Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese. ~ CK Chesterton

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~Blue Zebra

Monday, August 6, 2007

Phee, Phi, Pho, Phum-Mmmmm!

Spicy Faux Pho, The Cure For What Ails Ya

Our usual Friday Pizza Club was called this week due to illness. It’s been postponed until this coming Friday, so be prepared to show up and act saucy, cuz this week it’s all about the sauce!

I don’t know about you, but when I’m sick with chest or nose stuff the only thing that sounds good to me is spicy soup, as hot as I can stand. It can’t be just any type of soup, either. It must have a clear broth infused with gorgeous ginger and garlic overtones that merge with a hint of onion and maybe a little taste of anise. The broth must be bold, so I can taste it against all odds, and it needs to drink like a tea.

What do I mean by broth “drinking like tea?” Well, it means the broth must be a stand-alone. It must taste as wonderful by itself as it acts as a foil or perfect backdrop for crisp veggies cooked “to the tooth” or al dente, chewy noodles and moist bits of meat sprinkled here and there only support the satisfying warmth of the broth. I must feel confident that simple straining would produce a clear tea that tastes better and more comforting than any camellia leaves from any virgin tea plant in all the world.

As far as I’m concerned, there are only two soups that meet this criteria; matzoh ball soup, almost considered a Jewish institution and the Vietnamese equivalent to soupy goodness, just-like-Mom-made, pho. Most people want to pronounce it pho as in “foe”. But it’s actually more of a Fa, pronounced “fuh”, rhyming with “duh.” So maybe the title should read Fee, Fi, Fo, Fuh-Mmmmmm! Anyway, we’ll save matzoh balls for later this fall. Today we’re going to focus of Pho and however you decide to pronounce the name, it will still drink like a tea and eat like a nourishing bowl of comfort.

Houston has a burgeoning Vietnamese community, the second largest in the United States, according to the Houston Institute for Culture. There are noodle houses or Pho shops all over. The little mom and pop places seem to beckon and one thing is certain. You will not find a national chain, food mill among them, at least not yet.

Pho is a relative newcomer to the evolutionary soup world. Its origins are as mysterious and varied as its condiments. Some say it began in Hanoi around the turn of the century, late 1880’s, as a result of the French occupation of Vietnam. The French loved beef steak and beef began appearing in markets and shops. Prior to the French invasion, Vietnamese mostly ate pork, chicken and seafood by preference.

With the slaughter of beef for steak, there was also a need to use lesser cuts and bones left over from the prime cuts. The Vietnamese being a thrifty culture, believe in using every last bit of an animal and wasted nothing. So the French pot au feu, literally meaning pot on the fire became popular. Pot au feu is a traditional boiled dinner of beef, marrow or oxtail, veggies, broth and starch of some kind. Others, however, claim that Pho derived from the Chinese occupation because of the noodle and anise influences of the dish.

Either way, the Vietnamese put their stamp on the hearty soup and consumption of the dish spread from the North into the South, each area putting their own telling spin on it. From the North we get a simple dish of hearty noodles, warm, nourishing broth and beef, well-cooked or rare and sometimes both. From the South, we get a soup that has many more garnishes and vegetables, additions of hot sauces and bean pastes. There are even versions that include chicken and pork based broths and meats. In some houses money did not stretch to include the meats, only bones.

The soup took Vietnam without a single shot being fired and it’s no surprise the dish followed immigrants to the new world after the fall of Saigon. In only a few short years, Pho just as easily, captured the imagination and palates of Americans far and wide. Any doubts about this can be summed up in two words, Ramen Noodles, a staple of any American college student’s diet.

Although Ramen is NOT pho, it has the same concept of piping hot broth, chewy noodles and rich Asian spices, conveniently mass-produced, packaged and available 10 for the dollar at almost any super market. But Pho, with very little extra work, can be practically as simple to prepare with the added bonuses of less salt, better nutritional value, and veggies and let’s not forget the protein!

I call my soup Faux Pho because if I’m out of homemade broth in the freezer, I don't let that stop me! I make it quickly and easily using the popular broths-in-a-box as substitution. While not the preferred base for the soup, it will certainly do in a pinch. I also add more veggies and treat the ginger a bit differently. I will include two recipes for you. One is for my quick variation of Faux Pho On The Fly and uses my secret phlegm fighting ingredients! The other is an authentic Pho recipe originating from Mai Pham, chef/owner of Lemon Grass Restaurant and Café in Sacramento. She wrote the book, The Best of Vietnamese and Thai Cooking. Email her at maiphamibm.net.

