Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Daring Cooks: Chicken Phở and Dessert Wontons

Events resulting from the Vietnam War led many people in Cambodia, Laos and especially Vietnam to become refugees in the late 1970s and 1980s, after the fall of Saigon. The plight of the 'boat people' became an international humanitarian crisis. The UNHCR, under the auspices of the United Nations, set up refugee camps in the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong, and Indonesia to process the "boat people" (they received the 1981 Nobel Peace Prize for this).

My first encounter with Phở was Lent of 1996 while visiting family friends from out of town. My Dad worked with a first generation Vietnamese-Filipino and they invited us to spend the Lent with them. I'ma, the matriach of the family told us stories of their plight between her cooking and feeding us. It was my first encounter with Vietnamese culture, and everything was fascinating and nouveau, but the food is what got me - so flavorful, so distinct -- it was like a love at first taste, and that's when I fell inlove with Phở, and with Vietnamese food as a whole. My family eventually moved to the same town as where I'ma and her family lives, so I get to enjoy her cooking everytime I go home (and that's two months from now, yay!).

People who know me would attest that at one point in the first few weeks of knowing me that I will eventually bring them to a Pho place. You see, Pho is very close to my heart, what with all the stories I've heard from I'ma. One only need to watch movies like "The Killing Fields" and "Journey from the Fall" or see "Miss Saigon" and you will empathize and at the same time admire these people. Speaking of foreign films (watching foreign films is another favorite thing of mine), "Indochine" is a must see classic "Vietnamese" movie that everyone should see.
Okay, going back to the Phở , I prefer mine with all the works, or what they call 'Phở đặc biệt' (specialty phở)-- with fatty flank steak, beef tripe, beef tendons, meatballs and if I get lucky, other cattle offerings, LOL! I heard people say that Pho is just another kind of soup, but I tell you, IT IS NOT. Authentic Pho, like how I'ma makes them, is a labor of love. She boils and simmers the bones and you-dont-even-want-to-know-what animal offerings for hours, together with the spices to make a rich, clear both. She make those rice noodles from scratch, and grows thai basil in her garden all year round. In fact, she is the only person I know in the Philippines who grows them (we do not use Thai basil to cook with in the Philippines). She calls them 'gulay' - loosely translated in Filipino as vegetable. But Chicken Pho is still Pho, so I am excited that my first Daring Cooks Challenge is something very close to my heart.
As for the Dessert Wontons, I decided to use "Filipino" ingredients to go with the whole theme of "Asian" cooking-- Pineapple Wontons with Coconut Milk-Pineapple Juice Dipping Sauce and Sweetened Thai Banana & Macapuno** Wontons with Coconut Milk-Brown Sugar Sauce.
**Macapuno is a Philippine variety of the coconut palm that does not contain water inside the coconut shell. The "meat" of the coconut is a soft jelly-like substance that is used in popular Filipino sweets.
Recipes are as follow--
Pineapple Wontons with Coconut Milk-Pineapple Juice Dipping Sauce

Filling:1/2 cup of fresh pineapple, minced2 T of unsalted butter2 T granulated sugar
Dipping Sauce:1/2 cup pineapple juice2 T granulated sugar2 T coconut milk
For the filling, mix all the ingredients in a saucepan and cooked it down until the pineapple is caramelized. Use 1 tsp of the per wonton wrapper. For the Dipping Sauce, mix all the ingredients in a saucepan and reduce until thickened.

Sweetened Thai Banana and Macapuno Wontons with
Coconut Milk-Brown Sugar Dipping Sauce
For the filling:
1 pc sweetened thai banana, minced
4 T macapuno strings, minced

For the dipping sauce:
1/2 cup coconut milk
4 T dark brown sugar

For the filling, combine the banana and macapuno. Use 2 tsp of the filling per wonton wrapper. For the Dipping Sauce, reduce the coconut milk and brown sugar until thickened.

