May it Please the Palate-Fast, fake Asian Soup

The first cooking class I ever attended demonstrated the preparation of pho, a rich Vietnamese noodle and broth dish. Hours later, I tasted a bowl of amazing deliciousness. I learned that if one were to make an authentic version with no shortcuts, the path to this culinary nirvana is rich and complex. If on the other hand, you come home at 7:30 and you're tired and hungry, you may have to take a shortcut or two. There is a "noodle bar" in Ann Arbor called Tomukun that serves pho, Japanese-style ramen, and udon. If I were to make a very unlearned generalization, I'd say that pho is spicier and traditionally served with assorted toppings, while Ramen is simpler. There are many regional variations of each, and much overlap in the presentation. My fast, fake Asian soup borrows superficial elements from each style. It was chiefly influenced by what I had in the kitchen, and expediency. While a traditional version of these dishes would include painstaking preparation of the broth--often made over the course of days--mine used as a base my favorite standby, "Better Than Bouillon." Also, in the interest of ridding my vegetable drawer of fading contents, I added far more vegetables than would normally be called for. Finally, in the absence of pork belly or beef, I used the remnants of a lobster-shrimp-pork mixture I had in the freezer from making shrimp toast a while back. I fried these up as croquettes for my fast fake soup; but you can use any protein, including tofu for a vegetarian version. Nick's Fast Fake Asian Soup (updated with tips from Bon Appetit's 30-minute "Faux Pho" recipe) Ingredients: * Vegetable or peanut oil for frying * 1/2 small onion, diced (or simply roast and remove the onion half) * 2 garlic cloves, chopped (or roast and remove the whole cloves) * 1 thumb-sized piece of ginger * contents of your vegetable drawer: mushrooms, broccoli, carrots, peppers, celery, bok choy, spinach ... sliced, diced, and/or roughly chopped. * beef broth base if using beef or pork; vegetable for vegetarian or seafood * 1 whole star anise and 1 cinnamon stick (optional, for a more pho-like experience) * 1 package noodles (banh pho rice noodles for pho, wheat noodles for ramen or use 2 packages of instant ramen, noodles only) * Protein: 1/4 - 1/2 lb. slices of beef eye round, pork belly, bacon, meatballs, chicken, shrimp, tofu ... * Garnishes: chopped scallions, cilantro, chilé peppers, jalapenos, serranos, Thai basil leaves, sliced hard boiled eggs, "Rooster" sauce (Sriracha), lime wedges, soy sauce ... Preparation: Heat oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, and ginger. Cook, stirring occasionally, until garlic is golden, 2-3 minutes. Add 2-3 cups water, broth base, star anise, and cinnamon; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer until flavors meld, 7-8 minutes. Add other vegetables, timing them until they are just done together. As you are preparing the broth, boil water for the noodles. Cook the noodles until just tender (al dente). Drain and place in serving bowls. Add beef slices, shrimp, tofu or other protein to soup; simmer until just cooked through, 20 seconds or more. Remove with tongs to the serving bowls, on top of the noodles. Discard ginger, star anise, and cinnamon (and whole garlic and onion if roasting); ladle broth into bowls. Garnish as above. Scallions, sprouts, sliced egg, and soy sauce would make this dish more ramen-like; hot peppers, sprouts, basil or cilantro, lime more pho-style. Thirty to forty minutes after walking in the house and plopping my briefcase on the floor, I'm eating a flavorful, hearty and healthy supper. Nothing can be more authentic than that. Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht, Roumel, Salvatore, Blanchard, and Walker PC, a firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment and civil right litigation. He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and writes a food/restaurant column for "Current" magazine in Ann Arbor. He occasionally updates his blog at Published: Thu, Feb 7, 2013