Category Archives: Soups

Exploring Spices: Star Anise

This week I’m starting a new series called “Exploring Spices” in order to learn more about unusual condiments and try out new recipes. I’m starting out with star anise, a beautiful star-shaped spice popular in China (where it is an essential part of the 5-spice powder), India and Vietnam (a key part of pho).

Star anise has a host of historical medicinal uses, but for Western society, the most likely way you’ll encounter it is in Tamiflu. Star anise is a surprising ingredient in this drug, used to fight the influenza virus.

But let’s get cooking. Many Asian cuisines use star anise in broths and soups in order to a beautiful complexity from this spicy, pungent condiment. In this first recipe, we’ll add star anise to beef broth for a lovely, fragrant, brothy soupĀ reminiscentĀ of Vietnamese pho.

Where can you get star anise? You can probably find it in your local supermarket, but check out Penzey’s for great quality.

Fragrant Star Anise-Spiced Broth with Tofu and Vegetables


8 oz fresh wheat or rice noodles, cooked, drained and rinsed in cold water

1 red onion, peeled and thinly sliced

1 3-inch piece of ginger, peeled and thinly sliced

3 garlic cloves, cut in half

3 whole cloves

1 star anise

6 cups beef broth

2 cups water

1 Tbsp soy sauce

1 tsp brown sugar

2 tsp fish sauce

1 pack firm tofu, chopped into 3/4″ cubes

4 cups baby or regular bok choy, washed and chopped

1 cup snow peas

1/4 cup fresh Thai basil leaves

1/4 cup fresh mint leaves


1. Place onion, star anise, cloves, garlic, ginger in a large stockpot and cook over medium-high heat for 4-5 minutes.

2. Add the beef broth and water and bring to a boil.

3. Strain the broth mixture with a fine strainer and put it back in the stockpot. Add the soy sauce, fish sauce and brown sugar and bring to a boil again.

4. Add the bok choy and snow peas and cook for about 4 minutes.

5. While the vegetables are cooking, arrange 1/4 of the noodles into four large bowls. Divide the tofu into 4 servings and sprinkle the tofu cubes over the bowls.

6. Pour 2 cups of broth into each bowl with noodles and garnish with the mint and basil. Serve hot.

Serves 4

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Posted by on May 3, 2010 in Soups, spices


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Spice It Up

It’s a familiar fixture in any kitchen. Often forgotten, relegated to a inconspicuous dark corner of counter space or pantry shelf.

s_turmeric.jpgAh, yes, the spice rack.

Most of your spices just sit there, forgotten. Depending on your level of experimentation, a few may emerge. But if you’re like most people, by the time you finally reach for the oregano, thyme or marjoram, it tastes like old, dusty cardboard.

Solution? Forget buying an entire spice rack at your local gourmet food store or an overpriced glass jar of sage at your local supermarket. Purchase only the spices you need at Penzey’s ( in small quantities.

Experiment with one spice at a time (their fabulous catalog includes a bunch of recipes) before stocking your entire pantry. Their spices are much cheaper than those you would find at the supermarket and you can often find a variety of spices. Case in point, they sell four different kinds of cinnamon! Penzeys also offers spice sets that make perfect gifts for the home cook.

In case you need some inspiration to whip up a spicy dish, here’s a delicious soup adapted from Martha Stewart’s Healthy Quick Cook. When I first made the recipe, I found it a little watery, so I added a few veggies to make it a little more hearty. Serve with crusty white bread.

Curried Tomato Seafood Bouillabaisse


1 28-oz can whole tomatoes

3 cups vegetable stock

3 cups water

1/2 tsp cardamom seeds

2 whole cloves

1 1-inch stick cinnamon

1 1/2 tsps crushed red pepper

2 tablespoons medium spicy curry powder

1 lemongrass stalk, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 lb. assorted white fish, mussels, clams (Trader Joe’s has a perfect frozen seafood mix for this), fresh (or, if frozen, thawed)

1 cup edamame

1 cup chopped bok choy

salt and pepper

1/4 cup coarsely chopped parsley leaves


1. In a large pot, combine the tomatoes, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, red pepper, curry powder and lemongrass with the stock and water. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for another 20 minutes.

2. Add the fish to the broth and cook about 10 minutes.

3. Add the edamame and bok choy (feel free to experiment with other veggies).

4. Season with salt and pepper.

5. Ladle into soup bowls and top with the parsley.

(serves 4)

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Posted by on March 18, 2008 in Soups, spices


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