the broth simmers, bring a pot of salted water to boil for the pasta. Add some oil just before adding the pasta. Cook until just barely al dente – if they’re slightly undercooked, it’s okay. Drain and set aside, covered, until ready.
Strain the broth, removing all solids.
Return broth to the stock pot. Add the tofu and simmer for a few minutes to allow the tofu to absorb the broth’s flavor.
Add the broccoli florets and the sturdy winter greens. Turn off heat.
Divide the noodles among two or three bowls. Ladle the soup over each. Garnish with the remaining green onions, sprigs of cilantro and lime wedges. Add a bit of sriracha if desired. Serve immediately.