Whichever one you choose to make, don’t forget to park your face over the bowl and let the steamy goodness permeate your senses and relax you. The soothing warmth will surely convince you to move mountains or at least leap tall buildings in a single bound. Enjoy!

Faux Pho On The Fly

by Blue Zebra
Makes 4-6 servings

Aromatics and Ingredients for Broth:
2 Boxes (2 Qts) Natural Goodness Chicken Stock (or Organics Brand), Homemade preferred

Onion, seared and sliced thinly
4-6” Ginger, fresh, seared with the skin on (I use a lot!)
5 Cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
2 Sprigs Thyme, fresh (1/4 tsp dried leaves)
4 Sprigs Parsley, fresh (1/4 tsp dried leaves)
½ tsp Sugar
1/8 tsp Coriander, ground
1/8 tsp Red Pepper Flakes (or 1-2 Dried Thai Chilis)
1 pinch Five Spice Powder, ground
1 pinch of Black Pepper
1/8 -1/4 c. Fish Sauce (Noc Mam) – optional
½ c. Baby Carrots or ½ Large Carrot, peeled, julienne
½ c. Water
Salt to taste

Veggies & Noodles for Broth:
½ Medium Zucchini, ribbons
1c Mushrooms, sliced thinly
4 Green Onions
½ c Snow Pea Pods, sliced on bias or Frozen Green Peas
½ lb Flat Rice Noodles – thin or 1/8” wide

Condiments for Broth (these are all optional, add to your taste a little at a time as you eat the pho):
½ c Meat Leftovers
Lime wedges
Mung Bean Sprouts, fresh
Mint, fresh
Thai Basil or Regular Basil, fresh
Cilantro, fresh
Green chilis (Serrano, Thai, Jalapeno), thinly sliced with the seeds
Srirachi Rooster Sauce
Sambal Oelek
Black Bean Sauce
Hoisin Sauce

Making Stock (This can be made ahead and kept in fridge!):
Heat broth in dutch oven or very 3qt saucepan over medium heat.

As the broth or stock is heating, brown the outer sides of an onion and a peel 4-5” finger of ginger over high heat in a heavy saute pan. (I use cast iron). Do not use any oil. You are trying to char it a little. You can also do this outside or over a gas flame on your stove but I only have electric and I’m usually feeling too bad to do this.

Remove the charred onion and ginger and when they are cool enough to touch, cut the onion in half lengthwise, then slice thinly to make “matchstick slices of onion.

For the ginger, slice in 1/8” thick pieces along the length to make flat discs. Take each disc and slice it very thinly into matchsticks as well, cutting along the length. You can cut the julienne of ginger to 2” lengths.

Repeat this technique for the carrots.

Peel and thinly slice the garlic cloves. If I have the fresh herbs available, remove the leaves and lightly chop the thyme and parsley. If not, simply use dried. No big deal at this point, remember we’re making a tea.

Add all other broth ingredients and let the broth steep or gently simmer for about an hour. Stock will reduce slightly. You don’t want it to come to a rolling boil. This is about infusing flavor and keeping as many nutrients alive as possible. I use low heat to do this.

At this point you have the Blue Zebra home remedy for the common cold or sinus problem! I will make this by the pot full and sip on it all day as hot as I can stand it, just like I would use tea. The ingredients are almost all mucalytics, which means they loosen congestion and allow you to get rid of the nasties.

Making the Soup:
But if I’m making this for a meal, I will continue on - if the body is willing!

Using a vegetable peeler, make thin slices down the length of the zucchini, stopping when you reach the seeds in the middle. Rotate the zucchini as you do this to keep the slices about ¼ to ½ wide. Add these to the broth and cook.

Thinly slice mushrooms of your preference. Add these to the broth and cook.

Clean and slice green onions on the diagonal into ½” pieces. Add these to the broth in the last 3-5 minutes of cooking.

Wash and string snow pea pods or frozen peas. Slice on the diagonal into ½” pieces.

Add these to the broth in the last 3-5 minutes of cooking.

Add any leftover meat into your broth and allow it to be brought to temperature. (Pulled pork or brisket is great here. Also, leftover rare steak or meat is yummy!)

