I've only had pho in a restaurant once, but it was a memorable experience. Our party was seated at a table that had a hole in the middle--a hole, it turns out, that was for a basin of hot, rich, beefy broth. We were given platters of soup ingredients--fragrant mint, cilantro and basil, thinly sliced raw beef, piles of bean sprouts and other veggies, wedges of lime. The mission? Construct your own pho by cooking (or not cooking) veggies and meat to your satisfaction, and creating your very own individualized soup.
That was at a Vietnamese restaurant perched on the edge of Boston's Chinatown in 1998 , and I've been longing for those particular flavors ever since.
Why then, why did it take me so long to turn my attention to Pho?
Readers, this recipe isn't online but because it's so delicious and so easy I'm going to replicate it here. Don't be intimidated by the long-ish list of ingredients--the pay-off is worth it!
6 oz rice stick noodles (vermicelli, I used some other rice noodle thing I had kicking around)
1/4 lb snow peas, cut diagonally into 1/4-inch wide strips
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 cup sliced shallots (three large)
3 (1/8 inch thick) slices fresh ginger, smashed
1 teaspoon minced Serrano chili (including seeds, I used a jalapeno)
3 1/2 cups beef stock or store-bought broth
1 3/4 cups water
1/2 lb thinly sliced rare roast beef, torn into pieces
6 oz fresh bean sprouts (mung) rinsed
1/4 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro
1/4 cup loosely packed fresh basil
1/4 cup loosely packed fresh mint
3 tablespoons Asian fish sauce
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
Cook noodles in boiling water for 4 minutes--add snow peas and cook for 1 minute longer. Drain and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking, and drain again. Divide noodles/snowpeas into 4 large soup bowls.
Dry noodle pan, add oil and turn on moderate heat. Add shallots, ginger and chile, and cook (stirring) until shallots are brown (7-8 mins.) Add stock and water, bring to a simmer and simmer for 10 mins.
Meanwhile, divide beef, sprouts and herbs among soup bowls.
Remove ginger from broth and stir in fish sauce, lime juice and salt to taste. Ladle broth into bowls and serve immediately with lime wedges.
This recipe is killer, and it would be a perfect week to make it, what with the INCESSANT RAIN. Of course it's the fresh herbs that make it so intoxicating--if you're one of those folks who can't stand fresh herbs, what's wrong with you? Go eat a Lean Cuisine, I guess.
What makes this a quick/easy version of pho is that you're using store-bought broth instead of slaving over your own (real beef broth ain't that quick/easy), and rare deli roast beef instead of carpaccio, which is thinly sliced raw beef. The Gourmet staff amp up the broth by simmering it with goodies--ginger, shallots and chile.
And--with summer (kind of) here, or at least spring, fresh herbs should be cheap and in abundance. We do container gardening on our deck and I'll confess I went a little bananas at the plant nursery on Mother's Day and got 4 kinds of mint, among other things. 4 kinds of mint! I bet you didn't know 4 kinds of mint existed--they do and more. Chocolate, orange, spearmint and what they were labeling Mojito Mint. Yeah baby! Watch this space for mojitos and more.