Friday, June 21, 2013

Served with love contest (10,000 hits giveaway) and a recipe - Vegetarian Pho

Dear Readers,

Food is one of our primal necessities, but it is so much more than just a necessity isn't it. It brings us together, it has the power to engulf all our senses and leave us with ever lasting memories. Memories that can simply be triggered with just a whiff of this and a taste of that and transport you to a different world - that is the power of food. 

Let me share with you a little incident from my time in Vietnam. I was there for a hospital re-development project headed by my university and it was a cross-cultural team meaning we had students from Australia and Vietnam working together on the project. It was my first time in Vietnam and I was really unfamiliar with the language, I had learnt some basic phrases from the travel book I had, but otherwise was reliant on gestures and the local friends I had made there. 

After arriving in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) from Melbourne, our team travelled from HCMC to Danang where the Hospital was located for our site visit and research. After spending the whole day at the hospital we (a few friends and me) decided to go for a wander and have some dinner. We were four girls, three Aussie and one Vietnamese (our lovely local guide) So we went on a rather long walk and we couldn't spot any restaurants, the road was pretty deserted, there was hardly any traffic and most houses had their lights off. There is an interesting tradition there,many people run house restaurants, meaning guests essentially dine in their homes in their dining rooms, and pay for their meal and leave. This made it really hard for us to spot whether a house was just a house or a house cum restaurant. 

Finally after walking around for an hour we thought we spotted a home cum restaurant. There were a few chairs outside the house, the lights were on and you could see a few ladies pottering around the kitchen. So we made our way to the cosy home restaurant and my Vietnamese friend asked the ladies what they served and to my sheer delight it turned out that they only made vegetarian food. Our friend did all the ordering and the ladies got to work. 

The place was modest, a pale green coloured room with a few tube lights, a few plastic tables and chairs. The kitchen and dining room was one open space and there was a little passage that led to the rest of the house. You could tell the ladies worked very hard to make a living, I sincerely felt a lot of respect for them. Our food arrived at the table, steaming hot bowls of vegetable noodle soup, vegetables and tofu stir fried with bean paste, fried rice and noodle dishes. We dug in and all of us loved the food. The soup was magnificent, I had never tasted such an exquisite broth in my life. One of the girls who's background was Russian kept asking "Are you sure there's no animal content, it has to have some beef stock in the soup surely." Basically she could not believe that vegetarian food could be so flavoursome and delicious. 

The old ladies were so happy looking at us eat, they just sat at the next table and stared at us with a smile on their faces. It was just like how my grand mom would beam when we kids would eat her cooking, the same love, the same care and devotion and the same twinkling eyes. You could see the joy on their faces as we relished their cooking-a priceless moment. One of the old ladies, this cute old gran came upto me while I was still eating and touched my hair lovingly and then said something in Vietnamese, smiled at me and then sat down again. My friend translated saying that the lady knew I was from India because I have big eyes and thick dark hair. I smiled and gave her a hug and just nodded while trying very hard to hold back my tears. 

My grandmother had passed away the day before I had to leave for Vietnam. It was a very difficult time for me being away from home and having to travel for an important project. The only thought that gave me strength was the thought of her getting angry at me for having left my project mid-way. She was a very stern and hard working lady with a generous heart and she would have wanted me to complete what I started. In an unknown country to have this lovely gran feed me with so much love and attention just reminded me so much of my grandmother. It was one of the most incredible meals of my life, not because the food was good but because there was something more added to it - love and care.We had the rest of our meal surrounded by their happy faces and paid a very modest $6 for a meal for four, we tried to tip them but they did not accept it. They only wanted what they thought was fair, such self respecting, honest ladies. I still think of that night, the meal we had and the incredible women we met who in their own unassuming manner touched our lives.

This is my story about being Served with love, I want to hear yours. It can be about anyone who touched your life with a simple act of love through food. Remember the best story will get a great prize from Cookie's Kitchen, it could be anything from a cookbook to assorted cupcakes, it all depends on your geographical location. I am having this contest to celebrate the 10,000 views milestone of Cookie's Kitchen. Feel free to write your story in the comment box below or email me at Contest ends by 5 pm AEST on 1 July, 2013.

Now for the recipe, it's only fitting I share my Vietnamese Pho recipe with you after that story. Pho (pronounced fuh) is a Vietnamese noodle soup usually made of Beef broth. I have adapted the recipe to make a vegetarian version, it is a very soothing, healthy and delicious soup with lots of room for personalization and tweaking. I hope you enjoy it :)


Vegetarian Pho (Vietnamese Noodle Soup)


(Adapted from Kitchn)
Serves 2-3


For the broth
3 Star Anise
1 Cinnamon stick
4-5 cloves
1 tsp coriander seeds
3 garlic cloves
1 Onion (cut into 2 halves)
2-3 inches long Ginger ( divide into 2 pieces)
2 Carrots - roughly chopped
1L Vegetable Stock (salt reduced or unsalted)
1 tbsp + 1 tsp Vegetable oil
2 tsp Soya Sauce

Vegetables and protein
1 cup Broccoli - cut into florets
1/2 bunch Choy Sum - trimmed leaves
1 cup Oyster mushrooms
a handfull of Enoki mushrooms
200 g Tofu

200-250 g Rice stick Noodles
1L Boiling water

1 cup Mung bean sprouts
1/2 cup Mint leaves
1/2 cup Coriander leaves
2-3 Red chilli (birds eye)
2-3 Lime wedges

Dry roast the spices (cinnamon, star anise, cloves and coriander seeds) and keep it aside. In a mortar and pestle pound the garlic, one piece of ginger and coriander seeds to a rough paste. 

