My Friend Gemma & Her Mouthwatering Noodle Dish

I have an amazing friend named Gemma. She is originally from the Philipines but entered my life about 6 years ago when she became the nanny for a close friend of mine. I remember when my girlfriend sent around an email announcing Gemma’s arrival – she said that she had a wonderful woman who would be joining their family and that she was a “gem”.

Well I have certainly found that to be very true. We first met as we walked the kids to school together and over the years have become good buddies. As we got to know one another, Gemma would often tell me stories about her childhood. Let me tell you – her life story would make a heartbreaking and inspirational novel and I’m often moved to tears as she recounts the trials and tribulations she has faced and overcome.

Her father was murdered when she was just 2 years old leaving her teacher mom with 4 young children to raise on her own in a small Phillipino village. They had to struggle to make ends meet and Gemma learned from an early age that each member of the family had to work hard to contribute to their survival. Despite their dire financial situation, Gemma’s mom made sure that all of her children went to school and completed their education.

Gemma went on to get a degree in accounting and also married and became the mom to 4 children of her own. Unfortunately, her marriage was an unhappy one and she found herself desperate to make money to support her family. Although the thought of leaving her children was extremely difficult, she was determined to make a better life for them and took a job as a housekeeper in Saudi Arabia. Her time in Saudi was difficult and scary and she found herself becoming more and more depressed. Thankfully, her sister was able to pull some strings and eventually Gemma was transferred to Canada to become a nanny.

Despite life’s hardships, Gemma has a wicked sense of humour and maintains a very positive attitude. And I’m happy to report that today all of her children are thriving and Gemma herself has found love again. This past summer, she married her Canadian sweetheart…and I even had the honour of acting as emcee at the nuptials.

gemma 1

In addition to being a good friend who always keeps me laughing, Gemma is also an excellent cook. I love it when she whips up traditional Philipino dishes to share with my  family… and she always kindly remembers to make them vegetarian just for me. My absolute favourite dish is her Pancit. This beautiful dish is one of the staples of the Philipino diet and actually translates as “convenience food”. A mountain of noodles and veggies all simmering together in fragrant broth – honestly, I could eat it every day!

Gemma kindly offered to give me a cooking lesson recently and I learned the secret to her delicious noodle dish. It’s quick and easy and even the kids gobble it up. And it’s versatile – you could throw in tofu (or another protein of choice) and mix and match your veggies to suit your tastes.

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Thank you Gemma for coming into my life. I truly appreciate your friendship, your off-colour sense of humour, your bravery, your perseverance…..and of course your noodles ; )

Gemma’s Pancit

gemma 4

1 pkg rice noodles (I used rice vermicelli)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp sesame oil
1/4 cup Soy Sauce (or more to taste)
2 cups vegetable broth
1 inch section of fresh ginger, grated
1 bunch green onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped finely
1/2 head cabbage, shredded
2 cups green beans, halved and sliced
3 carrots, sliced into narrow strips
1 red pepper, julienned
Salt and Pepper to taste

Heat oil in a large wok or frying pan over med-high heat. Add ginger, garlic and onions and saute for 3-5 minutes until softened. Add in veggies, broth and soy sauce and simmer together for 5-10 minutes until veggies begin to soften and heat through, stirring frequently.

In another pot, boil water and cook noodles according to package directions. Strain and rinse and set aside.

Combine noodles and veggies/broth together and stir gently to mix. Add additional soy sauce and salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy!

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Veggie Pho Soup

Before I had children and while I was still figuring out my career direction, I spent a few years as a public relations consultant at an agency in downtown Toronto. Although I realized pretty quickly that this particular career path wasn’t the one for me – I did learn a lot during those years and I am especially thankful for the people I met, the skills I honed and the fun I had during that time.

If I am being completely honest, one of my absolute favourite things about working in the middle of a big city was the opportunity to grab some friends and head out for lunch at one of the many amazing restaurants in the area. And there was one particular little spot close to my office called Yummy & Healthy that I absolutely adored. I went there so much that the sweet owner got to know me and would start prepping my Vegetarian Pho Soup as soon as I walked in the door. I couldn’t get enough of that fragrant and spicy broth and the heaping portions of rice noodles, veggies, sprouts and tofu…..delicious!

I have tried many times over the years to recreate that soup and I just haven’t been able to hit the mark…until now. I was fiddling around with a recipe from a recent edition of the Vegetarian Times Magazine and bingo-  I came pretty darn close!

