Updated: Nov 15, 2020
This take on phở harnesses the lung-cleaning power of the elusive Queen of the Night flower. Epiphyllum oxypetalum, Flor Kadupul, Reina de la noche, Tan hua, 月 下 美人 挿し木, ราตรี, Brugmansia, Angel's Trumpet, Dutch Man's Pipe, Princess of the night, Honolulu queen, Christ in the Manger, Dama de Noche, sweet-scented cactus, large-flowered cactus, vanilla cactus, large blooming cereus, large-flowered torch thistle, lunar flower, organillo: this many-named ephemeral flower has enslaved amateur botanists—like myself—and fortune seekers—ditto— across the world (as well as the disturbingly tongue-heavy proportioned hawk moth). I recently had the incredibly thrilling and plan-cancelling surprise of watching one up-close as my cutting bloomed after a short two years.
Just kidding. It was quarantine here in Mexico City, so I had no plans. I never plans even when there's no quarantine, actually. It's been a lot like my regular life, but without a paycheck or the guilt of turning down party invitations. Anysoup, I had read that the flower is thought to be a potent lung cleaner and fortifier, and with COVID on the brain I just had to chop these beauties up and eat them.
It was a sad morning, but a great micro-lesson for life. I don't like goodbyes, so I took her "disappointed that i'm not pregnant" photo with my phone in one hand and a pair of scissors in the other. I documented the live stream here.
The scent didn't dwell, and neither will I. I'm in the middle of an illegal forced eviction right now in Mexico City, at what could be the height of the pandemic, but we don't know yet because it hasn't flattened out since it started. So, I have a few things to do, including figuring out how to make a podcast so I can document this wild next few weeks.
If only the flower tasted like it smelled, uuuffff. But even with only a few hours in heaven, it's corpse was fairly bland. I expected it to be bitter or alkaline for some reason, but it was overall very neutral. It changed a tiny bit after sitting in the hot broth for a while, adding a depth to the flavor that I wouldn't call floral, but it filled a tiny opening where the rest of the many, many herbs and spices had missed.
The petals were soft and reminded me of eating pansies, but a bit thicker. The stem was like the cursed cousin of okra and an unwound spool of thread. It was gooey and stringy in a way that I couldn't chew it enough to swallow bits at a time, but just had to mash it up the best I could and do it in one gulp. No. Never again. I thought about stir-frying it but I didn't know enough about the compounds yet to know whether or not the heat would ruin the medicinal properties.
My favorite part of presenting plants is usually the days of research and distillation or information, but it kills me that I can't do it right now! Here's a fantastic look into the nutritive and medicinal properties, and a "short" list of supposed symptoms that it treats below. I say "supposed" only because we lack the research to go all wild about it.
respiratory conditions like asthma or bronchitis
tight-banded feeling in the chest
respiratory symptoms that accompany cardiovascular deficiency diseases
bloody phlegm and cough
shortness of breath
strengthens heart muscle
alleviate heart pain
blockage of arteries
arrhythmias and tachycardia
hearts weakened by Lyme Disease.
tonifying and restorative effect for central nervous system
tone the heart muscle
reduce blood fat and cholesterol
eneral mental confusion
I wanted to make something more traditional like the Cantonese slow-simmered soup or Zi Yin Run Fei Tang from scratch. But seeing as though nothing is open and I've been forced to come out of my room only at night (like the flower! OMG I just realized that), I had a hot 45 minutes while the angry ex-amiga took her weed nap to make this soup. I ended up with variation on pho, which I had been craving for a while, and a lot of the ingredients are also immune boosters and anti-viral, which I'm going to need if I'm out on the street in a few days... Pardon the lack of alternatives and tips, but consider this an opportunity to exercise your mental tastebuds.
Here it is!
Queen of the Night Flower Pho
Inspired by vietnamese pho
I used beef bouillon instead of broth which is tastier and healthier, but in a pinch, the cubes or paste work great. Spend a bit more and buy a nicer brand. It's worth it. This is also vegan if you use a different broth.
1 large white onion, peeled and quartered
1 qty 3-inch piece of ginger, sliced lengthwise
3 (3-inch) cinnamon sticks
1 tablespoon whole coriander seeds
8 cups stock (beef, vegetable, or chicken in a pinch)
1 small cone of piloncillo* (sub 1 tablespoon brown sugar)
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
2 teaspoons soy sauce or tamari
sea salt, to taste
PHO SOUP INGREDIENTS
7-10 ounces thin rice noodles or soba noodles
1 tablespoon sesame oil plus more for brushing roasted ingredients
16 ounces oyster mushrooms, rinsed and dried
8 ounces fava beans
4 fresh dates
thinly-sliced chiles (Thai bird chiles or jalapeños)
sriracha or hoisin sauce
1. Preheat your oven or toaster oven on broil.
2. Brush the onions, ginger, and mushrooms with sesame oil. Spread them out on a baking sheet so nothing is covered. You want all the char goodness you can get. The mushrooms will stay in longer than the other ingredients, so if yo uhave two sheets, make that extra dish dirty. Broil until they start to turn golden brown and dark brown on top, about 10 minutes for the onions and ginger and 30-40 for the mushrooms depending on your appliance.
3. Toast the dry spices in a pan or directly in your stock pot (star anise, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, coriander) until you smell it in your soul, about 3 minutes. Add the stock, onions, and ginger. Bring it to a soft boil and turn down the heat, cover, and let it do it's thing for at least an hour, two if you have the time.
4. Carefully strain the solids and return the pot to the heat, adding the piloncillo and the hoisin and soy. Keep it warm until you're ready to serve.
5. Make the noodles according to their instructions. I like to undercook them a bit because they'll soften while they bath in the broth and I like a nice textured noodle.
6. I'm not gonna tell you what to put on top from the list above. That would be robbing you of your free will. Make it good.
7. Send me pics!
* If making this soup for medicinal purposes, skip the sugar altogether. Sugar suppresses the immune system and could zero out your effort.