Recipe: Traditional Vietnamese Pho

Today it’s time to get back in the kitchen and cook something Vietnamese. I loved the food so much on my recent trip there and even did a cookery course at the wonderful Victoria Phan Thiet Beach Resort and Spa.

Vietnamese cuisine is considered one of the healthiest in the world. It incorporates lots of fresh herbs like lemongrass, mint, coriander and basil and spices like ginger, chilli and cinnamon. You’re often given a plateful of aromatic herbs to add to your dish at the table.

We ate Pho at the rooftop bar of The Majestic Hotel in Saigon. A huge bowl of tasty broth with plenty of noodles and the meat of your choice, served with that aromatic plateful.

I left Vietnam armed with recipes to try at home and today it was time to make some Pho. It does take some time as the flavours need to infuse properly, but it’s very little work with amazing results. Go on, give it at try.

Traditional Pho noodle soup with chicken

Serves 4

The tasty noodle soup topped with herbs and fresh lime

1 x 3cm piece of ginger, peeled

2 shallots, peeled

1 litre of vegetable stock

1.5 litres of water

2 pieces of Star Anise

1 cinnamon stick

1 tsp cloves

Half a tsp of chilli powder

2 chicken breasts

200g rice noodles, soaked and ready to add to the broth

To serve

150g bean sprouts

6 spring onions, sliced into small pieces

Handful of mint, chopped

Handful of basil, torn

2 limes, halved

Place the ginger and shallots on a baking tray and roast in the oven for about 30mins until soft and cooked.

Leave to cool and then put in a blender to make a paste.

Place a large pot on the hob and turn on to the lowest setting. Add the vegetable stock and water, star anise, cinnamon stick, cloves and ginger and shallot paste and stir.

Leave to heat through and bubble slightly for half an hour.

Add the two whole chicken breasts and leave on low for them to poach for one hour.

Meanwhile, arrange the bean sprouts, spring onions, mint, basil and lime on a plate.

After the chicken has cooked for an hour, remove it from the pan and add the noodles. Warm through for about 5 mins and while that is happening, slice the chicken.

Ladle out the noodles and broth into a bowl. Place the sliced chicken on top.

Serve with the herb selection which gets piled on top of the chicken broth mix.

Squeeze over the juice of half a lime and tuck in.

Pho chopped with tender poached chicken

Today’s top tips

Pho works equally well with beef. Instead of the chicken breasts, add 250g of rump steak and let it simmer in the mixture for about 2 hours.

You should always tear fresh basil rather than chop it to retain maximum flavour.

Try different adding different herbs like coriander or parsley to your Pho.

Vietnamese cooking doesn’t use a lot of chilli but if you’re a fan of hot stuff, up the chilli in this recipe.

Pho is also great for vegetarians, simply leave out the meat.

It also works well with fresh prawns. Just drop them in to the simmering mixture for about five minutes before serving, until they go pink.

I’ve used 200g of noodles here, if you’re a big noodle fan, add more – it can make a substantial meal.

Adding a plateful of crunch and freshness

Do you have a favourite Vietnamese recipe? What did you eat while you were visiting Vietnam. Let me know, I’d love to hear about your experiences.

Recipe: Chunky minestrone soup

It’s been way too long since I posted a recipe, something I promise to remedy in the coming months. Starting today with a really simple, healthy one for a substantial soup.

Minestrone is an easy way to get a good helping of vegetables into your diet. Use all your favourites and create a tailor-made bowl of goodness.

For me the key is to get the tomato-richness right, which is why I’ve added a tin of chopped tomatoes and passata to my dish. And don’t forget the herbs. I used fresh thyme today as I have a big pot of it flourishing on my kitchen counter. I think oregano would also be great.

This recipe is quick and easy to make, just make sure you don’t over cook the veg and pasta. It doesn’t take a lot of cooking. It also freezes well so make a big batch and you’ll have more dinners waiting for you.

minestrone

Rich, tasty and full of goodness

Makes 4 large portions

2 tbsps olive oil

6 baby leeks, chopped

3 sticks of celery, chopped

4 medium carrots, peeled and chopped

1 large handful fresh thyme, chopped

1 tin butter beans, drained and rinsed

1 tin chopped tomatoes

4 tbsps passata

300ml beef stock

300ml water

Grind of black pepper

100g macaroni

1 cup of peas

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan. Fry the leeks, celery, carrots and thyme for 15 mins until softened.

Add the drained beans, tomatoes and passata and stir well together.

Add the stock and water and some black pepper.

Bring to the boil and simmer for 2o mins.

Add the macaroni and peas. Bring to the boil, turn down to a simmer, cover and simmer for another 20 mins.

Keep an eye on the liquid content, you may need to add a little more water if you think it’s becoming too dry. But remember this is supposed to be a substantial, chunky soup.

Serve with fresh bread.

Recipe: Spicy tomato soup

We’re coming to the end of British Tomato Week, so I thought I’d finish off with a classic that I’ve  spiced up – fresh tomato soup with a bit of a bite. I used plum tomatoes on the vine, the aromas while I was preparing them was amazing!

You could add chilli, too, but be careful that it doesn’t overpower the sweetness of the tomatoes.

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Beautiful plum tomatoes

Spicy tomato soup

soup

Comforting, spicy and tomatoey sweet

Serves 4

800g tomatoes, peeled and chopped

2 onions, peeled and chopped

2 tbsp vegetable oil

2 tsp chopped fresh ginger

1 tsp garam masala

200ml water

400g coconut milk

Fry the onions in the vegetable oil until softened.

Add the garam masala and ginger and fry for 10 mins.