In a separate pan, cook rice noodles until just starting to become flexible. Take out and partially cool with running water, then drain well. They will finish cooking
when they are placed into the hot broth. Do not add to broth until ready to eat or else the noodles will become soft and mushy.

Eating the Soup:
Assemble all of your condiments in small bowls.

Ladle the piping hot broth into a bowl, about 2 cups or more. I like to add some of the julienne aromatics from the main broth and eat them (ginger, garlic, carrots, etc.).
Add some of the noodles and bits and pieces of your favorite condiment(s) a little at a time, as you eat the soup. The idea is that you are only adding a bite here and there in order to keep the broth as hot as possible! Don’t feel as though you have to add all of them! Also, you can easily substitute or omit ingredients as you have or don’t have them. Sometimes I completely omit the extra veggies!

Use chopsticks or a fork and spoon. Chunky doesn’t have a monopoly on the soup that eats like a meal! Sip as much of the broth as you desire. Anything goes with this oh so filling pho!

Houston Institute for Culture
San Francisco Chronicle
Viet World Kitchen


Now for the authentic stuff! Enjoy!

By Mai Pham (chef/owner of Lemon Grass Restaurant and Cafe in Sacramento)
Serves 6 to 8.

Note: You can prepare the beef broth in advance and assemble just before serving.


The Broth –
5 pounds beef marrow bones
3-pound chuck roast
2 (4-inch) pieces fresh ginger, unpeeled
1 large yellow onion, peeled
1/3 cup Asian fish sauce
5 tablespoons sugar
8 whole star anise
3 whole cloves
1 tablespoon salt, or to taste

Noodles & Assembly -
½ pound beef sirloin steak, slightly frozen, then sliced paper thin
1 ½ pounds fresh or dried flat rice stick noodles (about 1/8 inch wide)
1 yellow onion, sliced paper thin
4 green onions, chopped
½ cup chopped cilantro
1 pound bean sprouts
20 sprigs Asian basil
20 leaves saw-leaf herb (optional)
3 tablespoons chopped fresh Thai bird chiles, or thinly sliced serrano chiles
2 limes, cut into thin wedges
Pepper to taste

Bring 6 quarts water to a boil in a large stockpot.

Place the bones and chuck roast in a separate pot with water to cover; bring to a boil and boil vigorously for 5 minutes. Using tongs, remove the bones and meat and add to the first pot of boiling water. When the water returns to a boil, reduce to a simmer.

Using metal tongs, hold the ginger and onion over a gas burner until slightly blackened and aromatic. (If you have an electric stove, dry-roast the ginger and onion in a skillet.) Rinse the ginger and onion and add them to the pot with the meat and bones.

Add the fish sauce and sugar to the pot. Simmer, skimming off the foam, until the meat is tender, about 1 ½ hours.

Remove the chuck roast and submerge in a bowl of cold water for 15 minutes. This prevents the meat from darkening and drying out.

Place the star anise and cloves in a dampened spice bag and add to the broth. Add 2 cups water to the pot. Simmer for 1 hour, then remove and discard the spice bag and onion. (Cooking the spices too long makes the broth dark and pungent.)

Add the salt to the broth and keep at a low simmer while preparing the noodles.
The broth should be rich enough to serve after 2 ½ hours total cooking time. It will taste salty, but will balance once the noodles and accompaniments are added.

Noodles and Assembly:
Cut half of the roast into thin slices; reserve the remaining roast for another use.

Cut the partially frozen sirloin into thin slices. Place the sliced chuck and sirloin on separate plates and set aside.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Place a handful of fresh noodles (enough for 1 serving) in a sieve and lower into the boiling water. Using a fork or chopsticks, stir for 15 seconds, then lift and shake off excess water. (If using dried noodles, soak them in warm water for 20 minutes. Cook them all at once until al dente, about 2 to 3 minutes. Rinse extremely well in warm water.) Divide the noodles among heated serving bowls.

Arrange a few slices of roast and sirloin on the noodles in each bowl.

Bring the beef broth to a rolling boil.

Season with salt (if necessary) and pepper.

Ladle 2 to 3 cups into each bowl.

Sprinkle each serving with 1 tablespoon sliced yellow onion, 1 tablespoon green onions, 1 tablespoon cilantro and pepper to taste.

Let diners garnish their bowls with bean sprouts, Asian basil, saw- leaf herb, chiles and squeeze of lime as desired.