Making the garlic-ginger-coriander seeds paste

Garlic-ginger-coriander seeds paste

Char a piece of ginger and half the onion on an open flame using tongs, for about 5 minutes. Wash it and keep it aside. Chop the other half of the onion and ginger finely. 

Charred ginger and onion

Heat the oil in a deep pot and add the cinnamon, star anise and cloves to it followed by the garlic-ginger-coriander seeds paste. Let it begin to colour and then add the carrots and charred ginger and onion to it followed by the stock. Cover the pot and let it simmer for about 45 minutes. 

Broth base

Meanwhile you can prepare the vegetables and garnishes. Finely slice the spring onions and chillis. Cut the lime into wedges and assemble the garnishes along with the herbs and sprouts onto a little plate. Garnishes are ready.

Garnishes plate


I chose broccoli, choy sum, oyster and enoki mushrooms to have in my soup. I did not think there was any need to steam them before as the hot broth will cook them in the bowl itself and leave them a little crunchy the way I like it. You can add other vegetables of your choice too, lots of room for personalization.

Slice the tofu into rectangles and lightly fry them in a tsp of oil till golden. In a large bowl place the noodles and cover it with boiling water and cover the bowl with a lid and let the noodles cook for 10 minutes till soft, drain and keep it aside, ready to be added to the soup.

After 45 minutes, check seasoning and add soya sauce if required. The broth is ready. Strain the larger items like charred ginger, onion, cinnamon, star anise out of the broth. They have infused into the broth and so we can leave them out now.

The soup is ready for assembly.Take a nice deep bowl. Place the choy sum (any greens of your choice) in it, top with the mushrooms and broccoli. Now place some of the noodles into the bowl. Ladle the hot broth into it till all the vegetables and noodles are covered. 

Arranging the vegetables in the soup bowl

Pho awaiting to be topped with garnishes

Choose the garnishes you enjoy and start assembling, you can top with fried tofu, sprouts, chillis, spring onions, coriander and mint and squeeze some lime into it. Adding your own garnishes means everyone can customize it to their taste buds.



  1. Such a touching post!Loved reading it and a beautiful theme for the contest as well. Thanks for inviting me to participate. Will send in something before the dead line. Happy hosting and congrats on the milestone :)

  2. delicious and spicy pho. love the flavor, will write something soon.

  3. Awesome...i have tasted Pho at a Vietnamese restaurant n i loved it...thanks for sharing the recipe. Also, i have shared your event on my Google+ community "Online Food Blog Events" :-)

  4. Hi Srishti,
    ' Served with love ' is your tribute & homage to your baiji on her fourth anniversary which happens to be the date of publication of your blog event. Very well written, it also tells us that your memory is very sharp. Keep using it .
    Mom & Papa

  5. Thank you everyone, it's a great feeling to know you have enjoyed my little story as it was from the heart. I look forward to your entries.

  6. Here's my entry for the 'Served with love' contest :)
    This is a special entry and there is a reason why I want to share it with everyone through the comment until the end to find out why ;)

    To write this,I am now going back 7 years down memory lane. The year was 2005, the place - Melbourne Australia, the time - chaotic, stressful university life, the reason - a precious, precious friendship.

    It had been just a few months since I landed in Melbourne, a place I hold very dear to my heart, yet in that year it represented a competitive university life filled with stress and challenge. My partner in crime and darling friend, who I had then only recently met was the one who traveled with me to this strange land for the very first time. She was this little child (in my opinion :) - barely out of her teens), although she thought otherwise, as she played mother to many of her friends.

    In those days, I would grab a slice of bread in the morning and disappear to university where I ended up eating junk food through the day until I came back to my apartment where I had to make my own humble dinner. I recall that I had been having one of worst weeks then, where there was practically no time for myself. I had been leaving university past 10 p.m. everyday and that gave me little time to cook a decent meal.

    It was on one such day when I returned home, hungry as ever, that my flatmate told me I had a visitor during the day. Someone had popped by and left me something special in the refrigerator. Intrigued and even slightly shocked that I had a visitor who left me food, (when I barely had time to keep friends), I found the most wonderful strawberry pudding in my fridge. After much interrogation, my flatmate relented and told me that it was in fact my sweet little friend who came all the way to make my day just a little better. I was touched then as I'd never been before as I was truly 'served with love':). She knew how bad my week was and her thoughtfulness meant the world to me. It was a simple gesture of love, but one that I will never forget.
    And what makes this story 'especially special' is that my sweet little friend is none other than our darling 'Cookie'. :)

    Thanks for caring Cookie and for always being there! xoxo