Add the tomatoes, reserving two to add later, and stir through.

Add the water. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 10 mins.

Add the coconut milk and stir through. Simmer for another 10 mins on low for flavours to mix.

Blend until the soup is smooth.

Add the remaining tomatoes and and simmer on low for another five so they heat through.

Serve with crusty bread.

Top tip: To peel tomatoes easily, place in a large bowl, pour boiling water over them and leave for a minute or two. Take a knife and insert into the skin, it should come away at once, making it easy to remove.

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Find out more at www.britishtomatoes.co.uk

Recipes: The best roast cherry tomatoes

Roasting sweet cherry tomatoes intensifies their sweetness and flavour and you can keep them in the fridge for up to a week. Spread on sandwiches, toss in salads, add to stews or even snack on straight from the fridge. Yum!

I cook them on a low temperature for about an hour, you can also do it overnight, like my friend Candy does. Here are two roads to fabulous roast cherry tomatoes.

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Bring on the cherry tomatoes

600g cherry tomatoes, halved

4 whole cloves of garlic, unpeeled

2 tsps dried thyme

1 tsp white sugar

4 tbsps olive oil

Heat the oven to 140C.

Place the tomatoes and garlic in an ovenproof dish, sprinkle with the sugar and thyme and pour over the olive oil.

Roast for about an hour (keeping an eye on them), until they are shrivelled but not dried out.

Eat immediately or allow to cool and store in the fridge for later.

cherrytoms

Chopped and sprinkled with olive oil and thyme

The overnight method

This way you can wake up to beautiful roast tomatoes!

Preheat the oven to 240C.

Place all the ingredients on a baking sheet and place it in the oven.

Turn the oven off and leave the tomatoes in overnight (approximately 8 hours).

Store in an airtight container in the fridge.

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Sweet and juicy and ready to eat

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Find out more at www.britishtomatoes.co.uk

Recipe: Pea, mint and ham hock soup in a fab Ceracraft pan

Anyone who  knows me well can tell you that I’m obsessed with kitchen “stuff”. And I don’t only mean gadgets, I can spend far too long rummaging through the €1 knives and veggie peelers and the €5 frying pans in any Spanish market. It’s time well spent, I always come away with a bargain and a smile.

So when given the opportunity to try out something new, lets say I’m certainly not backward in coming forward. Today it’s a fabulous new pan from a manufacturer called Ceracraft.

These stylish aluminium pans come in dark grey or dark red (as it happens dark red perfectly matches my range cooker!). They have an ultra non-stick coating which means they are a total pleasure to cook in – I hate it when I’m having to scrape bits of my potential masterpiece off the bottom of a pan. No chance of this here. And this magic surface means they’re also super-easy to clean. Plus they are beautifully light, so no risk of  injury or accident! And they’re good value with a set of three pans with lids going for £79.99. A great addition to my kitchen. For more information and to buy online visit www.JMLdirect.com

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My sparkling new pan…its non-stick surface means it’s easy to keep sparkling

To test out my new pan I decided to make a summery soup for friends who were coming round. This is definitely going to become a favourite in our house, it’s beautifully light and flavoursome, has few ingredients and is quick and easy to make. Plus it looks beautiful! How can you resist?

Pea, mint and ham hock soup

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A beautifully green summery soup sprinkled with tasty morsels of ham

Serves 6

50g butter

1 onion, peeled and chopped

1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped

3 sprigs of mint

1 litre chicken stock

900g frozen peas

2 packs (200g) of shredded ham hock

Put the pan on the hob on medium heat and melt the butter. Fry the onion and garlic until softened. Add the mint sprigs and keep frying for another five mins.

Add the chicken stock and 50g of the ham hock.

Add 700g of the frozen peas, keeping back 200g to add to the soup later.

Bring to the boil, turn down and simmer for 10 mins. Take off the heat and leave to cool slightly before blending with a hand blender until smooth and velvety.

When ready to serve add the remainder of the fresh peas and heat through. Serve with the remainder of the shredded ham hock (make sure you take it out of the fridge so it warms to room temperature) in a bowl for guests to sprinkle over the top of their soup.

I discovered ready-shredded ham hock in packs in Sainsbury’s, which makes life easy. For vegetarians, leave out the ham and use vegetable stock instead.

Adding the rest of the peas later adds texture and a small surprise to your soup.

Recipe: Spinach, celeriac, broad bean and pea soup

In an attempt to detox I decided to make a batch of vegetable soup. I wanted something fairly substantial and I do love the flavour of celeriac so here’s what I came up with. Adding the peas and broad beans after I pureed the mixture gave the soup more texture and they literally popped their sweetness in my mouth. A (very)  green bowl of goodness!

You can use frozen peas and broad beans, just defrost them first. I thought adding frozen broccoli would be good, too, instead of the spinach for a different flavour.

A delicious autumn warmer

A delicious autumn warmer

Serves 4

500g celeriac, peeled and thinly sliced

2 tbsp olive oil

1 medium onion, peeled and chopped

2 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped

300g tin of broad beans

100g frozen peas

250g spinach

600ml vegetable stock

2 tbsp of chopped chives

Fry the onion and garlic in olive oil until softened – about 10 mins.

Add the celeriac and fry for another 10 mins.

Add the stock and simmer for 20 mins until the celeriac is soft.

Add the spinach and bring it to the boil.

Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly, then blend to a creamy consistency, making sure everything is broken down.

Add the peas and broad beans and heat through. Stir in 1 tbsp of chives and a grind of black pepper. Serve immediately with the rest of the chives scattered over the top.

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