There was every inclination that this was going to be a fairly standard-issue quasi-Chinese-restaurant-style soup. Basically like what would happen if you took a pork stir-fry and added a bunch of chicken broth.
Then I decided it needed some crunch, so I threw in a handful of slivered blanched almonds. And whaddaya know: they worked pretty darn well. Hmmm, note to self.
Celery, cooked not unto the point of mushiness, was another important contributor to this soup's texture and flavor. Were you to have some bok choy sitting around, that would be an admirable substitute (and quite possibly even better than celery). Have at it!
I forgot the sesame oil drizzle at the end, as I almost always do… so though I'm recommending it here, who knows? It might ruin the whole thing. Be forewarned.
Chinese-Style Pork and Almond Soup with Rice Noodles
Serves… well, I thought it would serve six, but only three of us were awake to eat it, and Jim ate the rest the next day
1/2 pound pork shoulder steak or other cheap pork cut, frozen for about half an hour
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
2 Tbsp peanut oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 to 2 Tbsp grated fresh ginger
1 to 2 tsp Chinese chili-garlic paste
1 smallish (or 1/2 very large, which is what I had) red bell pepper, seeded and diced small
3 ribs celery, diced small (or about 1-1/2 cups diced bok choy)
A good handful (probably about 1/2 cup) slivered blanched almonds
4 cups chicken broth
2 Tbsp soy sauce
4 ounces (or so) rice noodles (粿条) broken into roughly 2" pieces
For serving: thinly sliced scallions and a little sesame oil
Slice the pork against the grain into very thin pieces, as you would do for pho, were you making pho. Toss in a bowl with a little salt and pepper.
Heat the oil in a soup pot over medium-high heat until almost smoking. Add the pork and stir-fry for just a few seconds, until it's no longer pink. Remove with a slotted spoon and reserve.
Reduce the heat to medium. Add the garlic, ginger and chili paste; cook, stirring, for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Don't let the garlic burn. Add the bell pepper, celery and almonds; cook, stirring, for about 4 minutes, or until pepper is slightly softened.
Add chicken broth, soy sauce and reserved pork. Bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat and simmer until vegetables are tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Uncover and return to a rolling boil; add noodles and cook, stirring frequently, until noodles are cooked through, about 3 minutes.
Top each serving with scallions and a wee drizzle of sesame oil.
Image (of rice noodles being made in a factory) by Flickr user Martijn Nijenhuis. Used under a Creative Commons license.