Chattanooga-area cooks seek advice on pho and the value of air fryers

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Good morning to you. A gift of a set of white swoop bowls to the home of Yeast of the Ridge raises a question. "I read about these bowls on the Sur La Table website that they are 'perfect for pho.' But what is pho, and how to do I make it?" One quick tip: The correct pronunciation is "fuh."

(READ MORE: Restaurant review: Noodles & Pho a delicious introduction to Vietnamese fare)

Ms. Ridge's companion, whom we will nickname "East of the Ridge," had another kitchen vessel connection that ties in well with today's emphasis on fresh vegetables. "I am trying to have a healthier kitchen. What would your readers advise: Do I just need to buy an air fryer?"

(READ MORE: Air fryer earns its place on the counter)


Suzanne Helber has given us a trio of colorful recipes. First, earlier this month, came squash and/or zucchini. The second today is an Italian tomato salad and the third (but hopefully not last, Ms. H) focuses on cucumbers. We are grateful for all.

The tomato salad came 40 years ago from Ms. Helber's sister-in-law, via a church cookbook. She added, "I'm sure it's not unfamiliar to many, but this one's a real keeper."

Italian Tomato Salad

6 medium tomatoes, any variety

2 small cloves garlic, minced

5 fresh basil leaves, cut chiffonade style

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

Peel and chunk tomatoes into bite-size pieces. Add garlic, basil, oil and salt.

Let stand for at least 30 minutes to draw its own juices, the longer the better. Serve with a slotted spoon.

Notes: Powdered garlic and dried basil are OK in a pinch.

This recipe is easily doubled or more. It is best at room temperature, but refrigerate leftovers ... if there are any.

You may serve as tapas, alone or with slices of fresh mozzarella.

(Note: Tapas are simply small portions of food, an appetizer or snack in Spanish cuisine. Tapas may be combined to make a full meal, served cold or hot.)

And now, gather your cucumbers. Ms. Helber's "excellent cucumber salad — my grandma's, really — does not incorporate the usual green pepper and celery seed, although those are yummy."

Cucumber Salad

4 medium-size cucumbers, peeled


1 small onion, finely diced or grated

Dill weed, to taste

Garlic powder, to taste

1 teaspoon vinegar

6 ounces sour cream, approximately

Slice cukes 1/4-inch-thick with mandolin or sharp knife.

Put into sieve over a bowl, then salt well to draw out juice.

Let stand at room temperature at least 30 minutes, stirring often.

Squeeze with cheesecloth, dish towel or paper towel to get as dry as possible.

Put into bowl, and add onion, dill, garlic and vinegar.

Mix, then add sour cream to desired consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Refrigerating will meld flavors.

Notes: The above recipe makes a small bowl as cucumbers are 96% water and shrivel in quantity compared to what they looked like when you start. I've been making this since my early twenties, and I typed this recipe as a general guide. For this quantity (4 cucumbers), start with 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder and 1 scant teaspoon dill weed. I don't think I've ever prepared it with fewer than 6 or 8 good-size cukes, adjusting other ingredients to taste. This recipe is a customizable treat.


Let's stay in this green growing land of fresh vegetables. Valerie Bowers continued the conversation.

She wrote, "I thought I'd share a tip for anyone who can't use cornmeal to fry squash or okra. I can't claim it as my own invention, as I saw it on a YouTube video last year made by a Southern grandma. My husband, who loves fried okra and squash but can't have cornmeal, finds it the perfect solution to his summertime favorites. And it adheres well to veggies with a tempura-like coating."

Fried Squash or Okra

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons cornstarch

Okra or squash


Oil or ghee for frying

Paul Prudhomme's Vegetable Magic seasoning

Mix flour with cornstarch in a gallon-size baggie. Close baggie, and shake to mix. Cut okra or squash, and toss with enough buttermilk to coat. Scoop up veggies with your hand or a small strainer and dump into the flour mixture in the baggie, and shake well. Veggies should be completely coated with the flour mixture.

Refrigerate for 30 minutes, or more if you can, to help coating adhere, and then fry to desired crispness. (I try to prep it early in the day and refrigerate until ready to cook for dinner.) Use enough oil to fry it that the flour doesn't burn.

I fry in Ancient Organics ghee as a healthier option to other high-heat oils, but it will work with any oil readers normally use for fried foods.

Liberally sprinkle the fried veggies with Paul Prudhomme's Vegetable Magic, just a few minutes before they're done and then again once you've tossed them around a bit on a paper towel to drain. It has just the right amount of salt and pepper plus other spices that give the fried veggies a real flavor boost.


As I made a personal note to buy some of Ms. Bowers' aforementioned Vegetable Magic, T. Square entered the conversation. "I do more reading about cooking than cooking," he admitted. "But I have been reading about Rao's marinara sauces and how good they are. I have also been seeing some recipes for making fresh tomato sauces as the season ends. I am wondering whether I should just settle for Rao's varieties of sauces that come in jars or if anybody has a good fresh tomato marinara sauce recipe to recommend."

(READ MORE: Turn meals into health foods with herbs and spices)

Mr. Square ended by quoting some words about food memories from writer Bee Wilson. "The article I read gave this example: 'Melon and prosciutto are a good flavor combination because the process of curing the meat creates chemical compounds with a melony scent.'

"After giving examples, the writer said, 'The pleasure that certain flavors give us is never a question of mere chemistry. We also love the things we love because of their associations. I have an Armenian friend who make the best baklava, and the moment she tastes the combination of orange flower water and butter in the pastry, she is back in the family kitchen of her childhood."

So I will turn these words into a final question. What puts you back in the family kitchen of your childhood? Please invite us in, by describing an aroma, or a taste ... or expand your thoughts into a recipe or a memory.


— Pho info

— Air fryer advice

— Marinara sauce recommendations


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  photo  Jane Henegar