Monday, January 14, 2008


"Eternity is two people and a ham." -Dorothy Parker

When it comes to living alone, figuring out what to do with leftovers--like four pounds of shredded pork loin, hypothetically--takes ingenuity. And after a few pork sandwiches, I branched out to more exotic offerings.

My transition to "ethnic food" outside of the locally avaliable Tex-Mex was a slow process. I grew up in a town where the local Asian buffet served enchiladas and refried beans alongside beef and broccoli. Even today, I still can't stomach most food from different Indian cultures and pretty much draw the line at Thai food. Almost.

I firmly believe that Southerners should never ever try to imitate other cultures' foods in public. Stick to what you know. However, I am perpetually broke and more often than that a miser. Anything that can keep me from spending $7.42 a meal at the local Thai joint gets a check mark in my book. My favorite (and only) dish at the restaurant--chicken noodle soup with five-spice broth and mushrooms--just is too much for my pocketbook to handle on a weekly basis. The broth is what killed me. It was sweet and salty, hot and savory, and oh my goodness it's hard to resist on a sick day. The local cedar trees are out in full force, and tonight I was craving some of that spicy goodness.

My attempts at imitating this infamous dish have often gone awry. One unfortunate guest from times past would tell you that his host was convinced that five spice + chicken broth would equal a full-bodied soup. My dinner guest ingested the concoction with politeness, but it wasn't my best work. He shortly went outside afterwards for a smoke, possibly to remove all traces of the bland from his palate. I resolved to create something better.

With pounds of shredded pork looking on*, I stumbled upon a recipe posted at Epicurious that looked promising. According to the reviews, the broth was bland. I doubled the amounts of garlic and ginger and added additional five-spice powder.

Since my pork loin was already shredded (see previous post), I sauteed the garlic and ginger** with the five-spice and a little olive oil. It then stuck victoriously to the bottom of the pan. Fearing a burned-on disaster, I quickly tossed in some water to deglaze the pan and then added the broth. After the noodles were in a separate pot, I threw in the pork loin and baby bok choy (chopped about 1/8" thick). The bok choy was a nice green color but still tender when the noodles were done.

Best of all, the broth was a near duplicate of the restaurant's. Success!

Soba noodle soup with roast pork and bok choy
(adapted from Epicurious)

Serves 4

1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
3 teaspoons Chinese five-spice powder
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 1/2 inches ginger root, chopped thin or minced in a microplane
4 large garlic cloves, minced
1 tb olive oil or vegetable oil
leftover shredded pork loin
8 cups chicken broth
1/2 pound dried soba noodles (two bundles, in my case)
3 baby bok choy

Set water to boil in a stock pot. Salt heavily.

Combine first seven ingredients in a large soup or stock pan. When ingredients become aromatic, add stock and allow to come to a simmer.

Add the soba noodles to the salted water. Add the bok choy and pork to the broth. When the soba noodles are done (about five minutes), drain and add to soup.

Serve with panache.

*okay, I realize that pork can't look at me, but it was wistful.

**I chose the ginger root because it looked like a lobster.

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