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Friday, April 4, 2008

Vietnamese Pho Soup

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In our household, we are on the constant hunt for foods that are delicious and healthy. If it is also easy to prepare, then it is more or less the perfect food. Such "trifectas" of taste, health and ease are likely to make it into frequent rotation in our home. This healthy and super flavorful broth-based soup has recently become one of our favorite evening meals, thanks to my husband's long-time love of Vietnamese soup Pho. It isn't easy to get Vietnamese food in Ghana, so Terry and I were finally motivated to learn how to make this wonderful soup for ourselves. With a little experimentation we found a combination that we love. As the cold weather turns towards spring, this warm soup with its bright citrus flavors is the perfect match for the season.

The soup is served with a full plate of accompaniments, so your family or guests can tailor their bowl to their own particular tastes. It adds a great element of participation to cooking, which can otherwise be a bit of a spectator sport.

Vietnamese Pho Soup

My husband's adaptation of Pho Bo (Hanoi Beef Noodle Soup) from Gourmet Magazine

4-6 servings

6 cups beef broth (or part broth, part stock)
1/4-1/2 inch ginger, peeled
2 whole star anise
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 pound beef sirloin
3 ounces dried rice noodles
1-2 tsp fish sauce
Several twists of freshly ground black pepper

Fresh bean sprouts
Minced scallions
Fresh chopped cilantro sprigs
1 small thin fresh red or green Asian chili, sliced into thin rings
Fresh basil leaves
Lime (preferably key limes), cut into quarters

Rice Noodles?
These tasty noodles are available at a number of local grocery stores, Whole Foods, or Asian specialty grocers.

Best of all these noodles are much healthier than the same amount of traditional spaghetti noodles. 100 g of rice noodles have only 109 calories, 0.2 g of fat, and a full gram of fiber. By contrast, the same amount of traditional fresh pasta has more than twice the calories (288), ten times the fat (2.3) and minimal fiber.
Begin by soaking noodles in a bowl of warm water to soften. Put a pot of salted water on the heat to boil.

Add broth, ginger, star anise, and cinnamon to a separate pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer while you prep the beef and noodles.

Using a sharp kitchen knife, cut the beef into very thin slices. It can be helpful to briefly freeze the beef before trying to slice it thin, as it makes it more manageable.

Drain the rice noodles from the soaking water and add to the now boiling pot of water. Stir until tender, less than one minute. Do not overcook, as the noodles will continue softening in the hot broth of the soup. Drain noodles; if they are too soft, shock with ice water. Set aside.

Add fish sauce, salt and pepper to the broth pot. Raise flame to medium. Add beef and sprouts and cook 30 to 45 seconds, or until sirloin turns from pink to brown. The soup can sometimes produce a bit of foam, skim the foam (if any) before serving.

The first time we made this, we added the noodles to the big pot and then tried ladling it all into serving bowls. It was all a bit of a comic mishap. So I recommend you add the noodles into the serving bowls first, and then spoon the soup over the noodles. Allow your family friends or loved ones to customize their bowl from a plate of garnishes: scallions, cilantro, chilies and basil. Squeeze the lime wedges to add a bright citrus note to the earthy beef tones.

With all those tasty herbs and garnishes, I'm sending this over to Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted this week at Kalyn's Kitchen.

Nutritional Information
This makes 4 very hearty servings or six lunch or first course servings.

Per serving (4 servings): 205 calories, 5.9 g fat, 0.6 g fiber, 27 g protein


Peter M said...

I love, love, love this version of Pho with the star anise, a little sweetness and that heat!

Erin said...

Peter, you are so right. I love how the star anise works with the other flavors in this. When I was researching for this recipe I was surprised by how many versions out there seem to omit it.

Kalyn Denny said...

It sounds wonderful. I have a darling little Vietnamese girl in my class and I keep asking her to bring me some Pho to school!

Christina said...

The spices in it sound wonderful! I'll definitely be making it this month (I think it'll be the first time I made a Vietnamese dish).

