Monday, March 12, 2012

Pho Bo - Vietnamese beef noodle soup to wait for spring!


1 onion
2 inch piece fresh ginger
2 beef marrow bones
3 star anise
3 cloves
1/2 pound piece of beef chuck
1 tbsp salt
3 stalks fresh lemongrass
soy sauce and Sriracha sauce to taste

1 pound beef steak
4 - 5 nests of dried rice noodles
4 scallions, cut into rings
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 cup sugar snap peas
1/2 cup bean sprouts
5 shiitake mushrooms
4 lime wedges

We just had one more rainy weekend here to destroy all illusions of spring. Yes, it's gotten a little warmer recently and yes, there are some tiny snow drops and crocuses in the park, and on random sunny days, people have begun populating all the little street cafes again. But is it spring yet? Not really.

To shorten the wait, I am craving the color of fresh, new green. Unfortunately, most of the seasonal dishes for the lent period don't feature a lot of that, because, well, historically, people around this season just didn't have a lot of lush green things to eat. So this weekend, I took a break from the traditional (vegetarian) lenten dishes and made a delightful bowl of beautifully green pho bo, the Vietnamese noodle soup.

And at least one of my lent resolutions will be more than fulfilled with this dish: mindfulness. Because with my ambition to use only fresh ingredients and get a rich and multidimensional broth, it takes a lot of time and planning to achieve a good pho bo. My recipe is slightly adapted from the VietWorldKitchen, where lots of pho secrets and tips can be found.

I began with the broth, which requires around 4 hours of simmering. For perfect flavor and depth of color, I first browned the onion cut in half and the ginger, until they were nearly burned, then added 3 quarts of water and the marrow bones. When the water had come to a boil, I put in the beef chunk, anise, cloves, lemongrass and salt. The 4 hours of simmering were relatively easygoing, just I just sometimes removed the foamy scum from time to time.

Being an avid cook of different meat and bone broths in the European tradition, it was a revelation to experience what a difference the addition of spices like anise, cloves and lemongrass made, transforming the end result from a beloved and well-known staple into something equally soothing but stimulantly exotic.

Around half an hour before planning to eat, I started soaking the dried shiitake mushrooms in some water, and as well as the rice noodles, and put the steak in the freezer. Then came the chopping (cilantro, spring onions, peas, mushrooms) and blanching (noodles, peas, bean sprouts), arranging a little of each in the bowls. Once the meat was frozen enough to be easily cut into thin slices, I cut it and cooked it very briefly in the broth, transferring it to the bowls and covering everything with lots of soup, to be seasoned individually with soy and Sriracha sauce and the lime wedges.

Every minutes of the 4 hours had been time well spent and worth it.

Life is good!


  1. That looks amazing. I dont know any vietnamese dishes but the ingredients sounds like a perfect flavoure match.

    You are right, some few spices added to a staple soup transform it to a new soup experience.

    Glad I found your recipe, thx!

  2. Even though my cooking is 75% Italian - pho is my most comforting meal. Perfect for this transitional rainy weather into spring. Perfect to soothe your weary bones! Just gorgeous!

  3. Oh this look scrumptious! I love the spices in this soup. I bet it tastes fantastic. I wish I could find lemongrass ... I would SO love to try making this.

  4. It looks delicious and so good for the beginning of the spring. You have just made me think I have to explore the Vietnamese cuisine more.

  5. We are also having a rainy patch right now. Something good like this to warm me up would make it a little better.

  6. beautiful rendition of the classic vietnamese dish. and very springlike! you are right, it is truly worth the effort to make.

  7. Very little in the culinary world can beat the taste of a good pho.Yours looks and sounds delicius. I hope you have a great day. Blessings...Mary

  8. Thanks everyone for your comments and encouragement for my first attempt at Vietnamese cuisine!

  9. Now this is a recipe that I have never tried--but I am definitely intrigued! Looks really tasty.


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