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 soup reminiscent 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.