The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen & Chicken Pho
Nguyen’s latest book, The Refugees, is a testament to any people that have been displaced from their homeland — whether voluntarily or forced. It is a testament to the quiet struggles that they face every day, while simultaneously being haunted by their past. I can only imagine how disorienting it must be to find yourself in a new and unfamiliar land, with strange customs and foreign words. I can only imagine how alienating it must feel to be an outsider in your new land, while no longer welcomed in your homeland.
We all have our own comfort foods — foods that remind us of simpler times and faraway places. Imagine any of the refugees from Nguyen’s book walking into a kitchen with a big, steaming pot of Pho on the stove. Aaaahhhhh. The aroma of cloves, star anise and ginger simmering in a pot of chicken broth, sweetened by brown sugar and cinnamon sticks. Imagine how therapeutic that would be for a displaced soul.
So for this week’s recipe pairing, I chose a recipe that would provide comfort for the protagonists in each of Nguyen’s short stories — from the sister who was visited from the ghost of her brother, to the veteran paratrooper that resorted to vandalism in response to his son’s broken marriage. Whip up a batch and let it simmer while you read a chapter or two. Allow it to sink into your soul, just like the Nguyen’s book.
- 8 cups Chicken Broth
- 3 tablespoons fish sauce
- 2 teaspoons brown sugar
- 6 whole cloves
- 4 star anise
- 1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick, broken
- 1 (3-inch) piece peeled fresh ginger, halved
- 4 ounces uncooked wide rice stick noodles (banh pho)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 medium onion, peeled and halved
- 3 cups shredded cooked chicken
- 2 cups fresh bean sprouts
- 1/3 cup thinly sliced green onions
- 1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh Thai basil
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup fresh cilantro sprigs
- 1/2 cup fresh mint sprigs
- 6 lime wedges
- 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
- Hoisin sauce (optional)
- Sriracha (optional)
- Combine first 7 ingredients in a large stockpot over medium-high heat; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 30 minutes.
- Strain broth through a sieve into a large bowl; discard solids. Return broth to pan; keep warm.
- Cook noodles according to package directions, omitting salt and fat.
- Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat with olive oil. Add onion; cook 8 minutes or until charred on each side. Remove from heat; cool slightly. Slice onion thinly; add to broth.
- Add chicken and next 5 ingredients (through salt) to pan; bring to a boil. Cook 2 minutes or until thoroughly heated.
- Place about 1/2 cup noodles in each of 6 bowls. Ladle about 1 1/3 cups broth mixture over each serving. Serve with cilantro, mint, lime wedges, and jalapeño. Serve with hoisin and Sriracha, if desired.