Speedy Pho Ga (Vietnamese chicken noodle soup)

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Pho is one of those rare meals which is delicious, super cheap and healthy. As myself and the majority of my friends are trying to stick to a budget and/or ‘diet’ (pre best friend’s wedding) pho is something that we have been opting for a lot of late. Recently, however, I have bought a house and unfortunately even good ol’ budget Pho has had to become a little less frequent…but I am determined not to deprive myself and so set out to find an economical, quick-to-make, healthy and tasty recipe so that I could make it at home. Most pho recipes are quite time consuming, as they require a stock to be made from scratch. In the interest of turning pho into a speedy and wholesome weekday meal, I have used a ready-made chicken stock which is not quite as delicate in flavour but it does the job. This recipe was adapted from a beautiful vegetarian pho by Brett Sargent, and major tweaks include adding in a whole bunch of veggies and some chicken to produce a more filling result.

Serves 4
Ingredients:
1.5 L chicken stock (I used Campbell’s real stock, however if you have any home made stock ready to go this would be ideal)
10 cloves
5 whole star anise
2 tsp coriander seeds
1 cinnamon stick
5 cm ginger, finely sliced
50g dried shiitake mushrooms (asian store/asian section at major supermarkets)
1 red onion, finely sliced
2 tbsp salt reduced soy sauce
1 sheet nori paper
3 x large carrots, shredded or thinly sliced
1 x bunch bok choy
500g chicken thigh, fat trimmed finely sliced (0..5-1cm thick)
3/4 cup water
To serve:
250g rice noodles, soaked in hot water for 8 minutes and drained
Fresh herbs i.e. coriander, vietnamese mint
Sliced lime/lemon
Bean sprouts
Extra shredded carrot
Optional: fresh chilli or hoisin sauce
Method:
Place the cloves, star anise, coriander seeds and cinnamon stick in a large saucepan over medium-high heat and toast for 2 minutes or until aromatic. Keep an eye on these spices as they burn easily. Add the stock, ginger, shiitake mushrooms, half of the onion and soy sauce and bring to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 2-3 minutes.
Meanwhile, fire up another gas stove top and wave the nori sheet over the flame for about 30 seconds or until lightly toasted. Crunch up the nori and add to the stock. Simmer over low heat for 5 minutes. Strain into a colander, reserving the stock and picking out the mushrooms from the solids to slice finely.
Return the stock to saucepan over low-medium heat. Add in the finely diced chicken, sliced mushrooms and the remaining onion. Simmer for 15 minutes. Add in the carrots and bok choy and simmer for a further 5 minutes, or until bok choy wilted and chicken cooked through. At this point taste the stock, if too concentrated in flavour for your liking this is where the 3/4 cup of water can come in, add slowly and taste as you go until you have achieved your desired flavour.
Divide the noodles between 4 bowls, and pour the pho mixture over the noodles. Top with sprouts, extra carrot and herbs. Serve with lime/lemon wedges, hoisin or chilli as desired.
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