March has always been an interesting month in my mind. Winter ends and spring arrives. Daylight springs forward and windows yawning let the stale air out and the fresh air in. Burning brush eliminates the abandoned remains of last fall buried by a premature winter snow, clearing the way for a fresh carpet of grass. You might dare to throw on a T-shirt and shorts when climbing temps convince us we have earned our freedom from bulky gear after surviving another winter in the Berkshires!
Spring cleaning sounds like a great idea this weekend, followed by a stroll around the lake and maybe even cranking up the grill for dinner to celebrate the first day of spring. Grab a bunch of daffodils for the table.
As winter fades, so does our desire for hearty fare. Lighter, fresh foods tantalize our taste buds, but a lingering chill in the air puts a hearty stew back on the table. Let's compromise with a warming soup as light and fresh as spring.
Pho is a Vietnamese noodle soup that is a cultural staple and has gained popularity in the U.S. Truly authentic Pho requires time. I encourage you to do a little research and learn to make a true Pho from scratch. This quick version offers the essence of Pho and is just right for a winter-into-spring meal.
Faux Pho (chicken version)
8 oz. dried rice noodles
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
4 whole cloves
2 whole star anise
1 cinnamon stick
2 quarts low sodium chicken stock
2 chicken breasts with skin and bone
3" chunk fresh ginger, sliced
1 tablespoon sugar
1 to 2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 cups bean sprouts, washed
½ cup slivered red onions
finely sliced bok choy or spinach
fresh cilantro tops
toasted sesame oil
Toast coriander, cloves, anise and cinnamon stick in a dry skillet over medium heat until fragrant. Add to a large pot along with stock, chicken, onion, ginger, sugar and fish sauce. Bring to a boil. Reduce to medium-low and simmer 20 minutes. Remove chicken and shred discarding bones and skin. Strain broth; discard solids.
Prepare noodles according package directions.
Add a servings of noodles to individual bowls, top with some shredded chicken, bean sprouts, bok choy or spinach, red onion, along with any of the other accompaniments. Ladle hot broth over all. A shot of siracha and a good squeeze of lime to finish is always a good idea!
Robin Anish is a former caterer who lives in Lenox, Mass., where she continues to cater to her enthusiasm for cooking.