PER SERVING: 390 calories, 28 g protein, 51 g carbohydrate, 6 g fat (2 g saturated), 66 mg cholesterol, 1592 mg sodium, 2 g fiber.


lynn said...

Oh, this soup sounds heavenly and I can see why you'd pick it for sick comfort food. I would like to try it, even when I'm feeling fine.

Dianne said...

Blue Zebra,

I have a nice side dish to go with these f a b u l o u s meals you posted.

VEGETABLE RICE (very healthy, low cholesterol)


1 cup White Rice (note: use boil-in-bag either Success Rice or Uncle Ben’s)
1 cup Onion, chopped or diced
½ cup Red bell pepper, seeded and diced (1/2 a red bell pepper)
½ cup Yellow bell pepper, seeded and diced (1/2 a yellow bell pepper)
1 cup Zucchini, (do not peel skin) chopped or dice (1 medium zucchini)
2 TABLESPOONS Teriyaki marinade
2 TABLESPOONS Pine nuts, roasted (note: put pine nuts in oven and broil for 1 to 2 minutes)
pinch Kosher salt to taste
pinch Black pepper to taste

Step 1

Prepare rice according to package directions. Set aside when complete.

Step 2

Heat olive oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat.

Step 3

Add onion, peppers (red & yellow), and sauté for 3minutes.

Step 4

Add zucchini; continue to sauté until vegetables are tender, about 2 to 3 minutes.

Step 5

Stir in marinade and sauté for 30 seconds, and then remove from heat.

Step 6

Fold in rice and roasted pine nuts into frying pan with vegetables and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve.

Blue Zebra said...

Hi Lynn! The soup really does warm you from the inside out and also clears the upper respiratory tract for a brief time (although, I am NOT dispensing medical advice here! Follow doctors orders!) :D

dianne, your recipe for veggie fried rice sounds very lovely. The pine nuts are unexpected and fun!! I will try that the next time I'm doing pork! TIA!!

kippercat said...

BZ, I have thoroughly enjoyed your blog, both the recipes and the writing that accompanies them. What a treasure for your nieces and nephews!

I love Pho, but have never tried making it at home. With your wonderful shortcut, I just might do so. I wish I had some of the broth made up right now!

Btw, Imagine makes a boxed beef broth that is actually good.

Blue Zebra said...

Hi KYHeirloomer just sent this by email:
Lot's of luck figuring that one out, Kiddo.

Long before the word "fusion" applied to food, Southeast Asia was the culinary fusion capital of the world. For several thousand years, one culture after another swept through the area, influencing what the people ate, and how they prepared it.

It's reached the point where Pho merely means "soup," and requires other qualifiers to identify it further.

For an interesting variation, try a seafood Pho, which is Japanese influenced. Start with a basic Dashi stock (to boiling water add dried bonito flakes and kombu. Let steep a bit, strain, and add just a touch of tamari and a drop or two of hot sauce.

Using that as the stock, play with the flavorings: ginger, green onions, chilies, nuc mam, etc. to your heart's content. Then add cooked shrimp, or shellfish, or a combination of them. Then add your partially-cooked rice noodles at the last minute, just before serving.

BTW, I love the idea of your ginger-charring technique. Seems like that would really intensify the natural flavor of the root. I'll give it a try, soon, and report back to you.

Speaking of ginger, more recipes would benefit from cutting it into small julienne, as you do, than grating it. Works especially well in stir fries and the like. But even in other recipes, julienned ginger brings a different taste/texture to the dish I find appealing.

Give it a try next time you make spring rolls, for instance.
Thanks KYH! I would love to take credit for thinking up the ginger charring but a Vietnamese cook in Denver taught me to do it that way! Your soup sounds yummy and I will try it out next time!

Sue ( coffeepot) said...

Blu Z that looks so good. I love all the information of origins and I didn't know how to pronounce it..Like that is something new for me but thanks for the pronuciation and recipes.

Blue Zebra said...

Hi kippercat!!! So sorry I missed replying to your thoughtful comment!

Thanks for the tip on Imagine brand beef stock. I will look for it! I actually like HEB (store brand) Organic stock much better than Swanson's Natural Goodness...but wanted to try to keep it broad. :D

Also, I try to have stock frozen but man the stocks in a box really save me and I love soup so much. Try doing the tea part. It really is awesome and not hard at all!
Hope to see you again soon!