Erin said...

Christina, I'm glad to hear you'll be giving it a try. Once my husband and I discovered how easy it was to make, this rapidly became a favorite in our house. Tasty, easy, filling and healthy? That is a perfect meal in my book. I hope you like it too!

Laurie Constantino said...

Mmm - one of my favorite dinners out. You and Peter are so right about the star anise - for me it is an essential element of Pho. Great recipe!

Anna (Morsels and Musings) said...

pho is my favourite comfort food. whenever i get a stomach ate i go eat pho. with loads of chilli.
yes i know it seems perverse to eat chilli when you feel ill, but it always works!

Erin said...

Laurie, I hope someday you will be persuaded to make Pho one of your favorite dinners in as well.

Anna, I can definitely believe in Pho as comfort food. In Ghana, for example, they give you this incredibly spicy broth when you are sick, and it really does make you feel better. My pet theory is that the little germies can't handle the heat, so they run away.

Sarah Lenz said...

This sounds amazing. I just made Pad Thai last night, and the left over package of rice noodles have found their destiny!

One question though, I've never cooked with star anise. What is it? Where does one in the U.S. find it?

Erin said...

Star anise is native to China and Vietnam. It actually comes from an evergreen tree whose seeds come in a star shaped pod. There is a good picture at wikipedia. It is usually sold whole, and can be floated whole in the soup for flavor and removed before serving. But you can also use ground (which was all we could find in Ghana).

I buy mine at Whole Foods, but you may also find it in the spice aisle of your local grocery store.

Like cumin, one of my favorite meat-intensifiers, star anise can be added to most meat-based dishes to enhance their meaty flavor.

Hope you enjoy!

Anonymous said...

I love pho but have never had the courage to make it. Plus, I live very close to an excellent Vietnamese place so I don't think I could replicate it as well. Your recipe sounds fantastic.

Anonymous said...

Good pho is Devine, playing a symphony in your mouth. Inspired combination of ingredients, and tastes different at every restaurant. My favorite place closed, and I've yet to find another to match it. The broth was so incredible its fragrance would waft to the table ahead of the bowl.

Looking forward to trying this recipe. My first attempt which included making a full-bore broth with oxtail, beef, bones, etc. and much attention (skimming off foam), yielded a broth tasting soapy. Expensive and soooo disappointing. Flavorful broth is KEY to heavenly pho. In Vietnam, pro cooks take days to make the broth.

Kalyn, fyi, pho (at least the eye-round version I prefer) does not travel well unless taken to someplace with a kitchen to pull it all together at last minute. Rice noodles go mushy very quickly; they can't go into the pho broth until the moment before serving. There must be plenty of broth, and very hot, to cook some ingredients --such as those thin slices of beef or eye round ;-) which are added to the broth raw, again, right before serving. And of course, there are all the fab condiments to be added per individual taste after the broth and noodles are placed before the diner. I think it would be difficult for the little girl to bring authentic pho bo to school. Perhaps there are simpler versions of pho? I don't know.

Pho rocks! my most satisfying discovery from eating in restaurants. Thanks for the recipe ... I long to be able to make a home version I can make any time. Time for me to try again.

Erin said...


That was a very poetic comment! It actually peaked my own craving to make some more Pho soup. You sound like a true aficionado. If you are in Chicago, perhaps there are some places near Argyle that may hit the spot...

As for at home, I agree that quality beef stock is the key. Some day I may get around to posting about my homemade beef stock, but more often than not I improvise with what is on hand because somehow the happiness of me not fussing puts a little more love and joy into the final product.

And you are spot on that traditionally the beef is sliced very thin and added to the soup just before serving so it cooks on the spot in the bowl's hot broth. In Ghana because we were not sure of the quality of the beef and our knife was dull (unable to cut the wafer thin slices) we wound up putting slightly larger slices into the pot to cook just before ladling into the bowls. Less authentic, but in that instance more practical. When we make it in the US we tend to the "wafer-thin broth cook" method.

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