I pride myself on creating pantry-staple-focused recipes, vague road maps that you can tweak and shuffle based on what you’ve already got — yes, you can use red onions in that shallot pasta — bolstered by vegetables or meat, if you like. My robust, if not chaotic, kitchen reflects that, meaning I can always make dinner even if I haven’t been shopping in ages. (This is not about quarantine or how to prepare for one, but let’s just say that if something like that were to go down, I’d want to live at my house.)
When it comes to cooking (and that’s about it), I am my most flexible self — it’s the only way to keep recipes truly unfussy and accessible, my two goals. This pork noodle soup is a great poster child for those principles: It’s made from basic ingredients you most likely have on hand, and for those you don’t, you can be a little flexible, I promise.
It starts with toasting several cloves of sliced garlic, which not only provide excellent crunchy texture, but they also flavor the oil that cooks the ground pork (you could easily use chicken or turkey), which then spiffs up the store-bought chicken broth. (Vegetable broth works great, too.) From there, it’s seasoned with soy sauce — or tamari! — for saltiness and red-pepper flakes or some other dried chile for the heat that I predictably always crave, especially in a noodle soup.
From there, it’s a true “Choose Your Own Adventure.” This is the best use of fresh pea leaves I could imagine, if they’re available to you (I find mine in Chinatown, where they seem to be more available than not). They’ve got a more evolved, vegetal flavor with a delightfully hearty texture that other greens can’t really compete with. But baby or chopped spinach leaves, torn Swiss chard, kale or mustard greens would all wilt down acceptably. I would even say that, if you had delicate broccoli (aka broccolini) on hand, it would be great, too.
As for the noodles, I am also very generous and flexible. Whatever type you choose will honestly be great, I just ask that you cook them separately (to al dente, please) in a pot of salted water as to not cloud or alter the flavor the broth. Rice vermicelli (my choice), dried ramen, soba, udon or even your favorite pasta shape all get my blessing.
But here’s where I become inflexible — it has to happen occasionally! The raw onion experience, added to the hot broth at the last minute, as well as scattered on top, may not excite everyone, but trust me when I tell you that is the one and only nonnegotiable.
Inspired by the zillion bowls of pho I have consumed in my lifetime, the raw onion gives the broth a strong savoriness, a unique flavor that tricks your brain into thinking you just cooked something very complicated for a very long time. Without the thinly sliced rings at the end, the soup is … good. With them, it’s spectacular. Use a yellow, white or red onion. Use scallions. By all means, use a shallot! (No, I don’t own stock in shallots.) It breaks my heart to say that if eating raw onions is not something you enjoy, you may want to skip this particular recipe. Otherwise, I encourage you to go forth and be your most flexible self, too.
—Recipe: Pork Noodle Soup With Ginger and Toasted Garlic
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Total time: 35 minutes
3 tablespoons neutral oil, grapeseed, vegetable or canola
8 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 pound ground pork
1 1/2 teaspoons red-pepper flakes, plus more to taste
Kosher salt and black pepper
4 cups chicken broth
3 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari, plus more to taste
1 large bunch pea leaves or spinach, thick stems removed, leaves coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger (from about a 1 1/2-inch piece)
6 ounces rice noodles (thick- or thin-cut), cooked and drained
1/2 medium red, yellow or white onion or 3 scallions, thinly sliced
1 cup cilantro, leaves and tender stems, coarsely chopped
1. Heat vegetable oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium.
2. Add garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the slices become nicely toasted and golden brown, 2 or 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove garlic and set aside.
3. Add pork and red-pepper flakes to the pot, and season with salt and pepper. Cook, using a wooden spoon or spatula to break up large pieces, until the pork is well browned and in small bite-size pieces, 5 to 8 minutes.
4. Add chicken broth, soy sauce and 4 cups water. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 5 to 8 minutes or so, until the pork is very tender and the broth tastes impossibly good. (Give it a taste and season with salt, pepper, red-pepper flakes and soy sauce, if you want.) Add pea leaves, half of the onion slices, and all of the ginger. Stir to wilt the leaves.
5. To serve, ladle soup over noodles and top with remaining onion, cilantro and toasted garlic.