By Sonya Sanford
(The Nosher via JTA) – Pho (pronounced fuh) is a traditional Vietnamese soup that makes the perfect meal: a big bowl of rich, aromatic, sweet, salty broth filled with satisfying rice noodles and tender meat, and balanced by toppings of fresh herbs, crispy bean sprouts and tart lime juice. It occurred to me that the broth would go well with dumplings – aka matzah balls. So why not combine my two favorite soups? The result: a nourishing dish with complex flavors that can be served as a complete meal in and of itself. Serve it with a side of toasted challah or crusty bread.
Note: Traditional Pho Ga (chicken noodle pho) calls for fish sauce in its broth. Red Boat makes one that is certified kosher, but many who keep strictly kosher will not combine fish and meat in the same dish. To make this kosher, you can substitute tamari for extra umami flavor.
For the broth:
2 medium unpeeled yellow onions, halved
1 large 4”-5” piece of ginger, cut in half lengthwise
5 quarts cold water
1 4- to 5-pound chicken, cut into parts
1/2 pound chicken wings
2 teaspoons kosher salt, or to taste
1 tablespoon rock or raw (Turbinado) sugar
1 cinnamon stick
2 star anise
1 teaspoon whole coriander seeds
2 tablespoons fish sauce or tamari
1 small white onion, thinly sliced
4 scallions, thinly sliced
For the matzah balls:
1 cup matzah meal
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
4 large eggs, beaten
1/4 cup oil (vegetable or safflower)
1/4 cup minced scallion
For the toppings:
1 large bunch of fresh Thai basil
2-3 limes cut into wedges
3 cups mung bean sprouts
2 Fresno chilies or jalapenos, sliced thin
Hoisin sauce, to taste
Sambal oelek (garlic chili sauce), to taste
Sriracha, to taste
To make the broth:
Char onions and ginger under a broiler for 8-10 minutes or by charring them over a gas flame on your stovetop for a few minutes on each side. They should be charred but still firm. Once charred, remove the skin from the onion. Rinse the onion and ginger, and use a knife to scrape off excess charred bits to prevent your broth from getting murky. Cut your chicken into parts, separating the breasts, legs, wings and backbone to ensure that your chicken cooks evenly and that the breasts will not become dry or tough when simmered.
In a small skillet over medium heat, toast the cinnamon, anise and coriander until lightly browned, about 2-3 minutes. Be careful not to burn the spices. Add the onion, ginger and chicken to a large pot filled with 5 quarts of water and bring to a simmer; skim the impurities as they rise to the top. After 20 minutes of simmering, or once they are cooked through, remove the chicken breasts and cool. Add the toasted spices, salt and sugar to the pot. Continue to gently simmer the mixture for 1 hour.
Remove the remaining chicken parts and strain the liquid through a sieve. Bring the liquid back to a simmer for another 20-30 minutes, or until the liquid has reduced by about a quarter. Meanwhile, shred the chicken meat and reserve. Once reduced, turn off the heat and add fish sauce or tamari to broth.
To make the matzah balls:
While the soup is simmering, whisk together the matzah meal, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Add the beaten egg and oil. Add the scallions. Mix together until just combined. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Form into even-sized balls of any size. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Lower to a simmer and gently drop the matzah balls into the water. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes.
To serve the matzah ball pho:
Add the shredded chicken, raw sliced onion and scallions to a bowl. Ladle hot broth into the bowl. Add the matzah balls. Serve along with basil, bean sprouts, lime wedges, hoisin and hot sauces. Allow people to garnish their pho to their liking.
Sonya Sanford is a chef, food stylist and writer. (www.TheNosher.com).