On Your Table: Groundhog Day leaves us between seasons – a great time for soup

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By Cathy Branciaroli, Food Correspondent, The Times

Versatile soups such as Vietnamese Pho bridge the gap between winter and spring.

Well, will he or won’t he?

I’m referring of course to whether Punxsutawney Phil will pop back into his burrow after seeing his shadow.  This is considered to be a predictor that spring isn’t coming soon.  Or, if he enjoys a cloudy day we can hope for its arrival shortly. And he’s not a bad prognosticator, as his predictions have been correct 40% of the time.  While this event is widely anticipated across America, its origins go back to the German feast of Candlemas which is celebrated on February 2nd.  And of course who can’t forget the 1993 movie with Bill Murray where a cynical weatherman finds himself in a time warp and experiences the day over and over until he softens his attitude.

So as we hope that Phil won’t see his shadow and that spring is coming soon, my thoughts turn to light spring dishes.  Soup is one of my favorite foods and I love making different varieties all year long, no matter whether it’s freezing cold or blistering hot outside. Most of us think of soup as a warming fall or winter choice.  But spring soups are some of my favorites, because they allow us to focus on some of our most loved produce, particularly early spring vegetables.

The best spring soups bridge the gap between the seasons. These soups can be served either hot or cold, some are chunky and some are puréed glassy smooth.  In any case, they signal it’s time to say goodbye to the stick-to-your-ribs, hearty root vegetable purées of winter, and are saying hello to lighter, spring dishes.  Think creamy carrot soup, asparagus chowder or puree of peas.

Vietnamese Pho straddles that line.   Its fragrant, faintly sweet flavor not only can take you through a cold winter but right into spring with its fresh ingredients keeping us cozy as we wait for warmer weather.  Did I also say quick to prepare and versatile?  It can be made with beef, chicken or seafood, or those can be omitted and then it is vegetarian or vegan.  Plus the spice level can be set through the roof if that’s your passion.  Must have ingredients: bean sprouts, basil and cilantro, chili sauces, and fish sauce.  These balance the meatiness of the broth with heat, acidity and freshness.

Vietnamese Pho Soup

Vietnamese Pho Soup is simple and easy to make and can be customized to your likings, in that it can be vegan, spicy or just delicious.

Ingredients:

3/4 lb thinly sliced flank steak cut across the grain

14-16 oz rice noodles, dried or fresh

1 medium onion, chopped

1 tbsp each ginger and garlic

Handful of oriental basil leaves (try Thai basil)

2 tsp canola oil

Kosher salt and pepper

60 oz chicken or beef stock

2 tbsp fish sauce

1 tbsp sesame oil

1 cup fresh bean sprouts

4 scallions, sliced diagonally

2 jalapeno peppers seeds and veins removed

Hoisin sauce

Sriracha sauce to your taste

Lime wedges

1/3 cup cilantro leaves or to taste

Preparation:

In a large pot add oil and sauté onion, ginger and garlic for 3-5 minutes.  Add broth.   Bring broth to a boil then simmer for 10-15 minutes.   Add the fish sauce and sesame oli along with the noodles.

 

If using dried noodles, cover with hot tap water and soak for 10-15 minutes while the broth is simmering.  Drain.  If using fresh, untangle them and rinse briefly under cold running water.

 

Slice the beef thinly across the grain.  Set aside.

 

Ready individual bowls by topping each with noodles and beef, arranging the beef slices flat.  Add a bit of raw onion, scallions, bean sprouts and cilantro leaves to each bowl.  Ladle the soup over and top of the ingredients.  Top with sliced jalapenos and other ingredients to taste.  Add Hoisin or Siracha to taste.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Serve immediately.  Guests can use chopsticks and/or spoons to enjoy.

Cathy Branciaroli also writes about her adventures in the kitchen on her award-winning blog Delaware Girl Eats

 

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