21 April 2013

Vietnamese-Inspired Noodle Soup

On Saturday we woke to a fresh layer of snow and good news of the second Boston marathon bombing suspect being captured...alive. What a relief that this saga has ended. My heart goes out to everyone affected and the pain, shock, and grief they are experiencing. But more uplifting is to witness the resilience and strength of the human spirit and how people have united to support and defend.

Our Saturday also ended on a high note, literally. We attended a live performance by a German pop singer named Annett Louisan. She has a unique musical style incorporating jazz, blues, soul, and swing. Here, here, and here are a few of her songs. Music, rhythm, and dance can transcend cultures and languages, so even though we could not understand much of the lyrics, we understood the emotion of the songs through the singer's universally-meaningful expressions and the rhythm of music. 

Another highlight of this past week was making this Vietnamese-inspired noodle soup. On two separate occasions I recently had Pho (Vietnamese noodles in a spicy broth) and a Vietnamese rice bowl, both having cooked and raw, sweet and sour components playing off of each other. These dishes, with an explosion of flavor in every bite, reminded me how enjoyable and intriguing Vietnamese street food is with their multiple layers of flavors and textures.

But I wasn't completely satisfied to only enjoy these dishes out. I wanted to know I could bring some of those flavor combinations and preparation techniques to my own kitchen but in an uncomplicated and accessible way. A way that would not require I stock an entire Asian pantry of hard-to-find ingredients and that I wouldn't feel daunted by complicated preparation. So this is what evolved; a chili and citrus-flavored broth topped with noodles, crunchy lime-spiked carrot salad, sweet and smoky barbecued tempeh (fermented soy) and a scattering of fresh herbs, bean sprouts, and a squeeze of lime.

It is a meal in a bowl, and it is absolutely a fork AND spoon kind of dish. I have to say it hits all the right notes. Yes there are several components:  noodles, broth, protein, raw salad. But that is what makes the dish so flavorful and dynamic. Plus several components can be made ahead, if desired. The important thing to note here is that substitutions are very easy and in fact I encourage them because there's bound to be variation in personal preferences and accessibility. Suggestions are mentioned in the recipe. 

Vietnamese-Inspired Noodle Soup
Serves 4-6

Notes: This makes great leftovers too. Store all components separately and assemble when ready to eat.

Red curry broth (recipe below)
Package brown rice noodles (or regular rice noodles, spaghetti, etc), cooked according to package directions
Raw carrot salad (recipe below)
Sweet & smoky tempeh (recipe below)
Toppings: bean sprouts, fresh cilantro & mint (chopped), toasted cashews, lime

Ladle broth in a wide, shallow bowl. Top with a portion of noodles, carrot salad, tempeh, and sprinkle around bean sprouts, herbs, cashews, and a squeeze of lime.

Red Curry Broth
Makes 9 cups
Notes: This can be made up to a day ahead. For easy cleanup, cool and store directly in the soup pot, then reheat the pot on the stove when you're ready to make the meal.

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 cup red curry paste (recipe below) or 1/4+ cup store bought
2 1/4 quarts/9 cups/2.1 liters liquid (combination of water and vegetable stock)
1 tsp. salt
1 small head broccoli, cut into florets and tender stem thinly sliced

In a large soup pot or dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium heat and add red curry paste. If using store-bought curry paste, taste first to gauge level of spiciness and concentration of flavor, and start with 1/4 cup.  Cook paste in oil for a minute.

Add liquid, cover, and bring to a boil. Taste and add salt and/or more curry paste (if using store-bought), if needed. The broth should be a red hue and flavorful. Simmer, covered for 10 minutes. Add broccoli and simmer for 5 more minutes, covered.

Red Curry Paste
Makes ~1/2 cup

Notes: Store-bought paste such as Thai Kitchen Red Curry Paste may be substituted, but you may need to adjust the amount needed for the broth depending on level of spiciness and concentration of flavor. Start with 1/4 cup and adjust from there.

8 dried mild Thai red chilies, de-stemmed and soaked in boiling water for 10 minutes
2 lemongrass stalks (or zest and juice of one lemon)
1 small red onion, quartered
Small bunch fresh cilantro (with tender stems)
2 garlic cloves
1 tsp. rice wine vinegar (or white wine vinegar/distilled vinegar)
1 tsp. natural cane sugar (or brown sugar)
2-3 Tbsp. water from soaking chilies

Prepare lemongrass, if using. Remove the hard root end and the green stem. You only want the white portion of the stalk. Make a shallow cut down the white stalk lengthwise and discard the outermost layer to expose the softer core. Coarsely chop the core to make easier work for the blender.

Remove chilies from soaking water, and add them along with the remaining ingredients to a small food processor, blender, or hand immersion blender. Blend until smooth, adding a touch more of the soaking water if it is too thick to blend.

Raw Carrot Salad
Makes 2 cups

Notes: Buy pre-shredded vegetables to save time.
This can be made a day ahead and stored in the refrigerator. However, if using cucumber store separately and drain away any excess water that may have accumulated in the bowl before combining with the salad.

Juice from 1 juicy lime
1 tsp. maple syrup (or natural cane sugar/brown sugar)
3 Tbsp. olive oil
Pinch of salt
1 cup carrots, shredded
1 cup celeriac, shredded (or English cucumber cut in short matchsticks/shredded daikon radish/shredded jicama)

In the bottom of a medium bowl mix together lime juice, syrup, olive oil, and salt. Add remaining ingredients and toss to combine.

Sweet & Smokey Tempeh
(adapted from My New Roots)

Notes: You can substitute other sources of protein such as tofu or chicken, but note that baking times will vary.

1 package tempeh 7oz. / 200g
1 Tbsp. tamari (or soy sauce)
1/4 cup orange juice
1 tsp. rice wine vinegar (or white wine/distilled vinegar)
1 Tbsp. maple syrup
1 tsp. grapeseed oil (or olive oil)

Preheat oven to 375F/190C

Slice tempeh into slabs or rounds, depending on its shape.

Add the remaining ingredients to a shallow oven-proof dish and whisk to combine. Add tempeh to the liquid, gently turning to coat all sides.

Bake for 20-30 minutes, turning tempeh over half way through, until it begins to caramelize and most marinade is absorbed.


  1. Ooh, this do new right up my street! Yum!!

  2. Stupid autocorrect! This is right up my street!

    1. :) Glad you like it, Kellie! You're right that these kinds of dishes, like your dal, have a few steps to them, but each component is simple, and I think it's worth it.


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