The key to this Pho soup recipe is all in the broth. I threw a bunch of herbs and spices into a big pot and let it all cook together for at least an hour. Then I strained everything out and was left with a tangy and delicious base to build upon. Once the broth is ready to go – I simply simmered my add-ins of choice right in the soup. (However, if you are adding noodles, I would recommend cooking them separately and putting them into the bottom of your serving bowls and scooping the soup over top so that they don’t get too mushy.)

Although Yummy & Healthy is no longer in business, I’m paying homage to the owner and to the many trips I took to that restaurant with this recipe. Wherever the owners ended up – I’d like them to know that the young woman with blue eyes, the sloppy French braid and the ill-fitting Fairweather suit who sat in the corner slurping her noodles would like to thank you for the inspiration : )

Veggie Pho Soup (adapted from Vegetarian Times, Feb 2014)

pho

10 cups vegetable broth (I used 3 cubes of mushroom bouillon mixed with 10 cups of water)
1 cinnamon stick
2 round slices of lime (with rind)
1 1-inch piece of fresh ginger cut into thin coins
3 whole garlic cloves
The stems and roots from one bunch of cilantro (save the leaves for garnish)
3 tbsp. tamari (soy sauce)
1 tsp agave nectar
1 package extra firm tofu, drained and cut into cubes
1 stalk broccoli, cut into small pieces
2 stalks of bok choy, chopped
2-3 cups of bean sprouts, rinsed and drained
3 oyster mushrooms, cut into small pieces
1 bunch of cilantro leaves, chopped
Rice noodles of choice (I used PC Thai Rice Stick Noodles)
Extra tamari and Sriracha Sauce for flavouring

Place vegetable broth, lime pieces, garlic, cinnamon stick, cilantro stems, tamari and agave into a large soup pot. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to low and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Strain and throw out flavourings. (At this stage you can make your soup right away or save the broth to use at another time. It also freezes well.)

Prepare rice noodles according to package directions, rinse and set aside.

Bring broth back to a simmer and add in tofu, broccoli, bok choy and mushrooms and simmer for 5 minutes. Add sprouts and cook 1-2 minutes longer.

Scoop a generous portion of noodles into the bottom of a soup bowl. Top with broth and veggies and sprinkle with cilantro. Add additional tamari and sriracha for flavouring if desired.

Enjoy!

Asian Noodle Soup

Remember those yummy bags of noodles we used to eat as kids? Just rip open the bag, add the seasoning and some hot water and enjoy? Mmmmm…..my sister and I used to tuck into those babies weekly as kids. They also came in the oh-so-convenient cup format that I could tote to work as a young adult or throw in the microwave for an easy dinner.

But I now realize those bags or cups are actually filled with some nastiness – like MSG, loads of sodium and some unpronounceable chemicals that I don’t want to put in my body or in the bodies if my precious children. But dang those noodles were good!

So I’ve come up with a replacement that is just as good if I do say so myself and easy to make for a weeknight family dinner or quickie lunch. Give it a try and let me know what you think.

Asian Noodle Soup

mr. noodles done
1 tbsp coconut oil
1 tsp sesame oil (not toasted)
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
1 onion, chopped
1 large carrot – chopped
½ head of broccoli, chopped into small florets
1 cup mushrooms, chopped
1 head bok choy, leaves chopped
2 cups bean sprouts, rinsed and drained
1 pack of organic extra firm tofu, sliced and chopped into 1 inch bite size pieces
2 cubes of low sodium mushroom bouillon dissolved in 6 cups of warm water
6 cups water
3 tbsp gluten-free Tamari
Juice of 1 lime
½ cup fresh chopped cilantro
Salt and pepper to taste
1 pkg rice or soba noodles
Hot sauce (srirachi is my fav)

Prepare the noodles as per package directions and rinse under cold water. Set aside.

Heat the coconut and sesame oils in a large soup pot over med-high heat. When hot – add the garlic, onion and ginger and cook for 1 minute. Add the mushroom, carrot, broccoli and bok choy and cook for 5 minutes more or until the veggies start to soften.

Dissolve the bouillon in 6 cups of warm water and add to the veggies with the additional 6 cups of water. Toss in the tofu, sprouts, tamari and lime juice. Bring the entire mixture to a boil and them reduce to low and cover until you are ready to serve.

mr noodles broth

Set out your bowls and scoop a good portion of noodles into the bottom of each one. Top with veggie soup and a sprinkling of cilantro. You can then top with hot sauce if desired.

Dig in, enjoy and let the compliments from your family roll in.