Matzah Ball Pho
Matzah Ball Pho. The Nosher.
Jewish and Vietnamese comfort food meet in one delicious bowl.
The Nosher – Growing up in Seattle, it’s easy to fall in love with pho. Nearly as ubiquitous as coffee shops or teriyaki spots (yes, teriyaki), pho restaurants seem to be just around every corner of the city. They welcome you in from the cold and the rain with their steamy glass windows and equally steamy giant bowls of soup.
Pho (pronounced fuh) is a traditional Vietnamese soup that was popularized around the world by Vietnamese refugees fleeing the Vietnam War and its aftermath. Pho Ga is the chicken noodle variety of the soup. For me, pho is the perfect meal: a big bowl of rich aromatic, sweet, salty broth filled with satisfying rice noodles and tender meat, and balanced by toppings of fresh herbs, crispy bean sprouts, and tart lime juice.
Some feel that any mash-up of two differing traditional dishes is a crime against all that is holy in food. I am not trying to provoke traditionalists, but I do believe that learning from other strong culinary traditions can enrich our own. In that spirit, I started experimenting with homemade pho. It was a revelation to learn that the broth is made by charring onions and ginger before adding them to the stock, the depth of the broth’s flavor transformed by their smoky sweetness. And after making pho a few times, it occurred to me that the broth would go well with dumplings. Matzah balls are dumplings by definition. What would happen if they showed up? Why not combine my two favorite soups? The outcome: Matzah ball pho is a highly compatible marriage of comfort food meeting comfort food.
Like traditional matzah ball soup, this dish is nourishing, filling and warming; but its flavors are also complex and unexpected together. The matzah balls are nutty and hearty, in contrast to the simple rice noodles one usually finds in pho. The broth has the spice of ginger, and sweetness of cinnamon and anise – nothing like classic matzah ball chicken broth. Like any other pho, matzah ball pho can be served as a complete meal in and of itself, which makes the labor of this dish a little more worthwhile. There are enough toppings and additions to make this satisfying to eat, especially served with a side of toasted challah or crusty bread. For all these reasons, this has quickly become a new classic in my home.
Note about the recipe: Traditional Pho Ga calls for fish sauce in its broth. Fish sauce is made of fermented anchovies. Red Boat makes one that is certified kosher, but many who keep strictly kosher will not combine fish and meat in the same dish. To make this kosher, you can use tamari in lieu of fish sauce for extra umami flavor in the broth.