Healthy Cooking: Make this chicken pho

Rice noodles, peppery ginger and citrusy lemongrass transform chicken noodle soup into flavor-packed pho ga. CONTRIBUTED BY KELLIE HYNES

Rice noodles, peppery ginger and citrusy lemongrass transform chicken noodle soup into flavor-packed pho ga. CONTRIBUTED BY KELLIE HYNES

Editor’s note:

We are pleased to launch Healthy Cooking, a new column by food writer Kellie Hynes. Today’s debut — a story and recipe for cooking chicken pho — illustrates Kellie’s wit, culinary know-how and, like most readers today, her busy lifestyle. We expect that the column will resonate with readers who want to feed their families wholesome, nutritious dishes, but who find it difficult to get a home-cooked meal on the table. We’re delighted to have Kellie take on the challenge of developing seasonal recipes that are practicable for the home cook. The column will run biweekly.

If chicken noodle soup is cocoon-at-home comfort food, pho ga is an international dance party in your bowl. Pronounced fuh gah, this Thai soup is infused with sinus-rattling ginger, zesty lemongrass and heady aromatics. But don’t confuse spicy with hot — you control the heat by adding as much or as little fresh chile pepper as you desire. Best of all, pho ga is low in calories, high in protein, and ideal for all of the healthy eating resolutions I’m struggling to keep.

Since my meal prep time falls into that variable black hole between school pickup and kiddo sports practices, I bought a few boxes of prepared chicken broth instead of making my own from scratch. (If you are the sort of person who makes homemade chicken stock, you are awesome and should invite me to dinner at your house.) Any brand of broth will do, but I keep it pure by using organic, fat- and sodium-free.

To save time, I purchased a rotisserie chicken from my supermarket’s prepared food section. Rotisserie chickens are the CliffsNotes of cooking: kind of a crutch, but they get the job done. Alternatively, you can use this recipe to coax a second performance out of any leftover cooked chicken that’s currently hanging out in your fridge.

One of the challenges of making Thai food is that, unless you have a diverse local grocery, an Asian market may be the only place to procure authentic ingredients like star anise. Since a second grocery stop is one too many for me, I found a delicious substitute in my usual store. Anise seeds, the heroes of Italian biscotti, provide the same sweet licorice flavor as star anise. (Fun fact: In spite of the duplicate name, the two are completely unrelated. Star anise is a fruit; anise seeds are herbs.)

Bright, flavorful seasonings are what make pho ga so crave-worthy. In a world of abundant time, I would toast the anise seeds and their friends, coriander and black peppercorns, in a dry skillet to make them more fragrant. Then I would wrap the spices, ginger, lemongrass and garlic in a neat cheesecloth square, called a bouquet garni, before adding them to the broth. For this fuss-free recipe, I let them all run wild in the broth, without toasting or formal cheesecloth attire. Just be sure to pour your soup through a fine-mesh strainer before serving, since no one wants to crack a tooth on a peppercorn.

Prepare your rice noodles in a separate pot of water. Then add the cooked noodles, and your favorite garnishes like crunchy bean sprouts, fiery chile pepper and bright cilantro to bowls of the broth just before serving. Feel free to skip a garnish if you don’t love it, or double it if you do. Pho ga is infinitely adaptable. In fact, it can be tweaked for the vegetarians in your life by using veggie broth and tofu instead of chicken broth and meat. You will still be rewarded with an invigorating, exotic dish that works in your hectic, everyday world.

Pho Ga (Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup)

2 quarts organic low-sodium, fat-free chicken broth

1/2 yellow onion, peeled and halved

1-inch knob of ginger, peeled

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

1 teaspoon coriander seeds

1/2 teaspoon anise seeds

1 (4-inch) lemongrass piece

4 garlic cloves, peeled

6 ounces dried rice noodles

2 tablespoons hoisin sauce

2 cups shredded rotisserie chicken

Optional garnishes:

1 shallot

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 Thai chile or jalapeno pepper

2 green onions

2 tablespoons fresh cilantro leaves

1 lime

3 ounces bean sprouts

Heat the broth in a 3-quart pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion, ginger, salt, peppercorns, coriander seeds and anise seeds. Smash the lemongrass and garlic with the flat side of your knife and add them to the broth. Bring the broth to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

While the broth simmers, prepare the rice noodles according to package directions, and any desired optional garnishes. (To prepare optional garnishes: Slice the shallot thinly and saute it in vegetable oil over medium high heat for 5 minutes or until golden brown. Remove the seeds from the chile pepper and slice. Chop green onions and cilantro leaves. Cut the lime into wedges. Rinse the bean sprouts.)

Pour the broth through a fine mesh strainer, and discard the onion and seasonings. Return the broth to the pot, and stir in the hoisin sauce. Adjust salt to taste. Add the chicken to the broth and cook until it is warmed, about 5 minutes.

Divide broth and cooked rice noodles between bowls. Serve with plates of garnishes on the side. Serves: 4-6

Per serving, based on 6 servings: 239 calories (percent of calories from fat, 17), 28 grams protein, 32 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 5 grams fat (1 gram saturated), 40 milligrams cholesterol, 338 milligrams sodium.