Vietnamese-style Asparagus Soup

Photo by Yvonne Duivenvoorden

The inspiration for this soup comes from Vietnamese pho, a hearty soup of hot chicken stock topped with asparagus and other vegetables, noodles and a dab of chili paste. A spicy peanut butter-based paste slowly releases its assertive flavor and slightly thickens the broth. All the elements for the soup can be prepared ahead and put together at the very last minute. Chinese chili paste is available at Asian markets and specialty shops and at some supermarkets.

Makes 8 to 10 tasting portions or 6 full servings

Spicy Peanut Paste

3 tablespoons freshly grated or minced freshly peeled ginger
½ teaspoon Chinese chili paste or hot-pepper sauce
½ cup chunky all-natural peanut butter
½ teaspoon hot chili oil or hot-pepper sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon toasted Asian sesame oil

3 scallions, finely chopped 


4 ounces angel-hair rice noodles
1 tablespoon peanut or vegetable oil

1 teaspoon toasted Asian sesame oil
½ cup julienned peeled fresh ginger
5 scallions, cut on the diagonal into ½-inch pieces
2 pounds asparagus, ends trimmed, peeled and cut on the diagonal into ½-inch pieces
6 cups vegetable stock or canned low-sodium broth
½ cup packed, coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
1 cup mung bean sprouts
Coarsely chopped salted peanuts for garnish (optional)

To make peanut paste: In a medium bowl, combine the grated ginger, chili paste and peanut butter, stirring to create a smooth paste. Add the chili oil, soy sauce, sesame oil and scallions; stir until smooth. The paste will be quite thick and should have a good, spicy kick. The paste can be made several hours ahead; cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

To make the soup: Fill a large bowl with ice water and set aside. Bring a large stockpot of water to a boil over medium heat. Add the rice noodles to the stockpot and cook for about 3 minutes, or until tender. Immediately transfer the noodles to a colander to drain and cool them under very cold running water to stop the cooking. Transfer the noodles to the bowl of ice water and separate them to prevent them from clumping. (If you are good with chopsticks, then use them to do this.) Set aside.

In a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat, warm the peanut oil and sesame oil. Add the julienned ginger and cook, stirring frequently, for 1 minute. Add the scallions and cook for about 20 seconds. Add the asparagus and cook, stirring frequently for 3 minutes. The vegetables should be al dente, not completely cooked or soft. Set aside.

The recipe can be made ahead up to this point. Store the noodles and about ¼ cup of the ice water in a separate container and store the sautéed asparagus in plastic wrap. Store all the elements in the refrigerator until ready to assemble. Bring the peanut paste and asparagus to room temperature before finishing off the soup.

In a large stockpot over medium heat, bring the vegetable stock to a rolling boil. Turn the heat to low and keep hot.

Ladle ½ to 1 cup of the simmering stock into each soup bowl and then whisk in about 1 tablespoon of the peanut paste. Drain the noodles well and divide them equally among the bowls. Top each serving with about 1 tablespoon of the asparagus-ginger mixture and sprinkle with a handful of cilantro and bean sprouts. Serve the remaining cilantro, sprouts, spicy peanut paste and peanuts, if desired, on the side, and let guests add what they like.

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