A Thai Boat Noodle-ish recipe for my parents (Kosher-friendly)
I have been reading my dad’s book Gastronomic Judaism and Culinary Midrash, and it has me thinking a lot about kashrut, Jewish dietary restrictions. I have chosen not to keep kosher for a variety of reasons—it feels archaic to me, it is expensive, it is extra difficult with my gluten allergy, and it is overall another obstacle in connecting with others through food. But I also understand why some Jews hold on to that separation and cultural specificity/tradition. As I develop as a food/recipe writer, I’m more and more realizing that my blog is about immigrant cuisine. I get annoyed when Americans are "grossed out" by ingredients like pork blood but are totally okay with eating sea bugs (shrimp, lobster). But I am realizing that this attitude is very much informed by my Jewish kosher upbringing. I was vegetarian for almost 10 years, and when I started eating meat again, I was really put off by the meat and seafood of animals excluded from the laws of kashrut. Foods that are normal to gentiles, like shrimp, really freaked me out. Once I started eating full-on treif (non-kosher) food, it was all sort of the same to me. Snails have the familiar texture of mushrooms. Pork fat is the perfect cooking fat. Conch and octopus are pleasantly chewy and mild. It took me longer to come around to food like mussels and oysters, which are very common in the US but very ocean-y to me, though now I appreciate them. I still have an aversion to the combination of chicken and dairy. I understand food aversions in the context of religious taboos, but I also want to push against the idea that some foods are too foreign, strange, unclean, etc.
I connect with other kids and grandkids of immigrants, people who had non-Christian religious upbringings, and I find community and connection in that. My relationship to my Judaism is ambivalent; it is my identity, my culture, my ethics, my history. But I don’t want to build unnecessary barriers between myself and others. My husband isn’t Jewish (though he has no religion so we just celebrate Jewish holidays, no interfaith here). I value my parents’ choice to keep kosher and my kosher religious upbringing, and in being a Jewish food blogger I think it is important to me that I note how the recipes I post can be made kosher.
This is a beef noodle soup inspired by Thai boat noodles (kuaitiao ruea), drawn mostly from a really unique recipe in Leela Punyaratabandhu’s cookbook “Bangkok” that uses primarily beef, not pork. Boat noodle soup is colored and thickened with pork blood—a double taboo for Jewish dietary restrictions. But I wanted to make something similar that my parents can eat...These are not and can never be “Thai boat noodles,” not only because they are bloodless but because I don’t have any real context for Bangkok street food (though I hope to someday, after covid). But they are boat noodle-esque, because they are informed by American Thai restaurant boat noodles and Thai cookbooks/recipes, with a creative approach to approximating a very similar look and mouthfeel (like the way Buddhist monks can make vegetarian Peking duck). It uses beets, egg yolk, and bone marrow for the "blood"—which have a very Jewish, bobe-approved feel to me.
This recipe is a kosher-friendly alternative to Thai boat noodle soup, a pork and/or beef noodle soup full of aromatics, thickened and flavored with pork blood. My version is colored with beets and black soy sauce, thickened and flavored with bone marrow and egg yolk (which also help compensate for the absence of pork fat). A lot of the flavors come from Leela Punyaratabandhu's boat noodles recipe, which I highly recommend if you can eat pork and pork's blood. The name comes from when the soup was served from boats along Bangkok's canals. It has a variety of strong flavors that work so well together. You could also think about this as an aromatic meat and noodle borsch. The broth from this recipe makes twice what you need, so save some for later as it is delicious. On their own, the garnishes are optional, but you need at least some of them. These meatballs will not be as springy as the storebought kind, but they are still good. Both the broth and the meatballs The soup serves four generous bowls.
For the broth:
1 small or two large beef shanks
3-4 beef oxtails
5 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
2 cinnamon sticks
1 tsp peppercorns
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 black cardamom pod
2 star anise pods
about three inches of daikon radish, cut in half
1 small yellow onion, quartered
handful of coriander stems
1 lemongrass stalk, tied in a knot
1-inch galangal, peeled and cut into slices
1 tbsp kosher salt, plus more to taste
For the "blood:"
1 lb beef marrow bones (preferably a mix of bloody marrow and fatty marrow)
1 large or 2 small beets, peeled and cut into cubes
one egg yolk
one tablespoon dark soy sauce
For the meatballs:
1 lb lean red meat, such as eye round steak
3 ice cubes
1 tsp salt
a few dashes of white pepper
3 tbsp tapioca starch
1 tsp baking powder
For the soup:
2.5 quarts of broth
1 tbsp liquid from red fermented tofu (optional)
2 tsp Thai miso (or substitute 2 tsp Japanese miso or 1 tsp doenjang)
1 tbsp palm sugar
1 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp cane or rice vinegar
1 tsp soy sauce
salt, to taste
1 large bunch water spinach, cleaned and cut into 1-inch pieces.
1/4-1/2 pound steak, thinly sliced
1 package (four servings) rice noodles of your choice. I used banh canh (Vietnamese rice/tapioca udon noodles), but you could use rice vermicelli, pho noodles, bun bo hue noodles. Follow the instructions on the package to cook.
holy basil or Thai basil
gribbenes (chicken cracklings)
First, make the broth. Add all the ingredients to a large soup pot. Fill with water until 3/4 full, 5-6 quarts. Cook at low heat for at least two hours. If you want to include the meat from the oxtail and shank, continue cooking until tendon is soft and meat is tender.
While the broth is simmering, start the blood mix. Put the marrow bones in a small saucepan and add water until there is about 1/2 inch over the bones. Cook on medium-low until the marrow is cooked through and starts to separate from the bone. Remove the bones so only the marrow is left, then continue to cook until the marrow is soft and broken into little pieces. You may need to add more water. Cook until reduced into a thick fatty broth—there will be about 1/4-1/3 cup of marrow mixture. Turn of the heat, then add the beets and stir around. Let cool.
Make the meatballs. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, then turn it down to medium. Put all the meatball ingredients in a food processor and puree until it is a thick sticky paste.
Set aside a small bowl of cold water. Dip your hands into the water, then shape the meat mixture into a small ball and drop into the hot water. Repeat until all the meat mixture is used up. Cook for 10 minutes. Remove the meatballs from the water and set aside.
Taste the broth and add salt if needed. Strain the broth and put 2.5 quarts of it in a soup pot. You can discard the tough meat, or cook until it is tender and add it back to the soup. I like to use a clay soup pot because it retains heat well.
Bring the broth to medium heat. Add the soup ingredients from the tofu juice through the soy sauce.
Taste broth and season with more fish sauce or salt, to taste.
By now, the marrow mixture should be cool. There will be a thick layer of solid fat and the juices will be stained red from the beets. Remove the beet chunks. Put the mixture in a food processor along with the egg yolk and dark soy sauce and process until foamy and creamy.
Turn the broth to low; it should not be bubbling at all anymore. Slowly pour in the "blood" with one hand while whisking the soup with the other. The broth should thicken and eventually darken from a creamy orange to a deep brownish red.
Divide the cooked noodles into four bowls.
Turn off the heat. Stir in the water spinach and steak slices. As soon as they are cooked through, stir in the meatballs (they should still be warm).
Ladle the soup into each of the bowls.
Add garnishes and serve