This is a recipe my family learned from our friend Yai, who is from Thailand. He is an amazing cook and always gives us cooking lessons when we visit him. He taught us how to make Thai noodle soup years ago and it has been one of our favorite recipes ever since. If you've every had Pho before, this is very similar to that. His recipes never have any measurements or anything, so hopefully I remembered everything correctly...regardless, it tasted preeeetty yummy to me!
This meal really should be pretty simple to make, but there are a lot of little things that you will need to be throwing together at once, so it definitely helps to plan out how you are going to do things before you start cooking. This meal makes about 4 large servings.
First, start your broth.
You will need:
8 cups of high quality chicken broth (not a stock - there should be as few ingredients in it as possible. Obviously it is preferable to make your own broth from scratch if you can! If you are vegetarian you can also use veggie broth instead.)
2 whole garlic cloves
3 stalks of lemon grass, chopped roughly
2-3 kaffir lime leaves
A bit of star anise
Pour your plain chicken broth into a large pot and bring to a boil (while you are waiting for this to happen you can prepare your noodles - see below). Add in your garlic, lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves, peppercorns, star anise and chilies. Cover and let simmer while you finish everything else. If you would like to have chicken in your soup rather than tofu you should also add your chicken to the broth (obviously in this case it will mean keeping more of an eye on the broth so your chicken cooks the right amount). Right before you are ready to serve the dish, add in a couple bunches of bok choy (or any other similar green) and cook for a couple of minutes.
While you are waiting for your broth to come to a boil, cook your noodles.
You will need about 2/3 of a packet of flat rice noodles. Put the noodles in a large bowl and pour boiling water over them until they are completely immersed. Let them soak until they are al dente (should be about 5-10 minutes). Immediately strain them and run cold water over them so they don't stick together. Set them aside!
Now, we need to prepare all of your toppings! You can always add or subtract from this list, up to you! Set all of these aside in little bowls so everyone can add what they'd like to their soup!
1) Fried tofu: Take one packet of extra firm tofu and try to get as much of the water out of it as you can. Cut the whole thing up into cubes and toss them in flour until each piece is coated. Season with salt and pepper. Fry the pieces in a pan with olive oil until they are brown and crispy (this method of cooking tofu has turned many tofu skeptics around!...but if tofu still scares you, use the chicken you put in your broth as your protein).
2) Fried lemongrass. Chop 4 stalks of lemongrass up finely. Fry in a pan with a bit of oil at medium heat until they are brown and crispy. Put them on a paper towel to soak up any excess oil before transferring them to a small bowl.
3) Fried green onion (or shallots). Chop 4 pieces of green onion up finely. Fry in a pan with a bit of oil at medium heat until they are brown and crispy. Put them on a paper towel to soak up any excess oil.
4) Fried garlic. Chop 3 cloves of garlic up finely. Fry in a pan with a bit of oil at medium/low heat until they are brown and crispy. Put them on a paper towel to soak up any excess oil.
5) Nuoc mam sauce. Mix together 3 tablespoons lime juice, 2 tablespoons sugar, 1/2 cup water, and 2 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce. Add some finely chopped garlic and thai red chili when you are done making any adjustments!
The rest don't involve much preparation, just set them out for people to add!
6) Finely chopped cilantro
7) Bean sprouts
8) Tom yum sauce (this sauce is the best, you can find it at your local Asian market)
10) Soy sauce
11) Lime juice
12) Finely chopped peanuts
13) Thai basil
...Anything else you think might be good!
Now, what my family generally does is let everyone add what they want to their soup. Serve up bowls of broth, bok choy and noodles and each person can add the rest. I usually add a bit of almost everything, give it a try and then adjust as needed. My favorite is the tom yum sauce so I always use lots of that :)
Let me know if you have any questions!