Vietnamese Chicken Pho
Recipe Source: Jaden of
Steamy Kitchen from her new book The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook
Frying pan
Large stockpot
Strainer, sieve or colander
Bowls for serving

Preparation Time: 45 cooking time + 6-8 minutes to cook noodles based on package directions

Servings: Makes 4 servings

For the Chicken Pho Broth:
2 tbsp. whole coriander seeds
4 whole cloves2 whole star anise
2 quarts homemade chicken stock (or store-bought)
1 whole chicken breast (bone in or boneless)
½ onion
1 3-inch chunk of ginger, sliced and smashed with side of knife
1 to 2 tbsps. sugar
1 to 2 tbsps. fish sauce
1 lb. dried rice noodles

2 cups bean sprouts, washed and tails pinched off
Fresh cilantro (coriander) -- I used CULANTRO
½ cup (50 grams/approx. 2 ounces) shaved red onions
½ lime, cut into 4 wedges
Sriracha chili sauce
Hoisin sauce
Sliced fresh chili peppers of your choice


To make the Chicken Pho Broth: heat a frying pan over medium heat. Add the coriander seeds, cloves and star anise and toast until fragrant, about 3-4 minutes. Immediately spoon out the spices to avoid burning. In a large pot, add all the ingredients (including the toasted spices) and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and let simmer for 20 minutes, skimming the surface frequently. Use tongs to remove the chicken breasts and shred the meat with your fingers, discarding the bone if you have used bone-in breasts. Taste the broth and add more fish sauce or sugar, if needed. Strain the broth and discard the solids.

Prepare the noodles as per directions on the package.

Ladle the broth into bowls. Then divide the shredded chicken breast and the soft noodles evenly into each bowl. Have the accompaniments spread out on the table. Each person can customize their own bowl with these ingredients.

Chocolate WontonsRecipe Source: Jaden of Steamy Kitchen from her new book The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook

Small bowl
Pastry brush
Plastic wrap and/or damp paper towels
Wok or medium-sized pot
Frying thermometer
Preparation time: 15 minutes + 15 minutes cooking time (for 12 wontons)

Servings: Makes 12 wontons.

1 large egg
1 tbsp. water
12 wonton wrappers, defrosted (keep wrappers covered with damp towel)
12 pieces or nuggets of chocolate (use any type of chocolate you like)
High-heat oil for frying (i.e., vegetable oil, corn oil)
Confectioners’ sugar (icing sugar) for sprinkling

In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and water to make an egg wash. On a clean, dry surface lay 1 wonton wrapper down with a point toward you, like a diamond. Place 1 piece of chocolate near the top end of the wrapper. Brush a very thin layer of the egg wash on the edges of the wrapper. Fold the bottom corner of the wrapper up to create a triangle and gently press to remove all air from the middle. Press the edges to adhere the sides. Make sure the wrapper is sealed completely. Repeat with the remaining wrappers and chocolate pieces. Keep the folded chocolate wontons covered under plastic wrap or a damp paper towel to prevent them from drying.

In a wok or medium pot, pour in 2 inches (5 cm.) of high-heat oil. Heat the oil to 350º F (180º C) and gently slide a few of the chocolate wontons into the hot oil. Make sure you don’t crowd the chocolate wontons. Fry the wontons for 1 ½ minutes, then flip over and fry another minute until both sides are golden brown and crisp.

Make sure you check out the Daring Cooks
Blogroll for more Pho and Wontons!


  1. Beautiful post! Your pho looks delicious, and those wontons are so creative - love the flavours =D.

  2. Welcome to Daring Cooks, and congrats on a first challenge so well done! Lovely and yummy looking pho, but my god, your wontons are spectacular, especially the macapuno..which I LOVE!! I better go before I drool all over the place! :)

  3. Welcome to Db. Great group.

    your pho looks and sounds incredible. This was fun to make.

    And your wontons - fantastic.