Ah, one-pot meals. Few things are more satisfying to make or eat than a complete balanced meal in a single dish. Seared Bok Choy and Rice Noodles in a Light Coconut Broth is one of those meals, except, well, I actually used three different pots to make this “one-pot meal”: I soaked the rice noodles in one bowl, seared the bok choy in a pan and then added them both to a big simmering pot with the rest of the ingredients. You might think that’s cheating, and it is, but it also reveals a secret about good restaurant or gourmet cooking: when ingredients are cooked separately and then combined, they retain unique textures that make the final product more interesting and satisfying than if they were all cooked together using the same method.
Following this recipe will give you some insight as to how restaurants get Asian soups to have firm noodles, crispy vegetables, and clear broths. The rice noodles are soaked separately in hot, but not boiling, water. This keeps the noodles from falling apart and prevents the broth from getting cloudy from the starch in the noodles. The gingery, coconut broth is then cooked separately, with the tofu, snow peas, and separately seared bok choy added at the end, so nothing will overcook. The dish is then finished with fresh lime juice and raw scallion slivers to provide contrast to the cooked broth and vegetables.
The coconut milk in the broth makes this dish luxurious and special. While coconut milk is certainly not a low-calorie food, it provides the richness and fat necessary to round out this light meal. While saturated fat from coconuts was maligned in past decades, science and the press–including The New York Times–has been kinder to this fat in recent years, touting the fact that it is one of the few significant sources of lauric acid, a medium-chain fatty acid that perhaps has anti-fungal and antimicrobial properties and is converted into energy rather than fat in the human body. However, if you are concerned with reducing the amount of coconut milk in any recipe, you can buy a light version of canned coconut milk or simply dilute the regular version with water. Even with the full fat coconut milk though, this meal is only about 500 calories per serving.
Thanks to Tom Blakely for taking another great photo! He so generously came over with all his camera gear and in return, I made him tofu. Which he hates.
Seared Bok Choy and Rice Noodles in a Light Coconut Broth
1 package of rice noodles (also called pad thai noodles)
2 tablespoons of olive oil, divided
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons minced ginger
1 small red chili, minced (vary according to your chili tolerance)
3 cups of vegetable broth
1 can coconut milk (regular or light)
3 cloves of garlic, minced
6 baby bok choy, each sliced through the root into 4 – 6 vertical spears
1 cup of snow pea pods, ends trimmed
1 block of tofu (usually 14 oz), cut into 3/4 inch dice
2 teaspoons of salt
juice from one lime, or more to taste
2 scallions, white and green parts thinly sliced on the diagonal
1. Prepare rice noodles according to package directions or use this steeping method: Place the rice noodles in a large bowl. Bring a kettle or pot of water up to a boil. Let the water cool for a couple of minutes, and then pour it over the noodles, completely submerging them. Let the noodles steep in the water until they are soft but still have some bite. Then drain the water and hold the noodles in the dry bowl, tossed with a little oil, until you are ready for them.
2. In a large pot, make the coconut broth. Over medium heat, add the sliced onion and saute, letting the onion soften but not brown, about 5 minutes. Then add the minced ginger and red chili and saute for 1 minute more. Add the vegetable broth, coconut milk and 1 cup of water and whisk to combine. Bring this up to a simmer.
3. In a large skillet, heat up one tablespoon of olive oil and add the garlic and saute for 30 seconds. Then over high heat, add enough baby bok choy spears to fill the pan and let them get a light brown color one side and then flip over and repeat. They will still be firm but with a nice seared appearance. Remove the cooked boy choy from the skillet and repeat with the rest of the baby bok choy.
4. Add the seared baby bok choy, snow peas and tofu cubes into the coconut broth along with the 2 teaspoons of salt. Let simmer lightly for 3 minutes. Turn off heat and add the lime juice and scallions. Taste and add more salt or lime juice if necessary.
5. Using tongs, divide cooked rice noodles among 4 serving bowls and ladle the broth and veggies on top.